Sisters Laura Pearson and Rachel Timmins embodied everything good about
sisterhood. Each was the go-to person to laugh or cry with, a soulmate for life’s
experiences. So when they were pregnant at the same time with second children,
they looked forward to navigating pregnancy and motherhood together.
But life took a tough turn as they faced two devastating illnesses – cancer and stroke. The dream of raising their families in tandem was shattered.
Laura, at age 35 and 20 weeks pregnant, found a lump in her breast and was diagnosed with breast cancer. This meant a lumpectomy at 27 weeks and an induction at 35 weeks. The baby arrived safely and she and husband Paul Herbert welcomed Elodie, a sister to two-yearold Joseph, into their family. Shortly after birth, however, Elodie developed health problems and was transferred to a hospital in Sheffi eld for intensive care. Paul went with the baby while Laura faced her fi rst chemo in Leicester with her mum at her side.
Rachel, meanwhile gave birth to a son, Jay, and she, husband Scott and the family were thrilled with a brother for Louie, four. It was respite from their concerns about Elodie and Laura - but reprieve was short lived. Rachel, at 38, had a severe stroke nine days after giving birth, that resulted in her needing extensive therapy and full-time care. “Life changed for all of us,” says Laura. “In the fi rst few months we were all in survival mode, looking after two toddlers, two new-borns, making trips to different hospitals to visit Rachel and to my chemo appointments.”
Laura and Rachel’s parents, as well as Scott’s and Paul's parents, gave invaluable support too, visiting Rachel, caring for grandchildren and shuttling between various homes. The family then drew up a roster of tasks and visits which made life more manageable.
Laura, having fi nished chemo, faced another big decision. She had tested positive for the BRCA2 gene (that raises the risk of breast and ovarian cancer) and decided to have a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction, which was done last January. Mum Sue had breast cancer six years ago, so a genetic link was suspected.
Rachel spent nine months in hospital before being moved to a care home in Loughborough. In two years, her progress has exceeded expectations. However, she has very limited movement on her affected left side and spends her time in bed or in her wheelchair. Small achievements are celebrated and she is now able to go out with family. Everyone looks forward to the day when she will be home but no date has been given yet.
Rachel’s stroke has been hard on everyone. “Rachel was my best friend. Because she was older, I have never known life without her. I have lost the sister I had and it has been like bereavement. “She has times of progress, then there are small steps backwards and it’s easy to get disheartened, but I try to focus on how much she has progressed.
“All our lives have been devastated by this, but perhaps Scott’s most of all. He’s working, raising two young sons and visiting Rachel most days, and that's incredibly tough to juggle. He’s coping admirably, but it’s hard. Rachel and Scott had so much to look forward to. It breaks my heart that their family has been wrenched apart like this.”
Laura, meanwhile, has just celebrated her two-year cancer anniversary, with the treatment behind her and life is good. “Some days I can almost forget that I’ve had cancer. I’m busy. I have a novel coming out and am editing the next one. I have two young children, a husband, a house and a severely disabled sister. I don’t have time to think about cancer. Cancer is scary and it is cruel but at least, for now, I don’t have it.”
** Laura’s story is poignantly told in her blog Breast Cancer and Baby. A copywriter and editor, she is the author of three novels, the fi rst of which, Missing Pieces, is published this month by Ipso Books and available on Amazon. She blogs for Motherload, and has appeared on TV for MacMillan. See https://breastcancerandbaby.com/
Laura’s friend, Michael Long, will be doing a 127-mile, six-day run from his home in London to Laura’s front door in Barrow for three causes: Breast Cancer Care, The Stroke Association and funds to help with the cost of the equipment and renovations Rachel will need when she comes home. See www.127miles. co.uk for information or to donate.