The Malta Independent 26 June 2022, Sunday

All I can do now is read him love letters – wife of late cancer patient

Sabrina Zammit Sunday, 22 May 2022, 10:30 Last update: about 2 months ago

Many people are diagnosed with cancer; some of them manage to survive while others do not have the same fate.

Some might be lucky enough to be diagnosed very early on, while others start treatment late in the day and, at times, this is not enough.

Jesmond Mifsud was a cancer patient who, although he was diagnosed with a tumour that had a high curability rate, was not destined to survive.


The Malta Independent met with Bella Mifsud, his dedicated wife, who passed through an emotional turmoil when Jesmond was going through his ordeal.

Recounting the experience from very vivid and detailed memory, Bella said that she still remembers how back in January 2017, Jesmond had come home early from his open market job as he wasn’t feeling well and had thus requested a doctor home-based visit. As soon as the doctor felt a lump in his armpit, he asked him why he hadn’t checked it out before and Jesmond had replied that it wasn’t hurting him and that he thought it was the result of a minor injury from carrying heavy boxes.

Jesmond was referred to the hospital by his doctor for further testing and in March 2017 he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. This is a type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system, which is part of the body's germ-fighting immune system.

Bella said "at that moment we felt that our world was falling apart; we were under shock; what we didn’t know was that this was just the beginning”.

She added that all the family was hopeful for a full recovery as the doctors had told them that this type of cancer had a high curability chance of “85 per cent”.

It was the beginning of a three-year-long journey, filled with endless hospital appointments including a three-month stay in a hospital in England, as some treatment was at that time not available in Malta.

Bella thanks Puttinu Cares for providing them with a flat and taking care of some of the financial burden, together with the Community Chest Fund as “thanks to them, the only and biggest worry we had was to look after our health, especially Jesmond’s”.

Speaking about the experience in the UK, Bella said that in total there were six cycles of chemo treatment, which Puttinu Cares paid for “but in the end it was all in vain”.

She said that while they were there, she and her husband were also being supported by the hospice section, where they used to give him massage treatments, which he adored as he was in a lot of pain.

“I was very hopeful that he was going to make a full recovery,” she said.

While they were in England in September 2017, he was to also receive his very first bone marrow transplant, which was to be taken from one part of his body.

She said that although it was a very difficult period for the whole family, she didn’t leave his bedside for four weeks. The nurses used to tell her to go to her flat so that she could sleep better, since she was sleeping and waking up next to him on a daily basis, but she refused as Jesmond never wanted her to leave.

Bella said that if she wasn’t next to him, he would not take the necessary medication in protest; thus, she used to inform the nurses to leave it beside his bedside so that she would give it to him herself.

Bella said that during this time she could only reach her children and other family members virtually, as Jesmond didn’t want them to see him in his very ill state since “he didn’t want to worry them”.

“He would only allow them to visit him before anything was done and only after when he was in a better state,” Bella said.

In December 2017, although Jesmond had a scheduled PET scan to do in the UK, he insisted that he wanted to go to Malta as he wanted to spend Christmas with his family. Thus, the hospital sent the necessary documents and details over to Mater Dei so that all the necessary arrangements could be made.

Bella said that for Jesmond the Oncology department in Malta was the best and he was very proud of it.

She added that the only missing thing that would help make cancer patients safer and more welcome is a specialised emergency room.

Remembering an experience which confirms the dedication and care which the oncology nurses and doctors show was when once they could not find a vein for him to receive his chemo. “They tried many times in the hope of finding one and although it wasn’t their fault, I kept giving them courage. Witnessing the state that I was in, a nurse asked me to join her for a coffee and at that moment I was very grateful for her support during that very difficult moment.”

The results of the PET scan, which came out a couple of months later, showed that the treatment, which he was being given, had not been enough. At the same time, in another section of Mater Dei, Bella and Jesmond were about to become grandparents for the second time, and so they decided to hold back from giving this sad information to the rest of the family so that they could enjoy the birth of their baby girl.

It was after a further six weeks, after their son’s wedding, that Bella and Jesmond broke the news to the family that they had to go back to England for a second bone marrow transplant, this time with his sister as a donor. Bella explained that they had decided to keep this information as they knew that if they had told the family the wedding would have been postponed, because as a family they are very close.

“Jesmond attended the wedding in a very frail state of mind, knowing that he had to start with treatment again,” she said.

Bella can still remember how angry her two sons were as they didn’t like the fact that their parents had carried such heartbreak alone.

Despite having everything scheduled for the next trip to the UK, the family was to receive more devastating news, as the hospital called the Mifsud home to inform them that Jesmond could not proceed with the procedure, as from tests carried out, he was not in a good state to travel.

“Jesmond realised from the tone of my voice, as soon as I answered the call that there was something wrong,” she said.

Subsequently, in order to continue with the treatment, in January of 2019 Jesmond had to take another round of chemo treatment. Unfortunately, things did not work out and in June of that same year, the family was told that nothing else could be done.

At this point the first words that Jesmond managed to mumble to the doctors were “now we start counting the days”, as he had just been told that he only had a few months to live. At that moment Bella was so devasted that she couldn’t resist the urge to cry, unlike other times when she used to go and hide somewhere in the house to let out her emotions.

Bella said that after receiving such news they went home and cried together.

Bella says that Jesmond remained a fighter until the end.

He was a man with a huge faith in God and that she had never heard him blame God for having to go through all this hardship.

“In the three years that he had cancer I never heard him say ‘why me’, but every day while he drank his coffee in the morning he used to say a prayer which goes, ‘God if you want you can heal me as for you nothing is impossible but I would like to live to enjoy my family; in the case this is not in store for me my only request will be to please not let me suffer’,” Bella said.

Speaking about Jesmond’s last summer, she said that they were now on a mission to make it the most memorable one. She added that the family was out every day making memories, either at the beach or dining at a restaurant.

All this changed in early January of 2020 as Jesmond had to be readmitted to hospital after developing a very severe cough.

Bella recounts how as they were leaving their home on the way to hospital, Jesmond had looked at the crucifix that they had in the main entrance and said that “this was probably the last time he was going to be there”.

As his condition worsened friends and family kept coming to visit him to say their last goodbyes.

“He had such an energetic soul; he was joking with them all the time,” she said.

During his stay in hospital Jesmond had also thanked all the staff for taking care of him to the best of their abilities.

Bella said that at this point her only wish was for her husband to wake up for just a few seconds so that he can say her name one last time, which he did.

“When he woke up, he told me that he loved me and called my name for the last time, that was all I wanted,” she said.

On 16 January 2020, Jesmond passed away at the age of 55.

Bella recounts how despite being in palliative care, she was very much in denial until the last minute.

She added that since she had known her husband from the age of 13, he had never left her short of anything especially when it came to love and attention.

“Nowadays all I can do is go to the cemetery, read him the love letters he used to give me when we were younger, take care of the tomb, put fresh flowers and light a candle – it is like my last act of love,” Bella concluded.




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