Since being diagnosed with bowel cancer Melanie Horton bravely fought not only against her illness, but to save as many lives as possible through raising awareness of this cruel disease.
Just weeks after helping to write this article for Best magazine Mel passed away on November 9th and her family gave permission for the article to be published in her memory. Before going to print Mel’s daughters Leanne and Maria told us: ‘ Mum was an inspirational woman, the most beautiful, amazing person.’ We couldn’t agree more and will continue to help raise awareness of bowel cancer in Mel’s memory. Tributes for Mel can be left on her facebook page athttps://www.facebook.com/mels.bucketlist <https://www.facebook.com/mels.bucketlist>
Exhausted after my work out I flopped down on the sofa.
It didn’t make sense. Since joining a gym I was the fittest and slimmest I’d ever been.
My podgy middle -aged spread had gone, and I finally had the size eight body I’d always dreamed of.
At first I’d put my tiredness down to working out, but lately I felt constantly drained and weak, a far cry from the super fit woman I looked like.
When I’d first noticed blood when I wiped after going to the toilet months earlier, I’d put it down to the strain caused by lifting weights.
But now with the exhaustion too, I decided to see a doctor.
I was referred to the hospital for tests including a colonoscopy where a small camera would be inserted into my rectum. ‘I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about,’ my doctor assured me.
Two weeks later the results were back.
‘The colonoscopy revealed a tumour low down in your rectum. It’s cancerous,’ the consultant said gravely.
The walls started to close in and the rest of his words washed over me as my mind started to race.
The weight loss and tiredness hadn’t been caused by my weight training at all; they were the side effects of cancer.
It seemed too cruel to be true that my sexy new toned body had concealed such an awful secret.
First I called my parents, then my twin daughters Leanne and Maria, 22.
They sobbed when I told them. ‘ I’ll fight this girls,’ I promised and I meant every word.
My mum had beaten breast cancer so I had the best role model in the world.
Two weeks later my chemotherapy and radiotherapy started. It left me even more exhausted but the doctors said my high fitness levels put me in good stead.
They were right, just four months on my tumour had shrunk. The next stage was surgery to remove it.
‘See girls, told you I’d fight,’ I smiled to Leanne and Maria.
The surgery to remove the tumour would leave me with a stoma bag to collect waste for the rest of my life but it was a small price to pay for my life, even when I was told I would never be able to lift weights again.
I was admitted to hospital for the operation. I was confident surgery would be a success, but there was bad news.
When doctors removed the tumour from my bowel they found more cancer cells on my liver.
I needed more chemotherapy and more surgery. I broke down. ‘Please keep strong mum,’ my girls urged. ‘ You’re the strongest woman we know.’
But inside I had to admit I was starting to feel scared. Weeks on in September 2011 I had the surgery on my liver.
‘I’m afraid during the operation we found more tumours in your lung,’ my consultant said. The room started to spin again.
‘Your care now will be palliative.’
I knew straight away what that meant. It was one hell of a shock. But still I refused to give up hope.
I’d heard stories of people beating the odds before. ‘ I’ll try clinical trials, anything,’ I vowed. Keeping positive was the only way I knew to cope.
But after more gruelling chemotherapy I had a follow up appointment with my consultant in July this year.
‘How long do I have left ?,’ I asked. It was the first time I’d ever asked the question but for some reason it felt like I needed to know.
I could have collapsed when he said four to six months. ‘Is that all?’ I gasped.
But that meant I might not even make Christmas. It didn’t seem possible.
I loved Christmas, it was my favourite time of the year. Even last year when I’d been battling cancer we’d still celebrated. I’d never once dreamed it would be my last.
Telling my girls I might not be around for Christmas was the hardest thing I’d ever done.
Seeing them cry made me realise I had to keep fighting, if not for my life, then at least to spend one more Christmas with them.
With the consultants words ringing in my ears my mind raced. Time was running out and I needed to create as many memories as possible for them to cherish when I was gone.
Over a glass of wine with my girlfriends I jokingly told them it was time for me to write my bucket list.
‘I’ve never been skinny dipping,’ I laughed, ‘ and I’ve always wanted to learn salsa.’
It was hardly a typical start to a bucket list, but then there was nothing really big and fancy I wanted to do, I just wanted to have some fun with the people I loved.
I’d love to eat at a posh restaurant, watch a West End show and have a photo-shoot with my girls,’ I chattered on.
Soon I was on a roll: ‘I’ve always fancied a champagne limo ride too,’ I added, ‘and I’d love to go to a ball in a fancy dress.’
The trouble was I’d had to leave my job as a manager for an eating disorder charity and money was tight, so it looked like most things on my bucket list would be impossible to achieve.
‘You two are all I really need,’ I told Maria and Leanne holding them close.
But a few days later I logged onto facebook and got a huge shock.
One of my close friends Gemma with help from my girls had posted my entire bucket list on facebook. ‘Help Mel’s dreams come true before it’s too late,’ it read.
I’d used facebook throughout my battle to keep friends and family up to date with my condition, so they knew I wasn’t shy about using the site.
I giggled when I saw they’d even included skinny dipping.
I was so moved that they’d gone to so much trouble. But the biggest shock was the page had already had several hundred views and friends and family were making donations to help make my dreams come true.
‘I can’t believe it,’ I gasped reading all the beautiful comments that were already being posted.
Soon my bucket list was being reposted and re-tweeted by complete strangers keen to help.
I was so moved that people could be so kind.
Soon big ticks were appearing next to some of the goals on my list – apparently companies had read my page and gifted things likes meals and theatre tickets.
I was overcome.
‘I can’t thank you enough,’ I told Gemma when I saw her.
As news spread more people wanted to get involved. Soon I’d been donated a pamper day with my daughters and even a glitzy photo-shoot.
‘I never expected any of this to happen,’ I gasped as I saw the number of making on line donations to help me tick more off the list.
Earlier this year I went to visit my parents in Cyprus and it was there that I got to tick another entry off the bucket list – skinny dipping.
‘Mum you are mad,’ my daughters laughed as I stripped off and plunged into the pool outside our villa.
I knew it was a moment they would never forget.
Back home newspapers had picked up on my facebook bucket list
I was more than happy to talk to them, after all the interviews helped me achieve another goal on my bucket list – to raise awareness of this awful disease and save more lives.
Then I heard my story had even been printed in Brazil. ‘Sending love and prayers to you Mel,’ wrote well wishers from around the globe. I was blown away.
They may have been on the other side of the world but their support gave me a huge boost.
Ticking off the tings on my bucket list gave me something to look forward too. In August I went to my first ever music festival. I needed a wheelchair but it was still great fun.
Then there was pamper days, meals out and photo-shoots.
October came – four months after I was given between four and six months – and I smiled – for the first time I dared to hope I would make Christmas.
But the pain was getting worse and I was admitted to a hospice for a few days to rest, but I vowed as soon as I felt better to continue with my bucket list and reading all the new messages of support from around the world kept me focused.
So many people were rooting for me I couldn’t give up, there were now more than 2200 subscribers to my bucket list page.
I started picking out Christmas decorations and shopping for gifts for my girls.
More than anything I wanted to be alive to give my daughters their presents on Christmas morning.
But even if I’m not I know thanks to my facebook bucket list that I’ll be leaving them with the best memories ever. Now my wonderful friends have helped two of my dreams come true at once by arranging a fancy fundraising ball.
It means I get to wear a fancy dress for a night and raise money to help others battling cancer too.
It means whether I see Christmas or not, nearly all of my wishes will have come true and I can’t thank everyone enough for that.
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