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Wednesday, 27 August 2014

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Why putting on the kettle can help save lives

Anita Barwick sits down and the photographs she’s carrying are carefully placed face down on the table in front of her.

Anita Barwick photo
Anita Barwick

She starts to talk about her mother Nita Walker, there’s an occasional glance at the photos and at times her hands lovingly touch them.

But it’s too painful to look at the images while she talks through her memories of her mother’s battle with cancer.

Nita had been ill for a while with stomach problems but it wasn’t until September last year that she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkinson Lymphoma.

“I had no experience of cancer in the family,” says Anita, from Carlisle.

“We had never experienced anything like this before and we didn’t know how to deal with it, or who to ask for help.

“We found that you have to talk to each other and remember that the most important person is the person who is ill.

“You have to ask lots of questions because if you don’t, you won’t be told.

“The cancer was so aggressive. I was told that her chances of survival were 50/50 but we decided we were going to fight.

“She was so strong. She said ‘lets get on with it’ and deal with it one day at a time.”

Nita, who was 69 at the time, was taken into the Cumberland Infirmary for chemotherapy.

Anita, along with sister Carol Lockhart and dad Ronnie Walker were with her every step of the way.

“We were a team and mum was the leader of the team,” she says. “She was the glue that held us together.

“It was a massive rollercoaster.

“She was in and out of hospital and we saw her every day.

“There were highs and lows. The lows were awful but the highs and the things we did together were wonderful.”

After the course of chemotherapy the family decided that they would celebrate Christmas together.

Anita says it was one of the good days.

“Mum was Mrs Christmas,” she says. “Everyone came to my house.

“I remember her being pushed up the icy drive in her wheelchair.

“It was great being all together and she joined in with Guitar Hero.”

This moment, one of the “good days”, was captured on camera, the only photograph taken of her when she was ill.

Anita’s father had been in the forces and they had lived in Germany when she was younger and Nita wanted to go back so Anita took her.

Another good day was when Nita and Ronnie celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

As Nita was a huge Elvis fan they’d been planning to visit Gracelands next year to celebrate her 70th birthday and Anita’s 50th, but after Christmas Nita fell ill and was rushed into hospital.

It was found that she was suffering from peritonitis caused by a rupture where the cancer had died and after an operation on her intestine, Nita remained in hospital but was too ill to complete her course of chemotherapy.

On Mother’s Day Anita and Carol wanted to treat their mum so they spent the morning on the ward with her.

“It was a lovely morning,” recalls Anita, a pastoral tutor at Trinity School in Carlisle. “We really pampered her. It was so special.”

Nita was meant to come home after this, but things suddenly took a turn for the worse and she went to Eden Valley Hospice to rest.

The week before they had been shopping and Nita had bought new clothes and Anita had planned to take her on a trip to Houghton Hall. But they never made the trip.

“I knew this was different from the other lows,” she recalls. “We knew in our hearts but didn’t want to accept it.

“They said it was a matter of time.”

Anita’s other sister Shirley came up from Birmingham and on April 14 they went to the hospice to say goodbye to Nita.

The following day Anita got a phone call from the hospice asking them to go and see her and with Elvis’s Loving You playing in the background Nita passed away.

“She knew we were all there,” remembers Anita. “It was so distressing.”

For the following few months the only picture Anita had in her head of her mother was of her passing away.

Anita still can’t listen to any Elvis music.

For Anita and her family it will be a long mending process.

“It’s the hardest thing to cope with,” she says. “I miss the huggles. My daughter used to use this word for a hug.

“Mum will always be with us.

“When I get home from work and especially at weekends it is difficult.

“After mum died I remember sitting in Morrisons car-park and I knew I needed to talk to someone so I just turned up at Eden Valley Hospice for help.

“It will take a long time.”

For Anita part of this process is to help raise money for cancer charities, something that she’d started while her mum was alive.

They’d already decided to organise an event at Trinity School for Macmillan’s World’s Biggest Coffee Morning which Nita would have attended.

It’s now being held in her memory and as a way of helping others cope with cancer.

“She wanted to take an active role,” says Anita. “We want to put something back.

“I’m looking forward to it.

“It’ll be a good day and an emotional one.

“The fundraising won’t stop.

“I know she’ll be smiling on us on Friday.”

A group of students from Trinity School will be running the coffee morning with the support of staff at Chapman Library, Trinity School, Strand Road, Carlisle from 10.30am to 11.45am on Friday.

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