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Terminally ill with lung cancer, Lisa Russell vowed to give her two daughters the best year of their lives. The 37-year-old dinner lady and her partner Anthony got married and blew their savings on luxury family holidays.
Lisa even planned her own funeral and wrote goodbye letters for her daughters to open after she died. But three years after the diagnosis, Lisa's death sentence was lifted — as her tumor unexpectedly disappeared.
The mother, who had already undergone a hysterectomy to beat cervical cancer, said: 'I’d been saying goodbye and preparing for the end. It was heartbreaking to tell my daughters Mummy was going to die.
'I was very young when I lost mother. The thought of them growing up without me was devastating. Telling them I wasn't going anywhere was the best moment of my life.'
She was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer (SCLC) — unrelated to her earlier illness and rare in a woman her age. It's 94 per cent death rate is one of cancer's highest.
Lisa was told her cancer was inoperable — but that chemotherapy could give her another 18 months with her family. Lisa's biggest fear was that her girls, Chloe and Georgia — then 13 and eight — would not remember her.
She vowed to spend her money on creating happy memories for her daughters with her partner Anthony, spending £2,000 on a holiday to Lanzarote, £3,000 on a break in Bulgaria and £6,000 on a luxurious trip to Turkey.
'It was impossible to forget about the cancer but seeing the girls play in the sea and play on the beach was fantastic. Again, I knew they were memories they would never forget and I wanted to create more.'
With Anthony working as an electrician and Lisa unable to work, money was tight. But the couple vowed to blow what little they had left making memories for the girls.
Lisa says: 'You don’t care about money when you are dying, just your family spending time together. I didn't want their memories of me to be in hospital. I wanted them to be happy, carefree memories.'
By the time she returned home, Lisa had already lived past the 18-month prognosis. She continued to have check-ups every three months without any change in the outlook.
In April last year — three years after her original diagnosis — she went for a routine biopsy — and was given the astonishing news that her tumour had shrunk so much the doctors couldn’t find it.
'My mouth fell wide open,' she recalls. 'I couldn’t believe it. The doctors couldn’t either. My death sentence had been lifted. Nobody could predict this would happen. Everyone at The Christie Hospital was amazing. I can’t thank them enough.'
A spokesperson for the Christie Hospital said: 'Lisa has done incredibly well. Everybody here at Christie's is delighted for her. There is of course always a risk that the cancer could come back so we are keeping a very close eye on her.'