A mum who has been told she only has ‘weeks or months’ to live has celebrated an early Christmas with her family thanks to donations from Walsall’s kind-hearted community and help from the Well Wishers charity.
Dawn Wood, 41, from Wednesbury, has a brain tumour and was told in August she is unlikely to survive much longer.
So the community has rallied round to support the family in their time of need to provide presents for Dawn and husband Richard’s children Abbie aged 19, Caleb, nine, Lilah, six, and Poppie, four, and a tea party at Goscote Hospice, Walsall.
Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust’s charity Well Wishers provided food and Christmas decorations, Asda at St Matthews, Walsall, presented the children with Christmas pyjamas, slipper socks, hot chocolate, and toiletries and IT Consultant Amrik Singh, from Vibrant Networks in Walsall, donated four brightly coloured sit-on bean bags.
Dawn has had the tumour, which is the size of a golf ball and is called an anaplastic oligodendroglioma, since June 2012.
She was found at the wheel of her stationary car taking Caleb, who was then just 11 weeks old, home after passing out outside St Mary’s School in Wednesbury where Caleb and Lilah now attend. She was found by a mum who was a former paramedic.
Since then she has had five operations, plus radiotherapy and three stints of chemotherapy.
But the tumour is still growing and now interlocked with Dawn’s brain which would make further operations too dangerous.
At the end of August the family cut short a holiday in North Wales after Dawn lost the ability to walk.
She suffered what was thought was a stroke and lost the use of her left leg, also getting an infection to a scar on her head from a previous operation when she had part of her skull removed.
The infection has meant Dawn couldn’t move her fingers and toes or lift her left arm and has lost muscle in her left arm and left leg.
“We always knew the tumour was growing because it grew when Dawn was having chemotherapy,” said Richard, 44, who has been his wife’s full-time carer for the last four years after giving up his job in insurance.
“That’s when they gave us the news where she only has weeks or months to live. They said they can’t treat it and there’s nothing more they can do.
“When we were first told about the tumour, they said she might last 10-15 years and the first thing she said was ‘I’m going for 15’. Through every round of chemotherapy and radiotherapy she’s been so positive.”
One thing she hasn’t lost is her sense of humour. “She can still tell me off and she can kick me!” joked Richard. “We call the tumour a ‘cretin’ because of the trouble it causes.
“The last six weeks have probably been the hardest. Abbie has known from the start but I’ve had to explain to the other children that mummy is going to heaven.
“Poppie has autism and doesn’t speak at the moment but she understood what was going on. What they don’t understand is when.”
Dawn stayed at Goscote Hospice at Walsall Palliative Centre for the maximum two-week stay before being transferred to Veronica House Nursing Home in Tipton, where she has been since 7 December.
“I just get on with it,” said Dawn. “The only thing I can do is think positive and that’s what I do.”
It’s the simple pleasures that keep the family going. The couple had a ‘date night’ and shared a Chinese meal recently and Richard brings the children to see Dawn as much as they can.
The couple also have a strong network of family and friends who have rallied round.
Lynne Whitehouse is described as Dawn’s ‘surrogate mum’ having helped bring her up from the age of 13 when her mum sadly passed away with cancer at the age of 45.
Friends raised £3,500 to help fulfil a ‘bucket list’, as one of Dawn’s dying wishes was to take her children to Disneyland Paris, but the combination of waiting for an assessment for a wheelchair along with Covid-19 restrictions means the trip won’t go ahead.
Instead the money was used to transform their garden for the children.
Tickets had also been booked for the couple, who have been married for eight years and together for nearly 12, to see Les Miserables in London for her birthday on August 13, 2022 to re-create one of their first dates. But this has also had to be cancelled.
“We always clung to the hope that there could be another operation or something could be done, but we know it can’t now,” added Richard.
“It’s heartbreaking and I can’t imagine what the kids are going through because they process things differently to adults.
“So I think it will hit them more, but we’ve got a very strong network with Lynne, Steph and St Mary’s School in Wednesbury.
“The school has been fantastic from day one, from fundraising for the kids to have days out to keep their minds off things to counselling to help Caleb and Lilah – they have been amazing.”
All of which brings us to the early Christmas.
“We didn’t want to bring Christmas forward because we thought the children might remember it for the wrong reasons,” said Richard. “So the children just opened their main Christmas present and they put on the fluffy socks and blankets and sat on the bean bags.
“The hospice and Well Wishers charity were amazing and we’re so thankful and grateful to everyone for what they did.”