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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Thu 31-Jan-19 16:35:30

Guest post: “Our brave, beautiful sunflower lost her long and courageous battle with a brain tumour”

After losing her daughter to an incurable brain tumour, Barbara is continuing her daughter’s work in raising awareness of the desperate need for more research.

Barbara Relf

Posted on: Thu 31-Jan-19 16:35:30

(31 comments )

Lead photo

"Brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer, yet historically just 1% of the national spend on cancer research has been allocated to this disease."

Gemma was our precious daughter who arrived five years after her big brother Lee to complete our little family. It seemed that she was born with a smile on her face. Gemma was always such fun, blessed with a great sense of humour, that she literally lit up a room.Our inspirational, brave, loving, caring, fun and beautiful sunflower lost her long and courageous battle with a brain tumour just days before Christmas 2018.

Gemma was intelligent, kind and caring from a young age, often enjoying looking after younger children. She loved dressing up and when she was given a nurse’s uniform, she wanted to bandage people or check them out with her stethoscope, so it was no surprise she chose a career in nursing. Having graduated from university and completed her training, Gemma worked for a few years at Great Ormond Street Hospital, later transferring to our local hospital as a junior sister.

My husband Andy and I were so proud and happy for Gemma. She appeared to have it all – a loving husband, two gorgeous little boys, Dylan and Noah, who are now six and four, and a job that really fulfilled her, as well as a network of lovely friends.

But life can turn on a sixpence. Just eight weeks after the birth of little Noah, Gemma had three days of nausea, vomiting and severe headaches and was diagnosed with a brain tumour. She underwent surgery and we then had to wait three agonising weeks for the results of the biopsy. It was the worst possible news. Gemma had an aggressive and incurable brain tumour – a grade 4 glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) and was given 12 to 18 months to live. It sent us reeling. How could this be happening to our beautiful little sunflower and mummy to two very young boys?

Life can turn on a sixpence. Just eight weeks after the birth of little Noah, Gemma had three days of nausea, vomiting and severe headaches and was diagnosed with a brain tumour.


It was only then that we started to learn the grim statistics for this terrible disease. Less than 20% of those diagnosed with a brain tumour survive beyond five years, compared to 50% across all cancers. Gemma refused to feel sorry for herself and just got on with it, so we followed her lead. Then cancer struck the family again. This time it was Noah, aged 15 months, who was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare form of eye cancer. He had an eye removed and underwent proton beam therapy, but Gemma continued to draw on her seemingly endless resources of courage and positivity, keeping the boys smiling throughout Noah’s own cancer journey.

Despite enduring radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and further surgery, Gemma’s battle was never one she could win. In September 2018 we were told that the tumour was back and inoperable. Andy and I stayed with Gemma as she received end-of-life care at our local hospice until she passed away.

When faced with the battle of her life, Gemma was determined to enjoy every minute of every day. She never gave up hope, or felt sorry for herself and would often say: “There are people in the world worse off than me.”

Brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer, yet historically just 1% of the national spend on cancer research has been allocated to this disease. We are determined to help change that and carry on Gemma’s work, fundraising for Brain Tumour Research and raising awareness of the desperate need for research. We are also very grateful to Caprice, whom Gemma met and bonded with at a Brain Tumour Research event, for her wonderful help in continuing Gemma’s legacy.

The sense of loss felt by me and the whole family of our beautiful Gemma is beyond words. We take some comfort from the fact that Gemma was blessed in having so many wonderful friends and supporters who will keep her memory alive. And, of course, we are blessed with Gemma’s legacy in Dylan and Noah and will ensure they continue to hear all the stories we have of their inspirational mummy.

By Barbara Relf

Twitter: @braintumourrsch

greathat Thu 31-Jan-19 18:21:36

So sorry for your loss. Rest in peace Gemma

Crunched Thu 31-Jan-19 18:35:04

Such a tragic story. Sorry for your loss.
Donated flowers

cherriesandoranges Thu 31-Jan-19 18:43:28

So sad. Rest in peace x

ChristmasFlary Thu 31-Jan-19 19:30:08

Such a cruel disease. Am so glad you all got some precious time together.

My Dad died of GBM 8 weeks post diagnosis.

Much love to you all

redshoes2017 Thu 31-Jan-19 19:46:54

Your daughter sounds very brave! So very very sorry for your loss xxxx

purplemirrors Thu 31-Jan-19 19:48:12

Sorry for your loss x

goodolddaze Thu 31-Jan-19 20:15:29

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

GetUpAgain Thu 31-Jan-19 20:33:36

I'm so sorry. What a wonderful daughter.

serialtester Thu 31-Jan-19 20:38:02

That was beautifully written and I'm so sorry for your loss. I

namechangedyetagain Thu 31-Jan-19 21:29:26

I'm so sorry. My darling brother died 5 months ago from GBM. He was just 3 weeks from diagnosis, less than 8 weeks from first symptom. He was 42. Our hearts are still breaking.

It is an evil form of cancer and the fact that research into brain tumours is so underfunded is shocking when you consider how many young lives it takes. I had never heard of GBM until last July. Now I tell anyone who will listen about this cruel incurable disease.

Thoughts are with youflowers.

minmooch Thu 31-Jan-19 21:31:09

I'm so very sorry for the loss of your precious daughter Gemma.

I lost my son, Will, when he was 18 years old, to a medullablastoma - a different, but very aggressive brain tumour. It is coming up to the 5th anniversary of his death. It doesn't get easier, you just learn to live with the grief alongside your day to day life.

My son too chose to live his life, knowing he was going to die, yet still with hope, humour and humility. He was far braver than I could ever have been. He too believed there were others worse off than him. He taught me more than I could teach him. He was a beautiful soul, kind, gentle, intelligent, very funny. I miss him more than words can express.

I feel honoured to have been his mum and to have been by his side throughout it all. I wish I could have done it instead of him.

I am so sorry that you are on this journey and also that your grandson had his own cancer battle. Life can be so very cruel.

LuckyLou7 Thu 31-Jan-19 21:38:52

Gemma sounds wonderful. I will donate and raise awareness amongst friends and family for Brain Tumour Research. Sending you strength and love.

smcbride Thu 31-Jan-19 22:16:41

Sorry to read of your loss of Gemma.

I didn't know those statistics... incredible.

user1457017537 Thu 31-Jan-19 23:05:18

I am so very sorry for your loss.

sandgrown Fri 01-Feb-19 01:04:22

So sorry for your loss x

SavageBeauty73 Fri 01-Feb-19 07:39:43

So sorry for your loss. She sounds amazing ❤️

Orchiddingme Fri 01-Feb-19 09:01:42

Your daughter sounds like she was wonderful. So sad to go through this, your campaign is a much needed one.

CottonSock Fri 01-Feb-19 10:05:14

I'm sorry for your loss and I pray her little boy is healthy now. What a lot for one young family to deal with

Imperfectsusan Fri 01-Feb-19 11:14:10

I have heard your story. I am sorry, and also glad that you had such a wonderful daughter.

gemsparkle84 Fri 01-Feb-19 14:26:43

So sorry x

BrylcreamBeret Fri 01-Feb-19 15:56:08

I'm sorry for your horrendous loss. My brother died aged 27 from a brain tumour and I felt then that there was so little actual research on them. I wish you and your family all the absolute best flowers

NotAnotherUserName5 Fri 01-Feb-19 16:46:07

So sorry sad

What a terrible time you have been through. Your daughter looked a lovely woman.

Well done on doing something positive in raising awareness. flowers

Thoughts are with you and your family.

NeverTwerkNaked Fri 01-Feb-19 17:14:01

Those statistics are shocking. I am so sorry you family had this double shock and the heart break of losing Gemma. Hopefully with more awareness there will be better hope for future research.

RomanyRoots Fri 01-Feb-19 19:56:50

I had no idea of those statistics.
Gemma's story will go on to inspire others and give them the courage she so obviously had in abundance. Raising awareness is a lovely legacy.
I'm so sorry for your loss thanks

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