Inspiring stories: Elizabeth from Wander Mum

October 21, 2015

It’s been a while since I’ve shared one of my inspiring story interviews.  If you’ve read the last couple, you’ll know that these interviews are all about incredibly strong women and mums who have been through a lot – often more than most go through in a lifetime –  yet stayed positive and never stopped believing.  Each of these interviews is inspiring because they show us that even though life can throw the worst things at you, you can still come out the other side.  It kind of puts our little, everyday troubles in perspective and makes me realise that they are just not worth stressing about.   Today I wanted to share Elizabeth’s story – a mum, a blogger, a business woman and a wife. Her story is a little different to the others but definitely no less inspiring.

inspiring women entrepreneurs

Tell us a few words about you.
Hi.  I’m Elizabeth, mum to a three-year-old girl and wife to a Yorkshire lad living in London.  I’m a journalist, blogger and I have my own health and beauty business too.  A huge passion of mine is travel, so much that I set up a blog to record my family adventures.  As well as spending time with my family, one of my favourite things is hanging out with my mates, a glass of fizz in hand, chackling away.  And it really IS a loud chackle particularly for someone my size ( I’m 5’1).

family with new baby

But recently there hasn’t been much to laugh about, has there?
No.  The past three years have been full of extreme highs and lows.  The biggest high being the birth of my daughter and the low being my husband’s health.  It began three years ago shortly after Paul ran his third marathon.  Over the next three months he steadily felt more and more unwell with less and less energy.  Eventually, when he could barely stand, he was admitted to hospital and we discovered he had the lowest blood count doctors had ever seen on somebody still walking.  After many tests we were told he had lymphoma- a blood cancer.  It was a huge shock.

We had never expected something as serious as cancer especially in someone so fit and young – he was 33 at the time.  When the ‘big C’ is mentioned, it strikes fear into your bones.  It was aggressive and advanced at stage four.  I was then seven and a half months pregnant.  Instead of getting excited about our new arrival, buying cots and painting the nursery, Paul was preparing to have chemotherapy.  Just weeks earlier I had been diagnosed with a fairly rare complication in pregnancy, Obstetric Cholestatis so I was also in and out of another hospital.  It was a crazy time.

After various tests, it was confirmed that Paul had non-Hodgkin lymphoma and it was treatable.  He was put onto chemotherapy very quickly and was recovering from his first round when my daughter was born. She proved to be the best distraction and looking at the positives, he got to spend an extended amount of time with her, albeit not feeling very well, but time none the less. After eight rounds of chemo it was confirmed that the cancer had gone. It was a huge relief and we started to get on with our lives with a renewed perspective and appreciation for life.

Soon after you started getting back to normal life, tell us what happened?
At the start of 2015 my husband had been feeling a bit under the weather – a cough, cold, the usual winter ailments.  We didn’t think much of it; who doesn’t get ill in the UK in winter?  He went ahead on a planned business trip to Chicago but less than 24 hours after arriving he was rushed to hospital in a critical condition.  I received the phone call nobody wants to get – he had bacterial meningitis.

His father got the first flight out there and I later found out that doctors had told him that it was unlikely Paul would make it through the night.   That night I somehow managed to get some sleep and stay positive. I told his mum he would be alright.  He had to be!  After all he had beaten cancer, surely he could beat everything else?  I was 3,000 miles away in London, not being able to see him or speak to him (he was in a coma) and I was unable to talk at length with the doctors.  When I did, they weren’t painting a very rosy picture.  He was in a critical but stable condition and the doctors had no idea how he would be affected if and when he came out of the coma as often the virus can affect the brain.

A few days later I flew to Chicago with my little girl.  It was so good to finally see him even though he looked desperately ill and was in a coma with tubes coming out of every orifice.  I kept calm, held his hand and chatted to him about normal everyday things and tried to keep things light.  Even though he was asleep I didn’t want to make him anxious.  He’s a worrier so I knew he’d have been panicking about how we’d been coping.  I’ve never had such a one sided conversation – he’s not exactly the quiet, shy, retiring type!  Although under heavy sedation, he managed to open his eyes and nodded when I asked if he could recognise my voice.  It was a great sign!

A week later, when Paul came out of his coma, his brain scans came back clear but the bacteria had attacked his heart.  This was not the end – he was told he had to have heart surgery within the next 48 hours.  This was a lot for his hazy mind to take in as he couldn’t fathom where the last week had gone.  The bacteria had damaged two of his heart valves and he underwent an eight hour operation to replace them with metal ones.  He steadily recovered from the operation and was determined to get his physical strength back.  Defying doctor’s expectations, he was let out of hospital just over a week later.  Things were finally looking up and we started planning our trip home.

What happened next?
We tried to get back to some kind of normality even going on a dinner date in Chicago as a belated Valentines present.  But the relief and happiness did not last long.  A few days later Paul went back into hospital, struggling to breathe and they discovered fluid around his heart.  Little did we know that the worst was yet to come.  As he was being prepped for yet another surgery to remove the fluid he went into cardiac arrest.  He flat-lined right before my eyes and was clinically dead for 28 minutes.  It was the worst day of my life.

Someone must have been looking over us because the medical team miraculously brought him back to life. His heart restarted and he went into theatre to drain the blood from around his heart after he had suffered an internal bleed.  It was a success and he was back in intensive care, steadily making a recovery and beginning more rehabilitation.  We eventually flew home from Chicago after seven long weeks, our lives forever changed.

How and where did you find the strength to carry on functioning as a wife, a mother, a person – not once but twice?
I think you just have to!  The first time with the cancer it was all a bit of a haze as I was in the late stages of my pregnancy with complications but I had a strong network of people around me including doctor friends who could decipher all the medical chat.  When our daughter was born, she became the focus but also my husband’s strength and positivity helped us get through this time.  The second time was far worse –  I couldn’t even speak to him or see him!  But I always tried to keep a positive state of mind.  Sometimes it wasn’t easy.  He is a tough, positive person so I channeled a lot of him and I had belief in his strength and determination that he’d get over the meningitis and out of the coma.  I also wanted to keep things ‘normal’ for my daughter and that helped me put one foot in front of the other each day – I had to as I didn’t want her thinking anything was wrong.  The worst bit was when she would ask about her daddy.  Fighting back tears I told her he’d be back soon.

Before I went to Chicago I tried to keep as busy as I could – it was my way of coping – and I did all the jobs around the house we hadn’t got around to doing.  I wanted to make the home look as perfect as possible to welcome Paul home.  I had to believe he was coming home and that was what I focused on.  I kept reassuring myself that he had already beaten cancer so he would fight this too.  I would also think to myself ‘what would Paul do in this situation’ even for the small things like booking the flight.  It helped me find strength and feel like he was there with me.

My little girl helped so much especially when we were in Chicago.  She had no real idea what was going on.  She wanted to go to breakfast, have a play, read books.  She was the best distraction and when I was with her I gave her my full attention so that there was no dwelling on the ‘what if’s’.

Months after, every now and then, something will come back to haunt me – the enormity of what Paul went through, what I have seen and what he has survived.  Most of the time it is fleeting and I push it aside but it is there and always will be.  That however is the past and you have to look to the future.  We have learned a lot over the past few months with the biggest lesson being how fragile life can be and therefore it’s so important that we all live life to the full.  Everyday.

How did you get through the darkest moments and how did you cope with your worst fears?
As mentioned my daughter has been my absolute rock.  On the day my husband went into cardiac arrest, I went back to the waiting room and there she was.  I gave her a huge hug and focused on reading her a story and being strong for her, putting my trust in the medical team.  I knew there was nothing I could do for Paul at that moment but I could stay strong for others and be a positive and reassuring influence when he woke up.

My best friend Emma was also amazing.  She’s a surgeon and as soon as she heard my husband went into cardiac arrest, she came out to Chicago. She helped with my daughter and took my mind off things and assisted with all the medical language too.  I also got so many messages of support from friends and family which meant a lot.  But when it was just me and my thoughts I did all I could to shut out any negativity.  The mind is extremely powerful but we can have complete control over it if we choose.  In that moment when my husband was in a hospital room dying, I felt sick and was praying – a lot – but I never gave up on him.  I remember saying to myself over and over “he’s going to be ok, he’s going to be ok.”  I just kept repeating it over and over because for me there could be no other ending.

At the time I happened to be reading a book called The Secret by Rhonda Byrne (I recommend everyone read it at some point in their lives).  It was like I was supposed to read that book at that moment in my life.  It helped enormously in those dark days.  It’s all about the law of attraction and thinking positive thoughts, overcoming fears and attracting good things into your life.  The book really spoke to me and gave me solace.  Yes, it was an awful situation but I focused on it getting better and didn’t think too much about the why.  Why it happened.  Why us?  Why so many times?  After all what would that achieve?  You can drive yourself crazy.  I could not change what was happening but I could control how I dealt with it and how we moved forward as a family.  I am just so thankful that he is still with us.  Now, when I get annoyed with my hubby or he gets stressed about little things, it’s not hard to look at what has happened and have gratitude.  I usually just laugh at him and give him a big hug.  There are far bigger things in life.

One of the many things you do is blog.  Tell us a little about it?
Wander Mum is mainly a travel blog about my family adventures with a bit of mummy stuff thrown in and I have also documented some of what we have been through as a family over the years.  I got the traveling bug after going on a round the world trip on my own after university.  I did everything from skydiving to bungee jumping, climbing glaciers and jungle hiking.  I had a blast and it opened my eyes to the world.

Fortunately my husband shares my passion and now it seems my daughter does too.  She first flew when she was just nine weeks old and we haven’t looked back.  I set up Wander Mum because I wanted to show that you can still travel with children in tow.  I share my experiences and pass on advice to help inspire others to take the plunge and not be put off traveling as a family.  Traveling is the best education and I want to be able to expose my daughter to many different cultures and experiences.  It isn’t something I did a lot when I was a child (being one of four we stayed in the UK for our holidays) but you always want more for you children, don’t you?

What drew you to blogging?
My friend Emma suggested I do it.  I am not sure I would have thought to do it if it hadn’t been for her encouragement. Sometimes it’s the things you never imagined doing that become the best decisions you ever made so always stay open minded.  I love traveling and writing.  I would type out stories on my mum’s typewriter when I was little and make up magazines for my primary school friends.  I did an English degree and now I am a journalist so I guess blogging was the natural thing to do.  I love being able to write about anything, anywhere, without any restrictions and creating something totally unique.  I also find it’s a great therapy.  In fact, I am finding writing this very therapeutic.  I haven’t gone into too much detail about our ordeal on my blog –  yet.  Writing this makes it far more real!  So thanks for asking me to do this.  It has been a great help to me and I hope to others as well.

What has the blogging community meant to you?
When I was living through my husbands illnesses and blogging a bit about the experience I had so much support – so many lovely comments. I can’t thank people enough. To receive encouragement and reassurance is a huge boost.  And knowing that my words could have an impact and help other people find strength in similar situations is an incredible feeling.  At BritMums recently I had people like Vicki from Honest Mum checking how my husband was and that was really touching.  Thanks to you Nomita, for asking me to do this and assuring me that my words and my experience were inspiring.

Who are your favourite must-read bloggers and why?
There are so many great bloggers out there and every week I find another –  that’s the great thing about blogging, there’s room for all of us and each blog offers something different.  I am forever getting tips and knowledge from other parent bloggers and I really enjoy reading the adventures of other travel bloggers and learning about new places, some of which I haven’t even heard of before.

What’s your best piece of advice for any family or anybody going through some very difficult times?
Gosh, every family has different struggles and each one is very personal.  You never really know how you will react in situations until they happen.  My biggest suggestion is to dig deep inside and reach that determination and grit which I believe exists in everyone.  Forget what has gone before, let go of any blame and take responsibility for making things better and owning your future.  Believe in yourself and never give up on you or on life!  I also think it’s really important to have gratitude for all the good things you do have.  I live in a safe, first world country not a war zone as many people do.  For that alone, I feel blessed.

Would you change the past if you could?
It would obviously be great if my husband hadn’t had all these health issues, especially the heart surgery which means he will have to take medication for the rest of his life and has had to make a few lifestyle changes but it’s just a drop in the ocean in the grand scheme of things!  It has happened and I don’t like looking back – it’s not going to achieve anything.  You have to learn from what has happened, deal with it as best you can and carry on rather than dwell.  The bumpy road we have gone through has only helped make us stronger, more supportive and made us appreciate life, each other and what the world has to offer even more!

Life changing events like these really do help give perspective and put value on your life.  It sounds a bit morbid, but you never know what is around the corner or what is going to happen so always make the most of everyday.  I don’t sweat the small things half as much as I used to – there really are bigger things in life and unfortunately, as we get older, we are bound to come across more challenges.  I just remind myself that I am lucky to still have my husband and my daughter has her daddy.  On the flip side, although my husband was terribly unlucky he was also incredibly lucky to be in America, close to an excellent hospital and with quick thinking colleagues who got him there in time.  Things could have been a lot worse.

inspiring women interviews ebabee

What’s next for you – both professionally and personally?
Who knows what the future holds?  It’s kind of exciting in a way.  Paul is doing really well. He is getting his fitness back and planning to run an 8 mile race soon.  I’m looking forward to taking on any new opportunities which come my way.  You never know what is around the corner.  I will continue working on all my different interests: my journalism career, my business and keep growing and expanding my blog – there’s still so much I want to do with it!  As a family, we are looking forward to more travel, exploring new places and spending time together.  With any luck, we would like to grow our family at some point but one step at a time.  We have each other.  We are in a good place now and really looking forward to the future. But please, if my hubby could have no more health issues that would be perfect!

Wow. What can I say?  Elizabeth and Paul have been through so much and yet they have both remained so positive and determined to come out smiling the other side.  I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Elizabeth while interviewing her and I was so struck by her lack of self pity.  And more than that, in every difficult situation wallowing in grief was never an option – for Elizabeth it was always about staying positive and focusing on what she could do rather than dwelling on what she couldn’t change.  In the midst of it all Elizabeth even wrote a post on why she felt lucky.  Elizabeth’s words and attitude are so inspiring for any situation in life, no matter how small or big.  Be positive, be determined, look forward and most of all do what you can to make things better rather than wasting time and energy on what you cannot change. Thank you Elizabeth for sharing your inspiring story with us and if you want to read more, check out Elizabeth’s blog – Wander Mum.  

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  • Honest mum

    I am crying reading this, I met Elizabeth at Brit Mums and instantly clicked with her, such a beautiful, gracious, smart lady. The strength this family have demonstrated is so touching and inspiring, so much love to all xx

    • ebabee likes

      I know – she has mentioned you in the people that supported her. I to cried reading this – but I’m so happy that it’s a happy ending. xx

    • Elizabeth (Wander Mum)

      Thank you to everyone for your wonderful, wonderful comments…I am so touched. Paul is amazing and the way he has bounced back is incredible. Children just help you function day to day and my daughter was an absolute rock. I’m looking forward to a far smoother 2016! Thank you asking me to tell my story Nomita. All the best. xx

      • ebabee likes

        Thank you so much too – I am honoured that you let me share your story. I am so happy that Paul is well and I wish you and your family nothing but lots of health and happiness always. xx

  • Babes about Town

    Wow I’m blown away by Elizabeth’s story, what her family has been through and how she’s come out of it with such an upbeat frame of mind. It speaks volumes about the kind of person she is and also the loving bond that glues her family together. So happy that for the health issues are mostly in the past and you can focus on the present. I’m in awe of her husband’s strength – already training for another race? Amazing. Life is what you make it and you guys are doing it with style and heart. Thanks Nomita for sharing this truly inspiring story! X

    • ebabee likes

      Thank you – and yes what strength and spirit both Elizabeth and Paul both have. As you say life is what you make it – and never have I seen a more true example than this story. xx

  • Mirka Moore @Kahanka @Fitness4Mamas

    I have been crying reading this and just cannot stop. Elizabeth has been through so much, and I really admire how she managed to get through all this. As you know my dad was diagnosed with a brain tumor when Olivia was tiny and she also helped me get through the worst times of my life. Unfortunately my dad passed away. So happy for this young family to make it through, and here is to Paul’s another marathon. By the way, flying to Venice tomorrow to run my 3rd marathon myself. An amazing story with a good end, love it! x

    • ebabee likes

      I know what you mean – I cried when Elizabeth sent me her words. What a remarkable family they are. I know you have had a bad time but as you and Elizabeth say, kids are the best distraction. Good luck for the marathon lovely xx

      • Elizabeth (Wander Mum)

        Hi Mirka, I am so sorry to hear about your dad – what a tough time you have been through – I am so please Olivia helped you through it – they are amazing! Hope the marathon went well – very inspiring!! x

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