Terminally ill cancer mum spent £20,000 on luxury holidays - then got better!
Jeremy Durkin

A mum who blew her £20,000 savings on luxury holidays for her family after being diagnosed with terminal cancer has got better.

Lisa Russell, 37, vowed to give her two daughters the best year of their lives after being diagnosed with lung cancer.

The 37-year-old dinner lady and her partner Anthony got married and went on three luxury family holidays.

The mum 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 cancer has unexpectedly disappeared.

She 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 my 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."

Lisa was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer in 2009. Its 94 per cent death rate is one of cancer's highest.

She 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 aged 13 and eight, would not remember her so she vowed to create as many wonderful memories for my daughters as possible – and to marry their dad, Anthony, now 43.

Lisa said: "We'd always planned on getting married but everything else came first. Now we didn't know when the end would come, so decided to marry as quickly as possible, in just six weeks' time, using our savings."

Arranging the big day with more than 200 guests kept her daughters positive, while Lisa endured chemotherapy with the hope of extending her life.

Treatment was briefly suspended for her big day. Lisa's treatment ended in September 2009 and the Willow Foundation for seriously ill patients arranged for the family to spend a weekend in London, watch a West End show and go on the London Eye.

Months later, in January 2010, Lisa and Anthony, from Oldham, Lancs., flew to Lanzarote on a belated honeymoon - again taking the girls with them.

"We splashed out on a luxury villa using our wedding present money and savings," she said.

"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."

As she edged closer to the end, Lisa asked her consultant if there was any chance she could be a 'miracle' recovery story.

She said: "I'd read that a tiny percentage of SCLC patients survived. He looked me in the eye and shook his head and said, 'Sorry'."

Terrified, Lisa booked another holiday to Bulgaria in May 2010, costing £4,000. With Anthony working as an electrician and Lisa unable to work, money was tight. But the couple vowed to spend what little they had left making memories for the girls.

"You don't care about money when you are dying, just your family spending time together," said Lisa.

"I didn't want their memories of me to be in hospital. I wanted them to be happy, carefree memories."

They spent more money on meals with friends and days out with the girls - before splashing out another £6,000 on a five-star, all-inclusive break in Turkey in September, 2010.

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. Lisa bought guardian angel figurines for her daughters.

She wrote goodbye letters to them and her husband, telling them how much she loved them and assuring them she would always watch over them. She tucked them away with instructions to be opened after her death.

Lisa says: "I wanted them to know I would always be with them, regardless."

But her words were to come true in a way she could never have imagined.

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 said. "I couldn't believe it. The doctors couldn't either. My death sentence had been lifted.

"Nobody could predict this would happen. I can't believe how lucky I am. I was just laughing and said to my husband, 'Thank goodness we still have a few quid left, because I'm not dying'.

"The funny thing is, I never really felt ill apart from when I was having treatment. It was the chemotherapy that made me feel sick and tired.

"Being told I was dying taught me how short life can be - it needs to be lived."