Life is too short. How many times do we say this? It’s an oft-repeated phrase.
But author Christine L Conroy knows more than most the true meaning of these words.
For Christine’s sister, mum and seven-year-old daughter were all diagnosed with cancer within the space of nine years.
And it is her ‘Conroy women’ – as she calls them – who inspired the 56-year-old to write ‘Stitch Your Own Silver Linings’, a guide to helping yourself to happiness no matter what life throws at you.
Christine, who with husband Robin ran Queenline kitchen and bedroom showroom in Market Street, Carnforth, from 1975 to 1983, said: “When things happen, you think oh gosh life’s just too short and this is the whole thesis of the book really.
“Life is too short but that feeling only kind of lasts a day or so and then life takes over again and you just go back to work and normal things and that’s what inspires me to help people not to do that, to really take that and run with it.
“It’s such a cliche to say it but life is too short.
“Because you think bad things happen to other people, you just carry on moving forwards but when something happens it brings it home. What happened to me brought me to that conclusion.
“So watching that time and again with three different generations, I thought if I don’t get this now I’m never going to get it.”
Christine’s younger sister, Pat, was the first of the Conroy women to fall ill in her early 20s. She was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and treated with chemotherapy.
She did get better but the cancer came back, and she sadly died two years ago, aged 46.
Christine’s mum, who died in the millennium, was diagnosed with lung cancer not long after Pat’s first diagnosis. Bolton-born Christine said: “My mum got lung cancer and of course because she’d seen Pat suffer the way she did there was no way she was being treated with chemotherapy and that was a decision she made.
“But unfortunately in the end that decision wasn’t hers to make because the cancer had gone too far.
“But it happened over time all this of course.
“Pat was on one stage with hers and then my mum had part of her lung removed so all of that took time and for a while she was okay. Then the cancer came back and while that was going on Charlotte who was seven was also diagnosed with cancer.”
It goes without saying that Charlotte’s cancer was utterly devastating for all concerned.
Christine said: “Charlotte had bone cancer so all three were completely unrelated, nothing ran in the family, just one of those things I suppose.
“But the medical profession didn’t know what to make of Charlotte because she had bone cancer in her arm with an underlying condition that caused the cancer, but they’ve never diagnosed what she had to this day.”
For Christine whose two other children Mitch and Josh were aged just 10 and five at the time, worst news was still to come.
She said: “They gave Charlotte 12 months to live and in fact on the exact date of her eighth birthday that’s when the operation date came through to amputate her arm, so of course we put it back because they weren’t doing it on her birthday. But she did have her arm amputated in the end although even with the operation they gave her 12 months to live.”
Against all the odds, Charlotte who is now 26, survived and today leads an independent life living in a flat and working as an educational welfare officer at a youth offenders’ institute.
But for Christine and her family, the life they had known before cancer dealt its triple blow – including their highly successful kitchen and bedroom design company – lay in tatters.
Christine said: “Twelve months later Charlotte was still with us but obviously we’d lost everything else including the business.
“Our life completely changed because that 12 months of living like that was just hell. We were living under the Sword of Damocles. It all went pear-shaped.
“We’d lost the lot, apart from the home, but everything else had gone.
“We had nannies to help with the kids, we had great holidays, like I say that was our empire-building stage. We had the showroom here which was great and we were well on our way to achieving I guess what society sees as success and then lost it all.
“But it does make you think well that’s happened and we’ve just got to get on with it now. We’ve got two other kids to take care of as well as Charlotte whatever happens so we started again but with a completely different attitude. And this is what I’m saying – it took all of this to happen to us before we realised we should really be doing what we wanted to do.
“We wanted the same kind of business, we wanted to work together but to do it in such a way that we didn’t have nannies for the kids.
“Knowing we might lose Charlotte made us realise that we shouldn’t be working seven days a week which is what we were doing to build this successful business.
“It made us realise that those things weren’t important and whatever happened to Pat, my mum or Charlotte we needed to be there and spend as much time with them as we possibly could.”
A very harsh lesson learned. “It took a while to get there,” said Christine.
Life has since taught Christine that she can channel her experiences into helping others – and she hopes her book can help some way towards that.
She said: “I firmly believe there are things that might make your life a little bit better.
“I’m not looking to change the world with the book but I’m looking for a single person who might be just going through something in their lives, not necessarily cancer, that’s getting them down who might read something that will make them change the way they think about that and improve their lives. That’s what I’m after.
“Pat’s main message was don’t let cancer make you a victim because she met a lot of people who become the illness.
“If you spend the last months of your life like that then you’ve wasted those last months that could be spent doing better things with people you care about. So we used to say how can we turn that round to help somebody.”
In that respect, the book became a vehicle for some of the lessons Pat learned from her experiences of cancer, although Christine stresses that one of her main target audiences is people caring for someone who is sick.
She said: “It’s what I know best and how to turn that round so you can help somebody.”
You can buy copies of ‘Stitch Your Own Silver Linings’, signed exclusively by Christine for Book Club readers, at Waterstones in Cornmarket, Lancaster.
Christine also has a website at www.christinelconroy.com
*We’ve got two signed copies of Christine’s book, Stitch Your Own Silver Linings, to be won.
To be in with a chance of winning, simply send an email to email@example.com with the subject matter ‘Silver’ or post to Silver Competition, c/o Debbie Butler, 41 Northgate, White Lund, Morecambe, LA3 3PA. Please include a phone number or email address, plus your postal address. Closing date is August 14.