All those weeks and months that Josie was in Hospital, they were often at home or being cared for miles away.They were so young back then, so in trying to be as positive and calm as possible we hid much of it from them.
.....and then there is Charlie, well he only came along at the last moment and is still oblivious to everything except that he has 2 lovely sisters and a brother all of whom are quite a bit older than him.
Josie, that's his big sister, the one hugging him in all the photos where he is a baby, she is an Angel.
For you ... Fred, Libbs and Charlie.This is Josie's Story, our story...so you can fill in the gaps and understand a little better, why your sister was so special and why we are so very lucky that she was and will always be, part of our family.
I am not sure where this story ends...I guess I will just let you know when I get there.
But this is where it starts.
Josie, Fred and Libby 1996 HOLDING ON To a dream... It was the start of our ninth year living in
, I stood by the French doors proudly looking into our newly built kitchen. I felt Cliffs arm wrap around me, and life was perfect. Cliff’s words to me then were Bangkok
“Everything is going too well. Feels like something’s going to give”
It was just days before Josie’s diagnosis and he was totally right.
Maybe it was a moment of foresight, a glimpse into the future or a mere coincidence, but without knowing it he was talking about a devastating turn our lives, and the fact that our hearts and lives were about to be ripped apart.
We had originally taken a job in 1996 with a Thai jewellery company and had expected to return to a normal life back in
East Sussex two years later. We came out with a young family to experience , had fallen in love with the charm of the place and the people, and were unable to pull ourselves away. Thailand
Two years into a second contract in
our three young children were all at the same expensive international school. The school was impressive and with 2 large swimming pools on site Josie soon became a fantastic swimmer, her butterfly winning her medals for inter-school and international competitions. We were relatively well off and seemed to be living the dream. Thailand
On the eve of 2000 we decided, like so many others, that this was the year to do something amazing. Our dream was to design and build a beach house and we had been offered a beautiful piece of land near a regular holiday resort. Our tenants in the
had been a huge problem and owed us several thousand pounds, renting had been a disaster for us. We planned to sell our house, buy a little holiday cottage in UK Suffolk and made plans to build our dream home on the beach in with the remaining equity. Thailand
It all took an age and by the time we had the money in our hands we had changed our minds about the beach house.
We weren’t cut out to be employees, Cliff had had his own business before and recent events at work had come to a head for both of us.
It was enough for us to both jack in our extremely well paid jobs and we decided to set up on our own.
This was possibly our only chance to have our own company. Things were going downhill for jewellery manufacturing in
England and if we were going to stay in the trade we would have to start the company up in . Bangkok
By the summer we were on holiday in
Suffolk and we decided It would make sense for me to stay in with the kids while Cliff went back to get things set up. We had done a lot to renovate our little cottage and the kids loved it there. England
Freddie was 8 and Libby was Just 6, The tiny local primary school had 2 year groups to a class and couldn’t have been more of a contrast to the international school but they settled into Kesale surprizingly quickly.
Freddie was a welcome addition to the football team who had been beaten relentlessly for as long as anyone could remember by the bigger schools. Poor little Fred was put in goal to get a hammering of 9-0 in his first match which didn’t help his confidence and prompted comments from dejected parents of
“Well the new kids not much help”
Josie went to Framlingham.Winding through pretty Suffolk countryside gave me just seconds enough to get the children to both schools with a bit of juggling. Josie settled quickly and joined a local swimming club who were very impressed by her speed at Butterfly and she was immediately on the team and keeping up with her previous swimming times.
It was fun, going to school in
England was just an extended holiday, a novelty.Cliff coming back from for visit was still cheaper than the international school fees and house rent so we saved enough to get our Jewellery Deign Company set up in a small shop-house. A ground floor for the Office and 3 floors above for just £150 a month.. Thailand
After 4 years in a tropical climate spending the autumn and winter months in
was literally a breath of fresh air. I had forgotten how stunning the colours of Autum could be, such a beautiful time of year and Conkers were something that had escaped our children’s childhood till then. The whole seasons harvest from a neighbor’s tree was transferred into a large box in our tiny little cottage. They were as precious as diamonds to the children and they filled the house with the smell of Autumn & memories of my childhood picking conkers from under the fabulously grand tree in my grandparents gravel courtyard. England
Christmas was wonderful, COLD, and just how it should be. I have never got used to hot Christmases. Christmas morning we all snuggled in bed together under thick duvets, with gift wrap strewn across the bedroom and mugs of hot Coffee & chocolate keeping our hands warm. It was lovely.
Driving Josie to school in winter was so beautiful. Frosts in the morning glistening across the fields and a soft light dawning as the sun came up, I mostly remember listening to Robby Williams and both of us singing loudly as we drove along the winding roads. Happy days!
Things seemed to be working well, I was designing by computer from
England and Cliff was getting the designs in by e-mail. But as the work increased Cliff was finding it harder to drop everything to visit and living apart was getting harder & harder. Thailand
By the following summer we were all together again and back in
. Cliff had converted the upper floors of the Office into living accommodation. He did a great job, inside it was pretty swish but our life in Thailand was very different from when we left. We had come back before we were ready and the return of school fees meant that we had to forget about a large house on a manicured compound and all the trimmings that used to go with an ex-pat lifestyle. We were living in the real Thailand without any frills. It was a hundred times removed from our previous house in Thailand but we made it our home for 2 years. Thailand
One evening in 2003 we were exploring back streets on Cliff’s motorbike when we stumbled upon a small compound of 15 American style town houses. All white wood, with little balconies overlooking a central swimming pool. Brand new and just perfect for a family just like ours.
We were back being shown around one of the houses with the kids the next day.
It seemed made for us. The floor tiles of the balcony were copies of those in our Victorian East Sussex home and it had a green door which was a sure sign! We always joked that all our previous houses had green doors, apart from one but as Freddie pointed out, it had green railings so that still counted.
It was small enough to afford and great for the kids, the pool could be viewed from the balcony, it was close to the school & work. Perfect.
We also now had a Dog, a small chocolate Labrador puppy chosen as Cliffs 40th birthday present by Josie because it was apparently, born on her birthday. It had grown onto a much, much bigger dog that looked like it might be some distant relation to a chocolate Lab.
The office had by now grown into a small factory with 25 staff and between all the staff and a big dog we had outgrown the shop-house.
The new house looked imminent and a few months later the house was finished & we were in.
To be in a proper house at last was a fantastic feeling and after living in what had become a factory, the kids appreciated it more than most would.
Everything was great, the kids were happy, the dog was happy, work was going really well.
In the summer we celebrated by taking a proper beach holiday in Krabi. My parents were planning to come out for Christmas and we were scouting for paces to stay.
It was incredibly beautiful. We have so many lovely memories of that trip.
On Chicken Island we were dropped off by boat on a perfect beach walled almost completely by the island. We stood in the sea feeding tropical fish by hand.
We then stayed on Rilay bay, another stunning place.
To get to it we had to take a small motor boat which actually sank en route. Waves flooded into the hull due to the owner desperately loading too many people on board. The water was only knee deep but I clearly remember the panic on the children’s faces as Cliff picked up Libby and threw her away from the boat shouting “swim as far away as you can” as the small boat was thrown about in the waves. We laughed so much about it afterwards- Libby could swim by the way.
We arrived in another boat some time later The slightly bigger boat arrived full of tourists with sodden bags and very upset children much to the bemusement of the holidaymakers on the beach.
Just one of those crazy things that happens in Thailand, we certainly have never forgotten it.
Another happy memory is of walking and then swimming while laughing between two islands.We took a day trip and were dropped off at an island by boat We were told we could walk over to the other island, the tide was going out and a sandy path lay before us. We set off, theguy in the boat assured us he would be back as his boat disappeared and we set off.
it was not long before we were up to our necks then swimming for the island. We laughed as we swam and Cliff waded, through the sea thinking how stupid we were to have been dropped off in the middle of the sea and wondering if the boat was really coming back for us later. (Which it did by the way)
It was a lovely day, not a soul in sight, I remember taking it in and thinking ‘wow it’s just us, my family and the world’.
I had taken a picture of Fred & Josie as they walked ahead of us when we set off. It is one of my favorite photos; Fred and Josie, just walking into the most amazing scenery, their path seeming to unfold before them.
Fred and Libby have both dreamt of Josie walking along that path. Fred saw her there in his dream but with her short blond hair.
It seems it was a precious moment that we caught in time.
On Rilay Bay we stayed at a resort high on a Cliff, which seemed like a couple of hundred steps up, we got some exercise, Josie never once complained about being tired but on the long drive home Josie slept like a baby. She had been sleeping a lot during the holiday, but she was a teenager we thought she was just chilling out.
We got home just days before the start of term.
Josie had lost a little weight but hadn’t been eating so much, we thought she was dieting for the start of school but she liked her food so I didn’t worry. Then on the first day of term we noticed that her lips looked pale and I thought she might have got slightly anemic with not eating so much.
At school her friends asked where she got her pale lipstick, which she thought was funny.
The next morning we set of for school and Josie had left her bag in her room at the top of the house. “Quick, run and get it” I told her, she came down complaining that her heart was racing but she said she was OK for school- as normal.
Later at work I had a call from Josie
“Mum. I think I need to see the doctor, something’s wrong, my heart is still beating really fast”
I left work, picked her up & we went strait to the local hospital. To a fragile flower...The great thing about Thailand is that to see a doctor you go direct to the hospital. You pay for treatment, so if you ask for a blood test chances are that is exactly what you will get with no questions asked.
We were seen almost immediately and I simply asked for a test to see if Josie was anemic. We sat in the waiting room and after an hour someone came and asked if we would mind coming back as there was a bit of a delay with the result.
We went for to a coffee shop and I rang Cliff to tell him we might be a while.
By the time we went back into the doctor’s room my heart must have been racing as fast as Josie’s.
We sat down and without looking up the doctor started writing on a form.
He told us the labs technician was not there and it would be better for us to take Josie’s slides to one of two big hospitals in town. Tomorrow morning would be Ok
He wrote a letter,”I am writing it in Thai so that I can explain” he said.
That was it, I knew he wasn’t telling me everything. He wouldn’t give me any eye contact and didn’t look up at Josie. He gave me slides of her blood samples. This was scary.
We were given a receipt for the cashier, I paid for the test and we left, both our hearts beating like crazy!
What do you think mum asked Josie, “I don’t know” I said, “maybe it’s glandular fever or something”, I lied, “we’ll go to Bumrungrad hospital tonight & get it sorted”.
As Josie changed out of her school clothes I told Cliff what had happened. We both thought it was bizarre to be given the blood slides to take to another hospital so we knew it was serious.
At Bumrungrad we handed the documents to the reception. they read the details & told us that their lab technicians had also gone home we needed to come backing the morning. It was frustrating but there was nothing we could do.
A sleepless night and an early start, Josie dressed in her school uniform so she could go back to school after the hospital and we set off into town again. Arriving at the hospital we were taken to the pediatrics department. We soon saw a doctor who explained that the children’s specialist was not in today and so we should see the adult specialist. We followed a nurse to another floor and were taken in to see another doctor. She smiled at us and apologized that the pediatric specialist was not there at the moment and asked if we had spoken to anyone about Josie’s disease.
Our look of shock gave her the answer she needed and she asked someone to escort us to see another specialist.
We were led right across the hospital into an outpatient’s area and them as we were left to wait it dawned on us where we were. The Cancer department - though it had some other name to hide it.
I looked at Cliff and we didn’t need to say anything. Cliff’s mother died of cancer when he was a teenager and he was ashen white. We didn’t speak but held Josie’s hand not knowing if she realized where we were.
For us Thai women with short hair or wearing head scarves meant there was no mistaking it.
We took Josie to wait near the entrance where there was more space to hide our fear using the water dispenser there as an excuse. Cliff sat opposite us and as his eyes welled up I mouthed to him –don’t- and he looked away. We couldn’t look at each other for fear of letting Josie see how our hearts were aching and the blood was running burning hot through our bodies.
Josie sat quietly waiting, sipping her water and wondering if she would be able to go back to school in the afternoon.
Eventually we went through to a lady doctor who sat us opposite and asked if anyone had talked to us yet.
“Well” she said “I’m afraid it is quite serious. Josie has got Leukemia”.
The words were clear and devastating.
We sat speachless as she explained that there were different types of leukaemia. ALL was easier to treat than AML the adult version and there were variations within each group that sometimes involved very different treatment. Most importantly it could be treated and that would have to start immediately.
They weren’t kidding, they decided to do a bone marrow biopsy there and then to find out which type it was. The initial result would take a day the specific type would take longer, maybe 10 days. The first step was to get some Chemo to wipe out the white blood cells and in so doing destroy all the Leukaemia cells.
There would be a lot of drugs over a long period, she would need an operation to put a tube into an artery through her chest (Hickman line) It would be done that afternoon and Chemo would start the next day.
There was only room for one parent in the small cubicle so Cliff stayed with Josie while doctors and Nurses packed around to take the bone marrow samples. Local anesthetic was used to take a tiny section of bone from Josie’s hip.
I listened from outside the door, grateful that Cliff had given me the opportunity to let out the tears that I had been stifling. Unable to listen to the obvious discomfort I started pacing the corridor I tried to reason why this should have happened. Was it a mistake? why Josie? she was so healthy. My only answer was that we were just human. Why shouldn’t it happen to us? it happens to other people, we are no different to anyone else, not special in any way.
I suddenly felt very small and the whole human race seemed like an insignificant glitch in the nature of the world.
This may seem strange but it was a kind of enlightenment which has changed me irreversibly. It was a sudden understanding that we humans are just a small part nature, fighting to survive, life was short and now our only purpose seemed to be to love each other and feel these incredible emotions about the preciousness of life. At that moment all the rest seemed pointless, meaningless.
We exist for a little while and then leave.
My Josie was just a fragile flower just like the rest of us-but until this point I hardly noticed.