A mum-of-two given “months to live” has been forced to plan her own funeral after an “itch” led to a devastating cancer diagnosis.
Tiffany Ryan, 37, went to the doctors in April last year with what she thought was just an "itchy" muscular knot just below her collar bone. Sadly, a biopsy and mammogram confirmed that she had stage 2 breast cancer and would have to undergo a mastectomy.
Ms Ryan had expected to be told that she was cured of the disease when she visited her doctors on 5 January this year after going through surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Instead, she was given the heartbreaking news that the cancer had spread to her lungs and pelvis, and was now untreatable.
The 37-year-old, from Clapham, West Sussex, is now preparing her own funeral as she wants to relieve the burden of making arrangements when she passes from her doting husband Matt, 39.
She said she has already selected a funeral director and her own coffin, which will be wrapped in a daffodil-themed vinyl rather than having a “boring brown coffin”.
Ms Ryan, who works as a permanent carer for her autistic eight-year-old son, said: “I’ve decided on a female funeral director, who I feel really comfortable with. I want my funeral to be a positive event. I’m not particularly religious, but my children love to go to our local church - so I don’t want the event to be there.
“Instead I’m going to have a ‘green funeral’ in an outdoors woodland area. My children shouldn’t have to see me be cremated at the church they love. I want them to feel comfortable there and safe when I’m gone - not to have it constantly remind them of my death.
“All of this is really hard on my husband too, he wants to take things just one week at a time, sorting out issues like power of attorney and wills. I don’t want him to have to deal with that later though, but it is very strange planning my own funeral while some mums I know on the school run are still having children.
“Funerals are also expensive. The average funeral costs about £5,000 - so doing that along with everyday expenses and the mortgage is really difficult.”
‘I know I only have so much time’
After being told by doctors that she may have just months to live, Ms Ryan has been preparing “memory capsules” with video messages, along with letters, for her young children, who are just three and eight. In January, she was given the horrible news in January that she may not live to see her daughter’s fourth birthday - which is next week, meaning she has beaten the odds.
In spite of her condition, Ms Ryan says she feels “totally normal” and is not in pain at all. She said: “I think the strangest part is that I do not feel sick, but I know that I only have so much time.
“I’m not in pain, I’m still doing the normal school run and going to hospital while my children are in school. Doctors have told me that it’s inoperable now. The one thing they could do was give me a tablet to slow it down - but that’s it.
“I think at first I just went into a state of denial. I asked for a second opinion, drug trials - anything that would prolong it. There was a lot of anger, sadness, depression and anxiety. I didn’t know whether to tell people, I just sat at home and let it sink in for a while.
“I’m now having to compress all of these Christmases, birthdays and other special occasions into a very short amount of time. It’s horrible knowing that my children might not even remember my voice, so I’m planning on making recordings of myself as well as leaving them birthday gifts and notes."
Ms Ryan and her husband Matt, who works as an IT engineer, have started trying to build memories together, including booking time away from home as a family, while her children are unaware of her condition.
Supported by charities Depha UK and Disability Expo, the family intends to enjoy a stay in a log cabin at the end of March, followed by a ‘glamping’ holiday later this year. Ms Ryan added: “It’s hard to arrange spending time away together, booking holidays abroad is especially complicated because I would need to be near hospitals.
“If something happened I could become stuck abroad - so we’re only booking holidays in the UK for the moment. We just want to go somewhere that we can go for a week and pretend to be normal - so that they can remember me.”
Ms Ryan has set up a fundraiser to help put some provisions in place for her children’s future and make some everlasting memories with them. She also hopes her campaign will help raise awareness that the typical age for a woman in the UK to receive a mammogram is age 50.
The 37-year-old says this seems quite late and wants to push for it to be lowered to help catch cancer sooner and save lives. More than £4,000 has already been raised for the cause. Donations can be made online via Ms Ryan’s GoFundMe page.