Gran laughs through cancer

Surviving multiple myeloma

A mother-of-six who was given just four months to live credits pranks and laughs with her family for the fact that she is still alive eight YEARS after her devastating blood cancer diagnosis.

Jan Simper, 68, has revelled in practical jokes with her children and grandchildren which she says keeps her positive, happy and determined to keep fighting in the face of her incurable multiple myeloma.

She said: “My family are there to pick me up, even when I’m feeling as if things are getting on top of me.

“We’re always playing tricks on each other and are often in hysterics. I’m absolutely positive that it’s kept me going. Now my goal is to see my 18-year-old grandson turn 21, although I’m hoping to see the ones who are still just children come of age too.”

Mrs Simper, a former supermarket worker who is married to Royal Navy veteran Brian Simper, 71, underwent urgent tests when she fell ill in February 2006.

She said: “I worked moving boxes around in Sainsbury’s for my job, and was stronger than many of the men on the same shift, so I was very fit and it was unusual for me to become unwell.

“I started feeling extreme flu-like symptoms. I took the week off and, to my dismay, I was so unwell that I had to take a further week off after that – I was keen to get back to work, so it was very frustrating.”

After Mrs Simper, of Southampton, underwent blood tests she was called into hospital where concerned consultants told her her kidneys were failing.

Another two weeks later, she was told she had multiple myeloma, a terminal blood cancer.

She said: “I asked the doctor, quite bluntly, how long would I have left to live if I didn’t have any treatment. He told me I had a maximum of four months.”

She was immediately put on a six-month intensive course of chemotherapy which did little to quell the aggressive nature of the cancer.

She said: “After I was told the chemotherapy hadn’t worked I thought, ‘that’s it, I’m a gonner’.

“It was a devastating time but luckily Brian was with me throughout it all, holding my hand and being extremely supportive.”

As Mrs Simper made herself as comfortable as possible at home, she was inundated with loving attention from her six children, Clare, now 32, Craig, 34, Sheldon, 35, Scott, 36 and Neil, 46, and her grandchildren, who range in ages between 10 months and 18 years.

She said: “Most of my grandchildren were too young to understand, but my eldest grandson, Ryan, who was 12 at the time, was aware of what was going on. He’d seen me lose my hair through the chemotherapy.

“I cheered him up by finding a small toupee – I don’t know where I found it – and putting it on my head instead of my full wig. It looked like a tuft of hair. He looked confused at first. I said, ‘this is my wig – I couldn’t afford a full one, so this will have to do’.

“When he saw I was joking around with him, he was in hysterics, and that eased the whole situation.

“I have seven granddaughters and five grandsons and I don’t want them to treat me like I’m unwell. By encouraging them to be normal around me, but having a laugh, then it makes everyone feel better.

“For a joke my son Craig once wheeled me in my wheelchair into the middle of a huge puddle and said ‘I’ve had enough of you, I’m off’. It was so funny, thinking about what people around us made of the situation.”

Now eight years down the line from her diagnosis, Mrs Simper says she feels energetic and contented.

Even as she takes regular chemotherapy tablets, she takes time to play with her grandchildren, who have picked up the family’s appreciation of tricks and practical jokes.

She said: “I was minding my own business on the couch and my grandaughter Sienna decided she wanted to pick up my new lipstick and put some on me. I ended up completely covered in it.

“Another time I was making a trifle and asked my granddaughter Brooke to put cream on top. She ended up putting the whole lot over me. We collapsed into a giggling fit together.”

Mr Simper said: “We’re absolutely positive that having a fun-filled family life has had a huge positive effect on Jan’s health. She stays very strong and happy.

“When we go to the cancer ward, we see other patients who are struggling not to give up on life. Our attitude is once you give up, that’s it. But there are no signs of that happening with us.”

More high resolution pictures are available on request. To discuss rates for using pictures and copy, contact news editor Tom Knight on 07815 004413 or tom@medavia.co.uk.

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