BIG READ: I prayed for the grace to die well

Portsmouth & Southsea railway station by Andy Cooper

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From growing up in Kenya surrounded by wildlife, to bringing up three children in the heart of Portsmouth.

By her own admission, Jeannette Hayward has led an ‘interesting life’.

Jeannette Hayward has been through many ups and downs in life but her strong faith kept her going   	                     Picture: Habibur Rahman   (171536-223)

Jeannette Hayward has been through many ups and downs in life but her strong faith kept her going Picture: Habibur Rahman (171536-223)

The 60-year-old, from Southsea, has faced many challenges, including suffering from clinical depression.

Most recently she had to cope with a cancer diagnosis.

And despite the fact that she’s been told the illness is terminal, she’s training to be ordained in The Church of England next summer.

Born in Nairobi, Jeanette enjoyed a privileged colonial upbringing.

‘They told me to go away and enjoy whatever time I had left. I went home and prayed and said to God to give me the grace to die well.’

‘All of our family holidays were safaris’, she says.

Life was a world away from gloomy post-war Britain where her father, an aeroplane radio engineer, struggled to find work or housing.

She has vivid memories of camping on the beach in summer.

‘We would pick mangoes and sit in the sea and eat them and drive around and see zebras, lions and giraffes.’

Just before she turned seven, her parents decided to move back to the UK, and her father bought a hotel and a restaurant in Portsmouth.

She spent the rest of her childhood in the city and in 1975, aged 18, married Steve.

At that point, her parents moved to Australia for yet more adventure.

Jeannette and Steve, now 64, had three children – Andy, Ellie and Chris.

But money was tight and the marriage was not always an easy one, and Jeanette’s emotional wellbeing suffered when the family was hit by a number of tragedies.

She says: ‘I suffered from clinical depression. Steve’s father’s health deteriorated and I was looking after him.

‘We had 14 bereavements in 18 months. But I had a great faith.

‘At our 30th wedding anniversary, everything came to a head so we did a marriage course.

‘Things turned around after that, which is incredible because I don’t know how we would have managed the past 10 years if we weren’t as strong as we are now.

‘We never fell out of love with each other, we just didn’t know how to communicate with each other and the course taught us how to talk and share our feelings.

‘That was a huge turning point in our lives.’

But in October 2007, Jeannette was diagnosed with bowel cancer. She had a lump removed and was told it was benign –but shortly afterwards she had a call to say there had been a mistake and it was cancerous.

She had an operation on her bowel and was given a colostomy bag.

Not long afterwards she had a hysterectomy – following which she was given just a 10 to 20 per cent chance of survival.

The operation lasted 12 hours and Jeanette lost 10 pints of blood.

In March 2013, Jeannette was given the all-clear, but shortly afterwards she collapsed and was diagnosed with meningitis – she almost died, again.

And just five months later, she was diagnosed with secondary bowel cancer after a tumour was found in her lung.

Despite surgery, the following year a scan showed she had cancer in her lungs and her ribs.

In January 2016, she was told her cancer was terminal.

‘They told me to go away and enjoy whatever time I had left. I went home and prayed and said to God to give me the grace to die well.’

In March last year, a scan revealed three more tumours and Jeannette was offered a new treatment with trial antibodies and a mixture of chemotherapies.

‘It was very nasty,’ she adds.

‘It was like a chemical burn on my skin. But a scan showed that the treatment was responding well. All the way through, I had scans that showed that the tumours were shrinking.’

In April, a scan showed that her lungs were clear, but she still has a tumour on her ribs.

But despite everything that Jeannette has been through, she remains positive and is hoping to become ordained next summer, having been a loyal member of St Jude’s Church, in Southsea.

She’s currently doing her ordination training in Portsmouth.

‘As a Christian, death isn’t a big thing,’ she says.

‘You get to see God. Yes, you miss your loved ones. But I was just at total peace about it because I have that hope in Christ.’

In September 2014, Steve was diagnosed with an aggressive form of bladder cancer. Fortunately, he had an operation and was soon given the all clear.

‘As we know we are in God’s hands, we believe that he has a big plan for us,’ Jeannette says.

‘I’ve not finished my work here and I will be around until I have.’