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The Dream

     LIZ'S TRUE STORY   published in the Best Magazine, 25 April 2006 - Issue 16

I'm living my life to the full

Liz Farr watched two husbands die of cancer; before having to fight it herself. But far from giving up, Liz, 55, is using her incredible spirit to show others that you can learn to live with this terrible disease...

Liz Farr

As the recording studio engineer flicked the switch, I suddenly heard the sound of my own voice singing and tears started rolling down my face. I had written the song, Thank You, as a tribute to all my family and friends for supporting me through my lifelong battle with cancer. But I would never have believed that the lines I'd scribbled when sat in my back garden one day could be turned into something so beautiful.

    And as I heard the words I knew so well being played out loud and clear, it gave me renewed strength to make my dream come true. I might by dying of cancer, but I was going to spend whatever time I had left helping others to cope with it...

    I was just 17 when I met my first boyfriend Michael on a caravan holiday with my parents, He was five years older than me, but we quickly became inseparable. So when he asked me to marry him a year later, I said yes.

Thank you for the good times we shared, for showing me how much you cared. I want to thank you for being there..."
Liz's lyrics come from the heart.
All smiles on her wedding day to Michael, and then to Malcolm over 15 years later, Liz thought they had the rest of their lives together. But then fate played a cruel hand...

Malcolm

 But a few months found a lump in his neck and went to see the doctor. "Liz, I've got something called Hodgkin's disease," her told me. "It's a type of cancer in the lymph nodes." But I was confident the doctors would know what to do. "Don't worry," I reassured him, "Everything is going to be OK."

    Michael started having radiotherapy treatment. It made him feel terrible, but at least it was killing the cancer. Months passed and Michael seemed to be getting better. We ha already set the date for our wedding and, in January 1969, just a few weeks before I turned 20, we got married.

    The next few years were wonderful and I felt blessed that my marriage was so happy. In 1973 we went on a trip to Canada with some friends, but when we cam back Michael discovered a lump in his groin. The cancer had come back. "I've got to have an operation to remove my spleen," he told me.

    I knew he was terrified, but I also knew I had to hide my own fears and be the strong one. I had to confide in someone, though. "It's just not fair," I told my friend Kay, "Michael has his whole life ahead of him."

    But he became increasingly ill, and fell into a coma just before Christmas 1975, "He won't recover from this, so you need to prepare yourself," the doctor told me, I had so many things I wanted to say to Michael, so I wrote him a letter. Thank you for all the lovely times we've had, I wrote, I don't know how I'm going to live without you. He passed away two days later.

     I just wanted to collapse after his death, but I had to keep working to pay the mortgage. I felt so lonely - especially at weekends. I started making myself go out with friends - and, in time, I met Andy.

    We got on well and, when I was 28, we got married. Our son Robert was born three years later. When I looked ay my baby boy for the first time, I couldn't believe I could love anyone so much.

    Unfortunately, my relationship with Andy didn't work out and, In 1985, I filed for divorce. Once again I found myself alone. But then a friend introduced me to a single dad she knew called Malcolm. He was bringing up his son Mark, who was four years older than Rob.

    We started meeting regularly. Malcolm was easy to talk to and took good care of me. It was lovely to be part of a couple again and, a year later, we got married. We had a big party before heading to the Cotswolds on honeymoon.

Malcom and Lizz

       But just one day into the holiday, we were driving to the cinema when a car ploughed into us, leaving me with severe bruising and whiplash, and Malcolm seriously injured. He had broken every rib and also had a punctured lung. He was rushed to the intensive care ward at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Swindon. "Your husband may not make it through the night." the doctors told me. When my brother George arrived at the hospital I broke down. "Why is this happening? Haven't we been through enough?" I sobbed. But Malcolm was a fighter and made an amazing recovery. He was released from hospital within a few weeks and we got on with being a family. Then, a couple of years later, I found a lump in my right breast. It was only the size of a pea, but I went to see my GP straightaway.

    Tests showed that it was the early stages of breast cancer. I was terrified. "I just want to be able to see Rob grow up," I told Malcolm. "He's only eight years old."

    I had a mastectomy in June 1989. As well as the terrible fear of dying that I battled against constantly, I now felt my femininity had been taken away. One day, when I was alone in the house, I just started screaming. I yelled and yelled - it was a relief to let it all out. Eventually we were told my treatment had been successful but getting back to a 'normal' life was difficult. I was paranoid about getting sick again but, in time, I learned to relax more.

    Then, in March 2000, Malcolm started having stomach problems. He was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome and given medication, but I couldn't help feeling it was something more serious. "You're not going to lose him like Michael," Kay said. But sure enough, a few weeks later, we discovered Malcolm had bowel cancer, which had spread to his liver. Doctors said he had a year to live.

    I had to be strong, like I had been for Michael. The hardest thing was breaking the news to Mark and Rob, Malcolm finally passed away in May 2001. He was so ill by the end that it was a release really.

   After he died I felt totally lost, but a few months later friends encouraged me to go away with them skiing. There was a man called Clive, who had separated from his wife four years earlier, and we fell for each other. The next six months were some of the most wonderful of my life. I felt happy for the first time in a long while... but then I started to have back pains.

    A doctor gave me painkillers, but I insisted on seeing a consultant. We couldn't believe it when I was told I had cancer. Clive was really supportive and moved in with me straightaway. "I feel like this is the latest battle in a war," I told him.

   But when the doctors told me there was no cure, I felt completely stunned. "We'll cope with this together," Clive said.

Liz and Clive

    After the initial shock wore off though, I started trying to think positively about the situation. I couldn't change the fact that cancer was eventually to kill me, but I could start doing the things I really wanted to. If I only had a few years left, I was going to make the most of them. I started scaling down my work commitments and making plans for places I wanted to go to. I also started having hands-on healing treatment through a local charity called Gentle Touch Healing, and eating a healthier diet.
Liz Farr
Liz keeps smiling through her treatment

       But in June 2005, I learned the cancer had spread to my liver. The doctors gave me, at best, a year. It was then I decided to write a song to thank all the special people in my life who had supported me through the touch times. I called it simply Thank You. As the tune came into my head, I make a crude recording of me singing it on a tape recorder.    Clive and I booked a recording studio and spent a day turning my song into a professional CD. The first time I played it I couldn't believe how moving it was. "I want to sing for all my family and friends," I told him. And last December that dream came true, when I performed Thank You for 1,000 people at a nearby church in St Alan's, Hertfordshire.    Since then, I've performed it a couple more times. I've had a great response so far and I hope the song helps people to feel more positive about cancer. Rob did a degree in film and he's been making a documentary about me. Hopefully it might help people who see it, too.    I refuse to let cancer ruin my life - Clive and I have even booked to go on a Mediterranean cruise in June. If someone says to me, "I don't know how you cope," I know exactly how to respond. I don't see myself as dying from a serious illness = I'm living my life to the full.    I want Thank You to be played at my funeral. It sums up how I would like to be remembered - as someone who always managed to smile and be positive, no matter what.

As told to Sarah Welsh

For information on Liz's Thank You song, or to purchase a copy, visit www.gentletouchhealing.org.uk The CD costs £6.95 plus £1.55 p&p. All proceeds go to the Gentle Touch Healing charity.