Father tells of wife’s grit after cancer diagnosis

Adam Findlay with his daughter, Jemma. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Adam Findlay with his daughter, Jemma. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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CRADLING her newborn baby girl in her arms, Tracy Findlay thought she was the luckiest woman in the world.

And with good reason. Little Jemma was the miracle child she and husband Adam had so desperately longed for. The emotional rollercoaster of six rounds of gruelling IVF would have broken most people, 
eating away at even the strongest maternal instincts. But there was no way Tracy was ever giving up.

On their seventh try – and more than £70,000 later – their priceless daughter was born, the family complete.

So as Jemma grew to be a happy and healthy toddler, it was hard to imagine the earth-shattering news heading their way, a breast cancer diagnosis that would cut Tracy’s life tragically short.

“The day she took the pregnancy test that read positive it was euphoric. We’d seen so many negatives,” remembers Adam. “We had four years of IVF to get Jemma, seven attempts of fertility treatment. We’d fought very hard to get her.

“However, just as we’d finished one struggle, another was around the corner.”

Adam, 40, remembers the evening Tracy came back from hospital after finding a lump.

“We thought she was just going in to make sure there was nothing wrong. So, when we were told there was, it turned everything upside down. The word ‘cancer’ creates a feeling of disbelief in you. It’s such a scary word. It’s panic. Suddenly your energy and your efforts are nothing to do with making sure you’re keeping up with mortgage repayments or your dreams and aspirations. Your energy is on keeping someone alive.”

Having fought so hard to become a mother, it was inevitable she would show the same grit and determination again as Tracy faced the disease with a positivity that many would fail to muster in good times.

Four days before Christmas 2008, she underwent a lumpectomy which she described as “the best present ever” and considered herself cancer-free so the family could fully embrace the season of goodwill.

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy followed in the new year but the civil servant from Silverknowes endured it stoically, the psychological side-effects probably outweighed the sickness.

She responded well to treatment, with doctors hopeful the breast cancer had gone.

However, by the following year the cancer had returned, this time through the bones, and it became quietly clear that it was gradually taking over.

“Tracy never at any stage talked about the fact it had become terminal.

“The turning point for her knowing was probably 2010 when the cancer reappeared in other parts of her body.

“The way she dealt with that was ‘oh, how unlucky am I’. It was only a month before she passed she started to think she might die.

“She went downhill so quickly.

“She didn’t go to a hospice. She went from being able to get herself dressed and be self-sufficient to dying four days later.

“Something Jemma and I put together in the last year of Tracy’s life was a diary. Tracy found it very difficult to talk about her illness. We were both finding that very difficult. So Jemma and I had a secret diary we used to keep.

“After bedtime stories we’d talk into my iPhone on to the recorder and share what we felt about the future.

“I could see Jemma working out that her mum wasn’t going to get any better and it was hard to talk to her about it.

“Jemma didn’t have anyone to talk to. It would never be ‘daddy tell me what’s happening here’ it was just me saying ‘it’s been a really difficult day because mummy was too ill to come and pick you up from school’ and she’d say ‘yeah, I’ve noticed mummy getting more ill and I miss her picking me up from school as much’. It was just an avenue to talk.”

Faced with the prospect of Adam becoming a single parent to the child she had so craved, Tracy set about preparing him as best she could for the challenges ahead.

“She would talk about the fact that Jemma would be my responsibility from now on. She said I had to learn to be a mum and a dad. It was important that she knew I was prepared to take that responsibility on. Her focus was very much about Jemma.

“That was what made her the most angry of all things. We’d waited so long to have a child and now this cruel disease was going to take her away from the best years of that and Jemma was being robbed of a mum.”

Since then, Adam, a radio station managing director, has stayed true to his word, learning to fulfil the roles of both parents and embracing his wife’s passions in her agonising absence.

He has fought to make her death as bearable as possible for their daughter, now nine, her pride and joy.

The pair continue to take strength from each other following Tracy’s untimely passing the day before Valentine’s last year, aged 46, just as they did while the disease slowly robbed them of their loved one.

“I hug her as often as I can, and listen as best I can,” says Adam, with a reflective smile.

“I’ve learned how to bake. Tracy always used to cook with her and Jemma loves it.

“I’ve learned how to do pigtails and brush her hair.

“We fought so hard to have Jemma, now I’m determined to do them both proud.”

Epic challenge will raise much-needed maggie’s cash

ADAM and his friends are to participate in an epic biking and hiking challenge and hope to raise money for Maggie’s Centres.

Maggie’s Monster Bike and Hike is an annual 24-hour endurance test made up of a 31-mile cycle and nine-mile-hike.

Team Tracy, as it has been dubbed, consists of Chris Donald and Colin Campbell from Innovate Financial Services, Richard Brown, owner of the Bellevue Bar, Martin Kemp, a teacher at Stewart Melville school and Alan Sutherland (Big Al) from Central FM.

They have set themselves a target of raising £10,000. Jemma will be cheering the team on from the sidelines.

Adam said he decided to take part in the Bike and Hike because he wanted to give something back to the organisation that gave him so much help, and allow it to help other families just like his own.

He said: “The key thing with Maggie’s is that they see everybody who walks through the door as a patient, whether you’re the one suffering from cancer or you’re the husband of someone with cancer.

“The oncology unit at the Western General is fantastic and I can’t praise them highly enough. Their patient was Tracy and they treated her. But the ripple effect of her illness hit everyone around her. Maggie’s were amazing at picking up on all of the extra things out-with the illness itself.

“We couldn’t have got through in the way we had without them.”

Maggie’s events manager Claire Benjamin said: “Monster is always an extraordinary event with a phenomenal atmosphere and a uniquely Maggie’s feel about it.”