A woman given just 12 months to live wants to give her two young daughters an unforgettable year so they will always remember her.
Amara Taft’s world fell apart in April when her husband took her to A&E with an intense migraine.
She had been sitting on the floor at their home crying in pain.
Doctors found the devastating source of Amara’s excruciating agony – her brain was riddled with five cancerous tumours.
Even more shocking for the 42-year-old lifelong non-smoker was news that the disease had started in her lungs. In May, a month later, she was told she had just one more year to live.
Amara wants to devote her remaining time to her beloved husband Jack Taft, 31, and their children Chloe, four, and Nina, who will be three next month.
She said: “I want to believe there is hope, but it’s hard when you have an oncologist telling you that your time is going to be up in a year.
“I need to fight to have as much time with my girls as I can. Another year could be the difference between them remembering me or not. I can’t imagine trying to grieve for a mother you have no memory of.”
After finishing her 10th and final radiotherapy session on Tuesday, Amara said: “It’s my only hope.”
Originally from Texas, Amara dreams of the family going to Disney World, Florida, and renewing her vows with Jack, who she met in 2012 on a forum for an online war game.
They fell in love after speaking on Skype and met in person the following year. The couple tied the knot in 2016 in Texas and moved to the UK in 2017.
She and Jack, who runs an online equestrian business, live in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire.
In the month before her life-changing diagnosis, Amara had detected some worrying changes to her health. She said: “In the middle of March I was exercising and I had a seizure. My husband witnessed it and it was scary.
“And sometimes during exercise the left side of my body would start moving to the left on its own and I felt like I couldn’t control it.
“I also noticed my left side feeling weaker, especially in my hand.” She was waiting for a GP referral to a neurologist when she suffered the appalling headache.She said: “I was trying to get my daughters ready to go to nursery and I was sitting on the floor of the room crying because my head hurt so much.
“My husband took me to A&E – we were really worried. I’d just been on a health kick, dieting and exercising. I’d lost more than two stone and was feeling good and happy with myself. Looking back, there were other strange symptoms. I sometimes felt like I couldn’t control my temper – which isn’t like me at all.
“I was clumsier and my hands felt less coordinated.”
At A&E doctors ordered a CT scan which revealed large brain lesions.
She said: “They did a very extensive investigation but, unfortunately, it turned out to be cancer.”
On May 12, Amara was told she had combined small cell and non-small cell lung carcinoma. She said: “They found it in enlarged lymph nodes inside my lungs. I don’t have any tumours or lesions in my lungs themselves – it only created them in my brain. Having never smoked a day in my life, a lung cancer diagnosis came as a huge shock.
“Six neurosurgeon teams across the UK met and concluded that the five brain tumours – the biggest measuring 4.5cm – originated from the cancer in my lungs and are malignant.
“This gave me a stage 4 diagnosis with a prognosis at the time of up to 12 months to live with treatment.
“The only treatment deemed safe was chemotherapy, because it was too dangerous to treat the brain tumours directly due to size and locations.”
Her thoughts immediately turned to her family. She said: “I was only 41 when I was diagnosed. The doctors told me, ‘You’re so healthy otherwise.’
“It felt like my whole world was falling apart. Everything we had planned for our kids, our marriage and our future was snatched away. Suddenly, I was faced with the possibility I wouldn’t live to see my children grow up.”
Worse was to come. The chemo caused her to develop the heart condition pericarditis, and sepsis, and had to be stopped.
She said: “Two months had passed by the time I was able to resume, but my body had become resistant to chemo.” Instead, full brain radiotherapy was her only remaining hope.
“If my tumours respond and shrink, they may become responsive to chemo again. And if chemo works this time, I might be able to have immunotherapy.
“But these are very big ‘ifs’. At the moment, doctors are telling me radiotherapy will buy me one last year of life.”
She was too ill to continue working in telephone customer service at a bank and had to quit.
Amara is now trying to raise £28,000 through GoFundMe to pay her bills and give her family enough money to make special memories. Top of her bucket list is a trip to Disney World, Florida. She said: “Chloe is a huge Brave and Moana fan and Nina loves Toy Story. It would be magical to see the joy on their faces, meeting their favourite characters.
“Chloe is a lovely, sensitive girl, while Nina is very laid-back and happy-go-lucky. We’ve read them age-appropriate books about cancer and they know Mummy is unwell.”
And letting her girls bond with her large US family would mean the world to Amara. She said: “There’s a Mexican restaurant close to my parents’ place in Texas. I’d love to throw a big party there and get the whole family together. It could be the last chance I get to see them.”
Amara would also love to visit her mother-in-law Karen in Gran Canaria. She said: “I want to take my girls to the beach, watch them build sandcastles and play in the sea.”
To help Amara create those precious memories the Sunday People arranged for them to have a special day at The Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens in Burford, Oxfordshire.
Travel abroad is an issue. US citizen Amara, on £99 a week sick pay, has to apply for indefinite leave to remain in the UK but cannot afford the £2,400 application costs.
Jack’s business is successful but they are struggling without her wage. They hope the fee will be waived.
She said: “I just want to concentrate on making this a year my family will never forget, with a treasure chest of memories to hold on to forever.”
Jack said: “I want our daughters to know how much she loves them, that she never wanted to leave them.”