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A milestone I wish I could sidestep

2 Feb

Today is not a day I wanted to see again. 2nd February 2011 and I heard those words for the first time “Strongly suspected lung cancer”. A precise yet misleading jumble of words only superceded in its devastation by the final field on a form flashed up on screen at the doctor’s surgery a week later:

<header> Prognosis=

<body copy> 6-12 months.

Of course there was to be nothing as munificent as a whole year.

And so the rollercoaster began. The concrete cancer diagnosis, the tests that confirmed its spread to the liver. The terrifying fits and subsequent brain scans that showed further metastisis. Radiotherapy. Chemotherapy.

And then 10 weeks later, the end.

So it’s a year to the day my sister rang to tell me the routine scan bore shadows.

And with those words I remember she took my voice.  Leaning against the glass of my patio doors for support, silent, the breath sucked right out of me. Curious physiology.

30-something orphan

17 Sep

Original sketch by Doodlemum

Today marks the 4th anniversary of my father’s death. It is also 5 months exactly since I lost my mum.  Two journeys, both with many more miles to tred.

*********

This week I locked myself out of the house.  Returning from a hard day’s work – forlorn, within an inch of my patience. Two tired children yelping and jumping at my knees like impatient, rivalrous puppies vying for  attention.  A childminder desparate to reclaim her family home, a husband tied up in another meeting, neighbours immersed in their own bedtime squabbles. My desparate calls unanswered – two, three, four times.

And as I stood on my own doorstep I have never felt so alone.

When you lose your parents, you cease to be someone’s child.  An obvious point, but in that subtle twist of perception is something more significant. The moment you are orphaned you lose the people whose primary role is to protect you.  Unconditional, instinctive, tribal. This is no comment on my loyal husband who I love dearly, or my sister who is truly exceptional.  Yet as peers, the needs of our own families must come first.  The selfless, unquestioning devotion is focussed on the children whose lives we have been entrusted to protect, nurture, bring to fruition.

And the truth is, my parent’s job was done.

Yet the vulnerable needy child in you is always there.  The infant yearning to be wrapped in its mother’s arms, safe from the loom of the bogeyman. We still crave to hear those words  “Don’t worry darling, I’ll sort it all out for you”, to hide under the duvet and to let someone else carry the burden.

But the truth is, the buck now stops with you.  There won’t always be someone else to come to the rescue.  And that can be a lonely thought.

Back to normal

25 Jul

I’m back to work tomorrow after 3 months off.

It didn’t quite turn out the way I expected.  I took the time off to help my mum through her treatment, but then she went and died on me after only a few weeks. I decided to the take time off anyway, to give me the space to adjust,  to let things settle, as well as time to go through all her things and get the house ready to sell.

3 months on;  the house is still unsold and we have sorted through only a fraction of her things. And the grieving? I’ve hardly started.

I’m lucky. Not everyone could have taken this time out. It’s given me the space to think, to digest and start to process all the memories, a finite store of memories now so precious to me. But like the house, I’ve merely scratched the surface.

For others life has moved on. People have stopped asking how I am, or they ask expecting some other, more mundane explanation. PMT or a difficult exchange with another mum at the school gates. For them, my mum’s passing is no longer headline news.  For me the newsflash still plays over.

But life must return to normal. I have to earn money, start to contribute again.

Tomorrow I will get up and put on smart clothes and do my hair. I will get on the 8.02 train to Charing Cross and walk the 20 mins to the office. I will say hello to the same people, sit at my old desk, write a new list of things to do. I will plan and discuss and prioritise, just as I did before.

And yet nothing is like it was before. My world is altered like a refracted image in a cracked mirror.  A distorted world that I am still struggling to make sense of.

I wonder if anyone will notice.

Smokers. F*ck ’em?

24 Jul

Smokers deserve everything that’s coming to them.  If they choose to smoke, why should I pay out through the NHS to save them?

Is this what YOU think?

I hate smoking. I hate everything about it. I can’t help but look at people with pity and distaste when I see them chuffing away on a cigarette, lips like a cat’s arse. I know, I’m one of those awful ex-smokers. The thing is, in order to give up you have to learn to hate it. Despise it with a passion greater than the desire to do it. To finally see it for what it is – a drug addiction like any other, but rather than huddled away in a backstreet somewhere getting their fix, smokers are just doing it out in the open, and with the consent of the government. No less desparate. No less pitiful. Watch a smoker in a restaurant waiting for the opportunity to excuse themselves for a fag. All jittery and cross.  Then tell me smoking heightens social enjoyment.

But do I think smokers deserve everything they get? Absolutely not. Do I think they’re as worthy as breast cancer or brain cancer sufferers of publically funded and expensive courses of treatment? Of course.

The fact is, people do not “choose” to smoke. Okay let me clarify that. Smokers may choose to have their first puff in the school toilets, and maybe the 2nd or 3rd puffed out their bedroom window while mum unknowingly cooks a healthy meal downstairs, but smokers don’t choose to carry on smoking any more freely than a heroin addict makes the decision to buy more gear that day. Smokers may say they like it, that it keeps them company, is their reward after a bad day, but the reality is it’s only ever the cigarettes that are in control – a power-crazy, insiduous addiction playing devilishly with their thoughts, guaranteeing its next fix. Of course smoking is enjoyable, why else would people do it against all the advice and harsh medical truths? I’m pretty sure an opiate high is pretty awesome. Reward perpetuates the thing – basic Pavlos Theory.

Yet most people MUST think lung cancer sufferers deserve all they get. Although lung cancer accounts for the greatest number of cancers diagnosed every year and 22% of cancer deaths, it receives a meagre 7% of total cancer funding. All this despite the fact that lung cancer is a silent killer that kills the majority of its victims within 12 months of diagnosis. In my mum’s case it was 2. By the time hers was caught it was everywhere – liver, brain, ovaries. She didn’t stand a chance.

But the basic truth is, lung cancer just isn’t sexy. It’s all tarred lungs, hacking coughs and wrinkled skin, washed through with a big helping of “we told you so”.

In the 1950s my mum’s doctor used to farm out cigarettes to her when she went for an appointment. Apparently it was good for your health, helped you relax. Of course now we know better, but it doesn’t change the fact that if you make a drug freely available on the high street people will get hooked, and many won’t have the strength, the resources, the drive to give up. After all, would you sell a hit of crack at a Sainsbury’s quick checkout counter and blame a crackhead for buying it?

If society consents to sell cigarettes legally, then society must deal with the consequences, including supporting all of its victims. Either that, or do what I’d prefer, and ban the bastards altogether.

To make a donation to specifically fund research and treatment into lung cancer, or for more information on lung cancer pls visit the Roy Castle Lung Foundation.

Angry

29 Apr

I’m ANGRY.

Angry that the grandparents my children will know, grow up with, remember, won’t be MY parents. That the one they will call Grandma won’t be MY mum, the one they will know as Grandad will be someone else’s.

I’m angry that my Mum will be a hazy recollection, snapshots – splintered and one-dimensional – just as my Dad is now just a photo on the fridge. Their absence juxtaposed against a life filled with love and cuddles and memories from their other, “real” grandparents.

I’m angry that it won’t be my mum that picks them up from school, that wraps her arms around them and asks them what their day was like. That she’ll never see the expression on their faces as they unwrap her carefully chosen Christmas present, or heap praise on them when they read their first words.

I’m angry that I will have to live more of my life without her than I have done with. One of the most important people to me – my mother, my best friend – here for just a fraction of my life. Killed off after only the first few chapters.

I’m angry that the person that has been at the centre of my universe for 34 years has been snatched away from me, cruelly, suddenly, and that I have to relearn to live my life without her.

I’m angry that at just 34 I am an orphan.

I’m angry that my “go to person”, my reference point for all the decisions I make, the person at the end of the telephone when I’m feeling unsteady or unsure, has become unavailable. Permanently engaged.

I’m angry that I have to make sense of all of this by myself.

I’m really fucking angry, and my rage is selfish and personal. For now it’s all about me.