Real Life

Mum’s letters of love

Courageous Rebecca reveals how she’ll stay in her son’s life after she’s gone
Rebecca Hyndman

Those first few weeks after a baby is born are precious. Cocooned in a daze of sleepless nights and nappy changes, first-time mothers marvel at every hiccup, each fold of pudgy baby flesh and the unexpectedly delicious smell of a newborn’s head.

But for Auckland mum Rebecca Hyndman, amid the cuddles and feeds, she is making time to write a string of letters to her baby son Ben. And as hard as they are to write, she knows that by the time he is old enough to read them, those letters will be among the few traces of her left. Just weeks after Ben was born late last year, Rebecca received news that no-one wants to hear – she had an aggressive form of cancer that meant she most likely had only months to live.

Heartbroken at the thought of her child growing up without her, the 32-year-old began thinking about what she needed to tell her only son – how much he is wanted and loved, how much she yearns to watch him grow, and how she hopes he’ll become a gentleman just like his dad.

“I’m writing him letters that he can open at key times in his life,” Rebecca tells Woman’s Day. “I would like to think I would manage one for each year until he’s 18, then one for his 21st. I want him to always remember his mum.”

Giving birth to Ben was a triumphant moment on a long journey to parenthood for Rebecca and her husband Jeff, 34. The couple had already endured two miscarriages before Rebecca became pregnant for a third time with the help of fertility treatment.

After so much grief and disappointment, Rebecca – who always felt she was “put on this planet to be a mum” – didn’t relax until Ben arrived by Caesarean section on November 28. The rush of joy was indescribable.

“He was alive, safe, healthy and beautiful,” says the proud mother. “The first time I got to hold my own baby in my arms, I just burst into tears.” Soon after bringing 4.6kg “Big Ben” home, however, it was obvious all was not right with Rebecca. Suffering from severe vomiting and diarrhoea, she was in and out of hospital, but no-one could explain just what was wrong until three weeks later, when a lump was found in her upper abdomen.

A week on, she was given the devastating news that it was a gastric tumour – a virulent cancer that doesn’t respond well to treatment. “I was in shock for a couple of days,” remembers Rebecca. “Then I started facing my own mortality and what I was going to leave behind – that was the hardest part. I had a huge amount of guilt as I never would have brought a child into the world if I knew I wouldn’t be around to do my job, but I realised I couldn’t think like that because Ben has been the biggest blessing I’ve ever had.”

Magic milestones: The couple’s loving vows and the joyous arrival of baby Ben (below).

Fight to survive

As Rebecca returned home to prepare for chemotherapy, more drama was brewing. She suddenly couldn’t breathe and was admitted to North Shore Hospital’s high-dependency unit, suffering from blood clots on her lungs. She was told, “If you get through the next 24 hours, you will be doing well.”

The clots were caused by the cancer and – wired up to multiple tubes and machines – the young mum was unable to hold her baby for 11 precious days, but she survived. Now back home on Auckland’s North Shore and receiving chemotherapy as an outpatient, Rebecca hasn’t given up on more miracles.“I am a scientifically thinking person, so my hope is tempered by the knowledge of what I’m fighting,” says Rebecca. “I have two very special boys in my life who I would do anything to stick around for, so perhaps my science brain can turn off a little and my hope brain can crank up.”

Despite tough days where she’s “in a puddle on the floor”, Rebecca doesn’t fret for her son’s future happiness. “I have no concerns about how Ben will be raised,” she says. “I couldn’t trust my child to anybody who I love, respect and value more than Jeff. If Ben turns out anything like his father, I will be a very happy lady.

“I hope he’s a kind and respectful person. I don’t care what he does for a job as long as he’s a good human being. I will be telling him in my letters to always say please and thank you – and to stand up for people on the bus!” As this brave new mum continues the fight for her life, she says she has developed a deep gratitude “for every single thing” she has. “The smallest things, like Jeff helping me get out of bed in the morning, I am so grateful for. Or going for a walk and feeling the sun on my skin – it’s magic.” She’s also thankful for the family, friends and complete strangers who have rushed to help, offering cooked meals and donating to her Givealittle page, which has already raised more than $100,000.

“People’s support has been overwhelming – it has meant so much to us,” says Rebecca, with tears in her eyes. “One of our goals was to have financial stability for our family and one of the first things I said to Jeff after the diagnosis was, ‘I won’t leave until I know you are looked after.’ That’s what we’re doing. It means I can close my eyes one day and know that everything will be looked after.”

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