An extra post today. Those of you who’ve followed me for a while know about my daughter Ellie: about her husband Phil who died from cancer, four years ago tomorrow, and about her twin boys, then aged 10. About her own cancer diagnosis and treatment more or less immediately after. I re-blogged several of her posts, and you followed her story through her own treatment, surgery and recovery. Now she has something to say about living in this strange new world where coronavirus and the fear of it dominates our lives. Please read it.
When my husband was dying, one of the things that bothered him the most was that people stopped bothering him. We were always the last to find out about our friends’ separations, pain in the arse teenagers, or warring families. And when we did find out, we’d always get the same response:
“But our problems are nothing compared to yours.”
To which my husband would reply:
“And my problems don’t suddenly make yours go away.”
He was right. Yes, perspective is a wonderful thing, but it usually grows from trauma. I’m a better person now than I’ve ever been before, simply because I value all the things I used to take for granted. Like being alive. Or having a cuddle with the man I love. Or owning a full set of tits. So, it felt completely wrong to find myself struggling with the impending fourth anniversary of my husband’s…
Another update from my daughter’s long and exceedingly difficult journey from young widow to cancer patient to reconstructed survivor. You may have noticed that the more normal her life becomes, the fewer the posts …. so let’s hope it’s an even longer wait till the next one…..
A friend recently remarked that you’re all so heavily invested in my story that it would be only fair to let you see a picture of the new knocker. She’s probably right. So, here’s the result of my trip to the Build-A-Boob Workshop back on that Tuesday in late February. I’m actually quite proud of it – and, simply from a surgical perspective, it IS pretty impressive (in comparison with the flat-chested butchery which was there before, anyway). Unless there’s a market for MastectomyPorn™ – which, to be fair, there probably is somewhere – I guess this is only interesting to those who really care. So, here you go.
This is the norkitecture. My DIEP/TRAM autologous breast reconstruction, should you care to Google it (though readers of a nervous disposition may wish to look away now). No implants whatsoever. What little tummy fat I had has now been re-sited into…
I haven’t written an update for a while, and to be honest, I’ve been enjoying getting back to normality (and trying to learn how to parent teenagers), with limited success. I think that writing Fanny through my grief and treatment was my way of releasing stress when I had nobody else to tell. Now, I do have someone to tell, who loves me deeply, but with that happiness and contentment has come a bit of Writers’ Block. Our stories don’t end as long as we’re alive, but perhaps I wanted Fanny to have her happy ending, and I wasn’t sure if there really was any such thing.
In fact, I suppose I thought a new beginning had come instead – in July last year, when my husband’s ashes were interred in the graveyard of the church where he and I had married 15 years before, almost to the day. I’d…
Today marks 1172 days since cancer came into our family. 1168 days since my husband and I walked through the doors of this hospital, hand in hand, for the very first time.
Those doors were the last thing my husband saw of the outside world, before being wheeled into an ambulance and brought home to die. He said, at that point, that a bag for life would probably be an unwise investment.
Today, 463 days since my husband died, and 343 days since my own diagnosis, I walk out of the same doors once again, on my own, to the outside world, for what we all hope will be the very last time. To freedom. To our children. To countless more days.
Here, they’ve given me the most precious gift – my life, wrapped up in a metaphorical box with a bow, when my husband couldn’t even begin to pick…
I spoke to a friend the other day. A friend who was deeply upset, because one of his friends had left it too late to check himself out… and now has a cancer which can’t be cured. We don’t yet know how long he has. It’s heartbreaking, and more so because it could have been avoided.
In the meantime, I’ve been receiving – for two bloody years – requests to put a heart on my wall, or an eight ball as my status, or to accept the challenge of posting a black and white picture, or a no make-up selfie, to raise awareness for cancer. Well, challenge accepted. Here’s my black and white, no make-up selfie, no hair selfie, no boob selfie, and no husband selfie. Our most recent portrait together, a few weeks ahead of our fifteenth wedding anniversary. ❤️
You don’t raise awareness of cancer by putting little…
I’ve found this most recent post from my daughter the hardest of all to read, because we’ve seen at first hand the boys’ anger and fear over their mother’s cancer. I doubt if I could have found it in me to reblog her thoughts if we hadn’t been in Bolton this last weekend.
We were there because Ellie wanted to be at her annual professional conference overnight. Voice overs work in the main alone, so theirs is less a conference more a knees-up and a chance to bond. Her colleagues have been unendingly supportive and helpful since Phil’s death, and she spent the weekend being hugged and loved.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the boys were doing their own thing. Twin Number One got invited for a sleepover. Twin Number Two wasn’t, but elected to come shopping and bake a cake with me instead. Then he too found himself off playing footie with his mates and being invited to spend the night at a friend’s house.
Suddenly, we were only babysitting the dog, who required a long, energetic and healthy walk on Sunday.
Perhaps it’s the light at the end of the tunnel. Ellie was happy. She had a much needed break. The twins were happy. They had time away from each other, and they could see their mum was OK.
It’s chemotherapy again on Wednesday. But it’s the LAST ONE. However bad it might be, it’s THE LAST ONE. Then there’s radiotherapy, which will tire her out. But that’s the LAST TREATMENT. She’s booked a family holiday for August. Perhaps they can dare to hope that this is the year when cancer finally pushes off and leaves them alone.
My relentless positivity is waning. The dark thoughts are setting in, and becoming far harder to shake off than the last few eyelashes which have long been sobbed into a snotty tissue. I have two children who miss their father, but I miss him too, and if it weren’t for them, perhaps I wouldn’t have bothered to fight this at all. In fact, I think I resent the fact that I can’t just say fuck it and join him, wherever he is. Because I do have his beloved children, though, and no family nearby to bring them up, I don’t have a choice. But, Christ, it’s hard – especially when the two children you’re doing it for are not helping you to row upstream, but are standing on the riverbank, chucking rocks at you as you try to do it alone.
They’re eleven. Nearly twelve. And they’re about as much…
I knew I couldn’t let this day pass, unrecognised. This is the day when, exactly a year ago, my son-in-law Phil died. I want to remember that. But I also want to remember how proud he would be of the way his family has made a go of their unwanted new lives together, despite the grief, the empty place at every family gathering. Ellie’s successfully relaunched their business: the new website went live late yesterday. The boys started at high school, and are doing well – they’re sporty and busy. Ellie’s out to prove that she’ll see her own cancer kicked conclusively out before the end of 2017, and she’s got the bald head to prove it. Brian the dog declines to grow up,and recently ate his bed – again. Luckily, he’s lovable with it.
Phil would be proud of all they’ve achieved. I am too. They’re doing well. But there’s still a Phil-shaped hole at the centre of their family, and I guess there always will be.
Death in a digital age is a funny old business. On Facebook Memories, a photograph has just flashed up to tell me that three years ago today, we were on a family day out to Liverpool, which we all enjoyed, save for the gnawing feeling in my stomach that my husband’s difficulty swallowing was not good news. Two years ago this week, or so it tells me, our little family was on a wonderful holiday, which we’d booked to celebrate our wild assumption that the whole shitty cancer thing was behind us. One year ago this week, my husband was lying in a hospice bed in our sitting room, dying.
Messages, wall posts and photographs have popped back up on my phone from this day last year. We’d told our wider circle of friends, through Facebook, a few days after my husband had been given a couple of weeks left…
This is a Bolton week. This is the week for Ellie’s second dose of chemo. As we feared, it’s made her feel very nauseous, despite apparently super-efficient state-of-the-art anti-sickness medication.
So I’m in loco parentis. One of my duties was to take the boys to what Ellie cheerfully calls ‘Grief Club’.
‘Once upon a Smile’ supports bereaved families in all kinds of ways, practical and emotional. The children often have fun together – and appreciate being with other young people who share their unwanted feelings of raw emotion and grief. Yesterday they were at the Trafford Centre, so I had an hour to waste there while the boys got competitive on the bowling alley.
‘Waste’, because shopping is no kind of therapy for me. And the Trafford Centre is a château, a folly, a temple to consumerism. Just look at this. Look at the kitsch statues, the faux gold, the marble, the sweeping staircases and the wannabe classical fountains. And this palace, which dates from as long ago as 1998, is merely a home to the likes of Marks and Spencer, Boots, Next and Paperchase. I got crosser and crosser as I thought of what fun I’d be having if instead I was at a community market, chatting to the locals. And I was cross with myself too, for feeling so holier-than-thou.
Perhaps the Trafford Centre wasn’t built with me in mind. The boys had fun though, which was the entire point of the excursion.
This week’s WordPress photo assignment challenges us to share a wish.
I have chosen an image of the cheerfully optimistic and colourful prayer lanterns we saw so often suspended from the ceilings in the Buddhist temples of South Korea to illustrate our family’s wish, which will come as no surprise at all to regular readers of this blog.
We’d like my daughter Elinor, aka ‘Fanny, the Champion of the World‘, to be cancer-free by the time her twin boys become twelve. Then they, and we can truly celebrate their birthday, shadowed since they were eight by the cancer firstly of their father, then of their mother. It’s chemo-time at the moment. Not much fun, but all in a good cause.
It’s everything to ask. But surely neither greedy nor unreasonable.
A third Christmas with cancer as an unwelcome guest. Regular readers of my blog know my son-in-law died of cancer after living with it for two tough years. Regular readers also know that his widow, my daughter, got her own cancer diagnosis only weeks after his death. Regular readers have read some of her feisty, angry, witty pieces about this wretched disease. They know that her initial hopes : ‘Breast cancer is NO BIG DEAL’ vanished in the face of evidence of more and larger tumours. She faced more invasive tests and scans. Friday was results day.
A month ago, news that she will need a mastectomy, probably six months of chemotherapy, and perhaps radiotherapy as well would have pitched her, and all of us into a pit of helpless gloom. Now it’s a reprieve. Now we can face 2017 hopeful that after all this she will live, will see her twins grow up, will continue to be an important part of the lives of all her friends and family.
I don’t feel like glibly heading this post ‘Snapshot Sunday’ as I usually do. But this week’s theme, ‘New Horizon’ is relevant. My daughter – all of us – have a new horizon to work towards as her treatment seeks to return her to a cancer-free future.