“I didn’t get my proper goodbye”: Angela Cox on caring for her mum during her cancer battle

The grieving journalist reflects on the privilege and cost of being a carer
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The pain in Angela Cox’s voice is palpable as she reflects on the final moments she shared with her beloved mother Larelle.

“I didn’t get my proper goodbye,” she reveals. “But I think Mum didn’t need to say it … she felt all that love because there isn’t a more real way to love someone than to care for them.

“I shared those moments with her – and as awful as it was – there’s something quite beautiful in that.”

For 7News presenter Angela, caring for her mum throughout her four-year battle with cancer was bittersweet.

Angela Cox with mum Larelle
Larelle passed away just over a year ago. (Credit: Supplied)

Angela, her twin sister Belinda, and their brother Jason became Larelle’s primary carers in 2019. She’d been diagnosed with leptomeningeal disease, a form of brain cancer, and given just weeks to live.

On May 13, 2023, Larelle passed away peacefully, aged 71, in a palliative care home, surrounded by her three children and son-in-law Trent – her carers.

Fifteen years earlier, Larelle was diagnosed with breast cancer which had metastasised four times into brain tumours.

“I think she was like, ‘No, I can beat this.’ And she had beat it so many times before – but her hair fell out, it didn’t grow back, she looked pretty gaunt,” Angela tells New Idea.

“Though she had this radiant smile through it all.”

angela cox with her dog rafferty at tamarama beach
Angela with her dog Rafferty. (Photographer: Will Horner)

As Angela opens up about her mum’s cancer experience, her dog Rafferty nips at our feet. Here at Tamarama Beach in Sydney’s east is where Angela feels most at home – near the ocean and near to her mum.

Amid border closures and COVID health restrictions, the family stepped in where they could, driving Larelle to chemotherapy, holding her hand as she received treatment and taking her out in nature.

They had moved Larelle from Queensland to an aged care facility in Sydney near where Angela lives.

But the “confronting” moments came as Larelle grew weaker.

“When you’re cleaning up after your mum, feeding her, helping her shower, and you’re having to see someone who is so strong go through that…” Angela says, her voice trailing.

“She believed so much in ‘living’ that you couldn’t go in and start crying. She wanted to look into your face and see hope, not pity. So, you had to be strong.”

When it all became too much, Angela would go to the beach and swim for an hour or so before racing back.

Work was also a welcome distraction, with Angela’s Seven colleagues a big support.

“I think caring for people can be really traumatic – people don’t talk about it because they’re more concerned about the person they’re caring for,” she says.

“They don’t want to be selfish. But they’re in the trenches too. And what are you supposed to say to people? ‘My mum’s still sick and she’s still dying and it’s still breaking my heart every day.’ You can’t, so you just keep going.

“That’s the emotional thing about keeping someone alive … I don’t think you can understand until you’ve done it.”

angela cox at tamarama beach
Angela reflected on the four years she and her siblings spent caring for her mum Larelle. (Photographer: Will Horner.)

It’s why Angela is so passionate about Are Media’s new ‘Cost of Caring’ campaign to support unpaid carers.

With nearly 2.7 million Australians caring for a loved one each week, many of them unpaid, the petition calls on the federal government to guarantee superannuation for carers.

It’s an issue specifically targeting women, as 70 per cent of unpaid carers are female. Many make significant emotional and career sacrifices to do so, often leading to financial vulnerability in later life.

“I was lucky. I’d been with Seven for 25 years, my boss said I could do whatever I needed to,” Angela says. “But no-one should have to make a choice between being a carer, being poor, or sacrificing their future.

“What sort of society are we that we can’t care for the people we love when they’ve spent their lives looking after us? We have to make it fairer for people who do sacrifice their job to look after their loved ones. It’s outrageous that it’s mostly women.”

Angela’s family recently returned from Coolumon Queensland’s Sunshine Coast where Larelle grew up. They spread her ashes to mark the one-year anniversary of her passing.

“When Mum talked to you, you felt like the sun was shining on you,” Angela says witha smile. “She was such a larger-than-life person.

“Obviously we had a few tears, but it was also about celebrating her life and what she loved doing.”

Angela has since taken up surfing – one of Larelle’s passions.

“She loved the ocean so much – it was like I was doing it for her,” she says.

“When Mum was sick we were never allowed to call it dying. She’d describe it as ‘dancing over the rainbow bridge’. Now when I’m out there I’ll often see rainbows over the surf and I’ll know … there she is, she’s watching, and yeah, she’d absolutely love it.”

Sign the Cost of Caring petition here to guarantee superannuation for unpaid carers.

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