Elsa Clark – a tough life, but good

I don’t remember a time when I did not have my faith in God.  I loved going to church and was confirmed at around 10 years old – I still treasure the small white leather bound Bible I was given (sadly print so small I cannot even read with my bi-focals).

Growing up, my mum was always ill in hospital. I always prayed for her, and always prayed to thank God when she came home. Mum always told us, “You can say your prayers anywhere and at any time and God will listen. You may not get an answer quickly but you will get an answer, and not always the one you hoped for.”

When I was 17 years old the family went to Filey on holiday (Butlins). I met and fell helplessly for a boy from Ipswich. We wrote to each other every other day and two or three times a week spoke to each other from the telephone box on the Green (that dates us). He visited my home, and I visited his. He came to Leeds and got a job, so at weekends I came to Leeds to stay with an Aunt. All I wanted to do was to move to Leeds but Mum and Dad and two brothers said “No”. To Mum, Leeds was like asking to move to Australia in the 1950s.In the end I wore them down, and I moved in with my mum’s aunt in Gildersome, got a job, got engaged and we planned to get married.

Life has many turns, and on a monthly visit to Mum’s I became ill and was rushed to hospital – my appendix had burst and I had peritonitis. It was touchand go! I spent three months in hospital and came back to Leeds after six months.

We were married at my local church where I was christened and confirmed. I was 19,  Barry 21 (it seems so young today).  The day was wonderful with over a hundred people. We even had a Toast Master – all was fantastic.  We lived in a flat in Hyde Park at first, then after eighteen months bought a brand new house in Rothwell – everything was perfect.  After 4/5 years we planned a family, so after four operations we had a beautiful baby boy, Paul.  When Paul was seven, and after a furthur three operations, we had a beautiful baby girl, Clare. I thanked God we had been so lucky.

We had been married thirteen years when life changed again.  My husband had been having an affair – he wanted me and the children out, and a divorce. My life was awful. I was totally devastated. How would I cope with two children aged 2 and 9 years old? God again was there giving me strength, good friends and a wonderful family.

The Council gave us a two bedroomed flat on Wood Lane: it was awful, but it had to be our home, there was nothing else. You see in 1965 I had been under 21 when we bought the house and by law you had to be 21 for your name to go on the deeds, so my husband would not move. I stayed local so Paul would continue at the same school, have the same friends, and so he and Clare could visit their father. They had to know him to know it was not their fault.

So again life went on. The flat became home – but life again was to change. My mum died of a heart attack when I was just 33, my dad died when I was 35. I was on my own again. As always, God was there to help – the school where Paul attended offered me a lunchtime job to walk around the playground, and I could take Clare. It helped so much with the grief. I also remembered mum telling me God never gives you a cross too heavy to bear. Also that no one dies to break someone’s heart – and Mum said she would never do anything to break ours.

I got through with friends, family and my Baptist church. Paul and Clare loved to attend and people were always so friendly and kind to us. It was Pauline and Bryan and Pam who were so supportive. Life was good, thanks to God – lots of people in the world come through worse.

When Clare was 5 and Paul 12, I met an old neighbour from years ago. He was now divorced – said his wife left him for someone else so my heart went out to him (I knew the heartbreak). We started to meet regularly and after fourteen months we were married. We were happy and life was wonderful again.We had a new house, a car, an indoor telephone, we went on holiday – life just couldn’t be better and he was a wonderful stepfather. I truly believed fate had brought us together.

After five years life changed again. I got a telephone call from a woman telling me my husband was having an affair, and not the first – his wife never left him, he left her for someone else! Again my life was in tatters. Please God, help me- how could I have been so naïve and again fallen for a cheat? We got divorced and moved again. I had been employed part time with Leeds City Council and now took a full time job. Life became safe and happy again – my children were healthy, kind human beings, and they loved me and each other. It was very hard bringing children up alone but well worth the effort and sacrifice. We had survived it all.

Paul was now working and we had moved again. We were going on holiday, the three of us, to Greece. Paul was nearly 18, Clare was nearly 11. A week before we were due to go I found a lump. Again life had changed. I was only 42. Things moved fast, the holiday cancelled and within a week I had the lump removed. I sat in a room on my own two weeks later to be told it was not a cyst (as everyone said it would be) but cancer – and take this form to the nurse at the end of the corridor and she will book you into Cookridge for treatment every day for six weeks! I had been hit by a hammer – ‘Cookridge’, treatment, children, work. I walked out in a daze! But God picked me up and made me cope.

Cookridge staff were very kind and every day I was sent transport to get to hospital – the National Health is fantastic. The treatment was another thing: the radiation was tough in those days. I seemed to be always at the hospital. I was picked up between 8 am and 10 am but had no guarantee when I would get back home. Most days it was 5.00 – 5.30 pm. Paul had to give his job up to look after me and be there for Clare after school. I just seemed to sleep and sleep.  After five weeks treatment they advised I should have my ovaries destroyed by radiation to help prevent more breast cancer returning. Stopping my hormones producing may give me 80% chance – if I did not have the treatment, only 40%. So I had to have the extra treatment. This added an extra week at Cookridge. Paul and Clare were wonderful, they cared for me, and for each other.

Again, God was there for me. Out of the blue, a couple who worked in Leeds  asked if I would like a lift for a month every morning until I was stronger. That was just what I needed as I had to go back to work to pay our mortgage.  My prayers had been answered. We also bought a car for £150. We were going places in our Ford Fiesta – life was good again! The holiday we never had– it had paid for the car.

Time passed. Paul and Clare had become adults. Paul got his flat at 26 and Clare at 21 was head-hunted to London. I had done it – they were well adjusted adults, good human beings. So again life was wonderful. Leeds City Council  offered early retirement for people over 55. I was 57 and jumped at it – I could visit Clare in London (I went every four weeks, and visa versa).

I started to go dancing at Brighouse – I love ballroom dancing. I had been going for twelve months or so when I met Len, who had been a widower for 2½ years. The rest is history. We decided to move in together. I bought the bungalow and we planned to get married. But again life was to change. When I was 61 I found I had cancer again, the same side as twenty years before – my 80% had run out. This was a shock.

I had chemo to shrink the tumour before I could be operated on. Len was a tower of strength. The worst thing of all was telling Paul and Clare and the family – they had to get their heads round it, like I had too.

I started treatment, eighteen weeks of chemo. After six treatments we were told it had not worked and they would have to try a different chemo. So Len and I spent the next six months just going for scans, treatment, appointments and then the operation. Our wedding was cancelled. Paul and Clare named Len my knight, and they still do, they always write or text to ‘Number One Mum and her Knight’.  He was wonderful, as to be a carer is very very hard, but nothing was too much trouble.

So after eighty seven hospital visits God had saved me. We could get married and carry on and be normal again. Again life took an awful turn. Six months after the first operation cancer returned on the opposite side. How could I tell everyone again? Somehow we did, and the treatment was chemo again and radiation, so again we had to cancel our wedding.

When I had had fourteen chemo treatments I prayed to God to make it all stop -it was killing me. Len agreed we would tell the doctors and family the last two chemos had to be stopped. Two days later the hospital rang and said they had reviewed my case and did not want me to have the last two treatments! (I thanked God – He had heard my prayers.)

So I had the operation and six weeks of radiation. I had been to the hospital seventy four times with this cancer, but the treatment and operations were over.

In a death or divorce or very serious illness you find out who your friends are. I was very lucky – I had a fantastic husband, family, friends and support from Church. Duncan was a regular visitor to support us and I know how many times I was prayed for in Church. When you are really ill people say silly things. They think you are strong, brave, positive. You are not – you just have to get through the next hour or night or day. I remember someone saying, “You believe in God and He has given you cancer three times.” God didn’t give me cancer. My body let me down, but He will decide if I get better. “Just think” I said, “If every one who attended Church never got cancer, we wouldn’t be able to get in!” She didn’t realise how silly she had sounded, and we laughed.

People kept saying, “ It’s just not fair – why you?” My answer: “Life is not supposed to be fair, and why not me?” I am no different from anyone else. If everything always went right and no one got ill, it would be awful. It’s the not knowing that makes us love one another and care for each other.

In 2007 Len and I did have our special day – a fantastic wedding, every one coming we loved and knew, to wish us well.  Our Church did us proud – order of service, flowers, DVD, coffee and biscuits, a beautiful wedding cake, Duncan’s prayers and wedding service.  It was just wonderful. Then at night my close friend Vera and family had arranged a surprise party! March 24th had been a truly happy day. Thanks to everyone.

I believe our bodies are like machines. They do break down, get repaired and carry on – no one knows of course for how long, only God. Some break down often, some never. One thing is for certain though – they all stop one day, then we go to one of the many mansions Jesus told us his Father had. We are born, live and die.  It is what you do in between that matters and lives on in future generations.

Writing this has not been easy, but the tears and joys I have felt has made it worthwhile. I have a lot to thank God for. Thank you for asking me to write my testimony, and God bless each and every one of you.

April 16
Elsa faced a recurrence of her cancer with her trademark courage and faith.  She passed away peacefully in Wakefield Hospice on Easter Sunday, March 27th 2016.  A wonderful day to begin her new life.

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