Young mother with terminal cancer seeks ‘living list’ to make memories with her family

A mother of two, who is told that her cancer is incurable, is putting together a “living list” with her family in order to create as many happy memories as possible in the time she has left. Sarah Mackenzie thought she had won her battle against cancer after that joyous moment when she pulled the bell on her treatment at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle.

The elementary school teacher was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 33 after giving birth to her youngest child, Willow, but after nine months of surgery and grueling treatment, she was completely cleared. The family, which includes husband Ross and eldest child Noah, decided to move from Newcastle to Belfast in their dream “forever home”.

It was a move that brought Sara closer to her family again and life seemed perfect. But, this March the family’s world turned for the second time.

Sarah, now 37, felt pain in her back and subsequent tests confirmed that stage four breast cancer had spread to her bones and fractured her spine. The doctors told him that from that time onwards the disease could be controlled and now it is incurable.

Recalling the chain of events leading up to that moment, Sir told the Newcastle Chronicle : “In early December I started feeling some back pain, but it was only a minor ache that I could manage with paracetamol. But it didn’t go away for about two weeks and then, one morning, it was sudden So severe that I could not move.

“I couldn’t get out of bed. I had an MRI on January 4th and it showed several tumors, especially one that caused a huge fracture in my spine.

Sarah at Noah’s birthday party, which was black and white in the colors of Newcastle United Football Club
(Image: Sarah McKenzie)

“It was a huge, huge shock for me. I’m a positive person, one of these people who just gets up and moves on, and I had a doctor’s appointment before Christmas and we went to Newcastle on New Year’s Day. Spent a week. But at that point I knew I was going to have an MRI, but not once did I expect the news I was going to get.

“I actually thought it was a bit of a muscle ache, because I exercised, I was running, if you looked at me I was the picture of health. I was working full time, I had regular checkups. All that was showing – clear.

“It was really a huge shock. Hearing the words ‘it’s not curable,’ that’s the really hard part.”

Reporting the news to Noah and Willow, now seven and five, was not easy. Were both of the same age, this would mean that they were more aware of their mother’s illness than they were before.

“We had advice that if they ask if I’m going to die, we say, ‘That’s not the plan for now, the doctors plan is to give the doctor mommy a drug to keep the cancer at bay for as long as possible. Give.” Sarah said. “One night Noah got upset as he was going to bed and he asked me ‘Mom, what happens when you die, will you have another life?’ – He must be thinking of a computer game where you have to go again.

“I didn’t have to say unfortunately, and he hugged me and said ‘Mommy I never want to leave you’. That conversation was extremely difficult, but I put it together for him to be strong, and we all started writing.” Given the things we wanted to do together as a family while living here.

Sarah Rings The Healing Bell At The Newcastle Royal Victoria Infirmary At The End Of Her First Battle With Cancer
Sarah rings the healing bell at the Newcastle Royal Victoria Infirmary at the end of her first battle with cancer
(Image: Sarah McKenzie)

“The first thing he said was ‘I want to go to Florida’ – so aim high! So that was where the survival list came from, and now when things come up we write them down.

“I’m focused on making the most of the time I spend with my family and the list really helps with that. It helps me accomplish as much as I can, to create as many happy memories as I can.” Makes determination.

“Obviously there are some big things that cost money but there are also little things that I probably took for granted, like going to the kids’ play day. These memories mean a lot to me now.”

With few lifetime experiences, a family living in a campervan and hiking trips just for Sarah and Ross are high on the list, friends have helped raise thousands of pounds in order to make as many as possible. A dream treehouse has already been built with money as a gift for Willow’s fifth birthday.

“The support has been really tremendous, but in such a sweet way,” Sarah said. “I’m from Newcastle, from Belfast, it’s been incredible. It’s so comforting that we have so many people around who are giving us that love and support and I honestly couldn’t have done this without my friends and family.”

Sarah’s friends are raising money for her

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