From the minute I fell pregnant with Kiera, I was so excited. I’d known my partner Stuart Douglas for years, but we’d got together after we chatted on Facebook. We’d only been a couple for six months when I started to feel nauseous.
My mum Elaine knew straight away, but I was in denial until a pregnancy test confirmed it. Unable to cope with the pressures of impending parenthood, Stuart, now 26, and I broke up, and because I was only 19, I was terrified about telling my stepdad Gary. I shouldn’t have been. He was over the moon. ‘A baby in the house will bring so much love,’ he said, hugging me tightly.
And when Kiera was born in August 2009, that’s exactly what she did. We were all besotted by her – although I barely let anyone else near her. I was convinced I was the only one who could take care of Kiera properly. I even remember saying to Mum as we went to register the birth, ‘I wish she was still inside me, she felt safer there’.
When I had to go back to my job as a care assistant, I hated every minute we were apart. I worried constantly that Mum wouldn’t know what Kiera’s different cries meant, the way that I did.
When Kiera was four years old, Stuart and I got back together and I fell pregnant again. I was so excited but Kiera took a little bit of time to come round to the news. ‘But I’m your baby,’ she complained, her little face scrunching in confusion.
I couldn’t make a four-year-old understand that a mother’s love isn’t halved between her two children, it’s doubled.
During my pregnancy I was distracted by a searing pain down my right side. It was worse than childbirth and doctors examined me for gallstones. It eventually wore off and when I gave birth to Holly in December 2013 I felt much better. I adored my girls.
Just like Mum had once said to me when she put me to bed, I told the girls every night: ‘I love you all the world, more and more.’ And in time, they’d say ditto back, just like I used to. Kiera added, ‘Cuddles, Mummy!’ My heart would swell so much. Then when Holly was three months old, I started feeling so lethargic, I couldn’t even summon the energy to look after my kids. I called Mum in tears. ‘I know you’re at work, but you have to come and help me. I can’t pick Holly up.’
She was still so tiny, but I just felt extremely exhausted.
Throughout April, I was so poorly I went back and forth to the doctors. At first they didn’t take me seriously and said it was a result of being a tired mum-of-two, but I persuaded them to give me blood tests.
It was then they realised something was wrong. The doctor thought it was an infection and I was admitted to Sunderland Royal Hospital. I was there for a week having X-rays and scans. It was there during an ultrasound that they picked up the 10cm mass on my liver.
‘I’m so sorry,’ the doctor said. At those words, Mum started crying. Then he continued: ‘It’s a tumour.’
I’d never once thought I could have cancer. I was devastated. Not for me but for my two beautiful girls. They needed me.
When the consultant explained they would need to operate to remove 80 per cent of my liver, I nodded. Anything to save my life. Anything for my girls.
I was in intensive care for nine days, then in hospital for a further week, but the operation was a success. The consultant was so pleased with my results he even gave me the go-ahead to go on a holiday in Tenerife – with my mum, sister, best friend and their children – that we had planned for months.
We had such a great time that August in 2014. The sun was shining, I was feeling better than I had in a year and I could enjoy being a mum again. I was so grateful to be alive.
At home in September, life had never been better. Stuart was by my side and I could not have been happier. But a scan in November threw my world upside down again.
It was just a regular check-up and I felt fine, so I hadn’t been worried at all. But the tumours had spread to my lungs.
This time I wasn’t upset, I was furious. I’d been through so much, fought so hard, and it had come back.
I asked the doctors what the plan was, desperate to start fighting again, but they didn’t have a plan. The tumours had begun to block my liver, which had started to die.
They could suggest treatment to prolong my life, but not save it, they said.
I felt so frustratingly helpless. I sobbed for the years I thought Stuart, I and the kids had together, for the times I was going to miss, for the fact I was going to leave my children without a mum.
But I didn’t have the time to indulge myself. Now I was on a time limit, I had to make the most of every minute.
After talking to Stuart, we agreed to hold off on treatment until after Christmas. I pushed the cancer to the back of my mind to enjoy our big family Xmas. Being with my girls was such a relief, but it also focused me.
I forced myself to absorb every second of Kiera tearing open her presents, then helping Holly with hers.
Desperate to make as many memories as possible, we also booked another holiday to Tenerife in January 2015.
It was a fantastic 10 days but when we came home, reality hit. I started treatment straight away, but it left me throwing up and feverish. It also had no impact on the tumours, which were still growing, so the doctors stopped it.
That was the only time I asked the doctors how long I had left. The cancer was so rare, they had no idea how quickly it would grow, so they couldn’t answer. Looking back, it was probably for the best.
The girls were too young to tell them what was happening. ‘Mum is having a poor stomach, darling,’ I said, when they asked me why I was visiting the doctors so often. Luckily my hair didn’t fall out, but that didn’t stop Kiera realising how serious it was.
She came home from school in tears after a boy told her I was going to die. He must have heard about it from his parents when I appeared in the local newspaper and he wasn’t trying to be unkind. He burst into tears when the teacher talked to him about it.
‘But why would he say that, Mummy?’ Kiera asked. It was so hard to find the words. ‘Mummy’s poorly but she’ll always be here for you,’ I explained carefully.
Over the months I’ve done everything I can to fight this cruel disease. I’ve been on two drug trials. The first one had no effect, but the one I’m on now has stopped the tumours from growing for now. Because the drugs are so strong, I can only have six cycles, so I have no idea what the future holds.
Every day, I cram as much love in as I can. We went to Spain and Disneyland Paris for Kiera to see Anna and Elsa from Frozen in the parade and Holly to meet Minnie Mouse.
I’m putting together memory boxes full of photo albums and souvenirs of the trips we’ve taken. I tell my daughters how much I love them every single day. I don’t know how many days I have left, which is why I make sure every moment is filled with love, smiles, kisses and hugs.
I’ve made Mum promise, every night after I’m gone, when she tucks the girls into bed, she’ll say: ‘I love you all the world, more and more.’ She’ll keep our little saying going to remind Kiera and Holly that wherever Mummy is, she’ll always love them, more and more.
Kayleigh Lynch lives in Sunderland, UK, with her daughters.