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Doreen Harnden

This spot is in memory of my mother who passed away following a seven year fight against cancer. Mum died in a Fakenham nursing home on the 4th January 2011 at the age of 72. It had been planned that we all spent Christmas at her place in Barney, just outside of Fakenham, but this was cancelled as her condition worsened. On the 18th December I had to take her into Cranmer House.

If I had to use one word to sum up mum it would be tenacious. Having left school with few qualifications she completed secretarial college before marrying, having four children and bringing us up. My Father was a Fireman and during the 1960’s this didn’t bring in a great deal and so mum supplemented the household income by starting a number of businesses. The most successful of these was her dog grooming enterprise which became so successful that she had to sell it for £500 (a lot of money in the early ‘70’s). At the time we didn’t have the resources to do the expansion necessary to meet demand. During this period she had also been a long-term volunteer with the Samaritans and a member of the local amateur dramatic society, whilst also growing a lot of our veg on her allotment.

In the 1970s, mum completely retrained as a Registered Psychiatric Nurse and managed to hold down her job at the Hospital whilst working nights at a nursing home (this would be illegal now). This was necessary, as mum was then a single-parent, still with four teenage children. By 1985 (having worked on average 70 hours a week for years), she felt confident enough to lay down a deposit on her own Nursing Home in Cromer. She was in her mid forties and she ran the home until retiring at the age of 65. At one stage the business became so successful that the Irish Bank who had originally loaned her the money tried to take the business out from under her. She fought tooth and nail to hold on to it and eventually won and paid them off.

Her retirement year was the same year that she found that she had Stomach Cancer. The first operation to remove a third of the stomach was done relatively quickly and she seemed to recover and was settling in to her retirement in Barney. Patchwork quilting was her main passion along with gardening and a host of other craft-based projects. The cancer was found to have returned and three years later and a succession of chemo followed but it was quickly realised that the battle was being lost. I lost count of the times the doctor gave her so many months to live. Mum continued with her patchwork, taking time out to go on holidays and travel. She went on patchwork holidays to Spain, visited Italy and even went to live with an Amish community in America to learn how they did patchwork. During this she also volunteered at the Red Cross, in Holt, and spent a lot of time looking after her Aunt who was poorly herself.

During this time my mum had used the Big-C centre and found the help that she received here to be invaluable and the services provided acted as a crutch through this difficult time.
A year before she died she was rushed into the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and told that there was nothing more they could do and to expect not to come out. We assembled everybody around the bedside over the next couple of days. As a last minute reprise it was decided to remove her stomach completely. And like Robo-Cop she came out of the operation against all odds. Within six weeks she was up and walking about. She returned to her cottage in Barney, against the advice of one nurse (not a Big-C nurse) who told everybody that she should go into care as she was a danger to herself and that she wouldn’t last more than a few weeks. The cancer hadn’t been completely stopped as it had spread to her liver by now. A few months later she had completely had the house redecorated and a new porch built on the outside, whilst booking up a cruise for the following year. Unfortunately she never made the cruise.

By some standards these days 72 is a very young age to die. However, it isn’t just about the length of time we spend in this life but what we do with the time which is important. Mum never let the grass grow under her feet – and maybe her legacy is to show that virtually anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

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Mary Ansell