The Mountain

We did climb a mountain, or at least a metaphorical one, in the shape of a huge renovation of the house next door.

Recently I’ve received a few messages from people who have read these letters and found some solace in them. It’s made me realise I definitely did the right thing in sharing our story and what hope you have not only brought into our lives but also the hope you’re bringing to others.

It’s taken me over five years to get to a place where I can write about all that’s happened but I’m glad I’ve finally got here. I look at people who are writing as they go through difficult experiences and think how brave they are to put themselves out there, I have so much respect for all they do to raise awareness of such difficult issues. When I was first diagnosed talking about everything really helped me process it all and I would spend hours with friends and family explaining what was happening and speaking about how I was feeling. But it also became tiresome and after a while, I didn’t want to be the cancer girl, I wanted people to talk to me about other stuff, what was on the tele, office politics, normal mundane everyday life stuff. I also didn’t want anything to do with cancer groups and I certainly didn’t want cancer friends. (I still can’t say this without thinking about Jays ‘football friends’ from the Inbetweeners, look it up on YouTube, I promise it’s a classic). Whether this was some sort of denial, whether I was frightened about making friends with people who might die or a combination of both I don’t know but I was adamant cancer would not define me and I didn’t want it to be in my life anymore than was absolutely necessary.

After the last letter I was talked to grandma about how in the early days I always felt strange that having cancer never made me want to travel the world, climb a mountain, get out there and fundraise or shout about my experience publicly. All I wanted, more than anything was to go back to my normal, run of the mill life. I wanted to come in on an evening from an uneventful day at work, slouch on the sofa, watch TV and not have to spend every second of every day worrying about cancer. Grandma however pointed out that to get through everything, we did climb a mountain, or at least a metaphorical one, in the shape of a huge renovation of the house next door.

When we bought our first house, although we, or at least I, knew it was the one straight away it was unfortunately situated next to a complete wreck. The house was painted orange, or at least part of it was, there was half a porch and plastic bags instead of a number of windows. The lean to at the side of the house, really was leaning to and the nettles in the garden reached six foot high. Pete, the guy who lived there, was not a happy man and despite his house being a complete eyesore if you dared leave your bins too close to his or a branch from our tree fell into his garden he’d really let you have it. We knew relatively little about him other than his marriage didn’t end well and he had a number of children who would come and go sporadically and that was about it. He can’t have been that old when in 2012 his sister who was visiting the house to sort through his things told us that he had passed away suddenly. She also informed us that the house actually belonged to his father who was in his 90’s and he wanted rid of it as quickly as possible. Without thinking we’d ever get it we decided to put in a cheeky offer and were gobsmacked when it was accepted.

In an incredible display of poor timing we receiving the keys to the house the day before my cancer diagnosis but rather than being another weight on our shoulders the house became a much needed distraction and the fact it was next door was perfect. Inside the ceilings were thick with yellow grime from all the cigarettes Pete had smoked, there were holes in the walls where the plaster had come away and graffiti in one of the upstairs bedrooms that sent a chill down your spine. Your dad hated the house, not that he didn’t see that it was a great opportunity for a number of reasons, but he was convinced we would do it up and sell it on. I however was determined to turn it into a family home and over the next six months we did just that. We’d use it as a distraction when we were waiting for updates, in the early days after my op your dad and grandpa, who came down to help, would go and work next door while I recovered on the sofa. They’d pop back in every now and again to check I was ok and question just how many times certain characters had been resurrected as I watched back to back episodes of the Vampire Diaries. In my defense of watching such crappy TV it provided a much needed escape from reality in the same way squeezing in an episode of Home and Away between physics lectures at university let me brain rest and recuperate. When November came we had a huge bonfire in the back garden and sat eating fish and chips in the crisp autumn air.

As my strength began to return I would take round cups of tea and perch on the tool box chatting through ideas with your dad. On New Year’s Eve when he took down the chimney breast I sat and watched, providing him with morale support and chivvying him along so we could get out and welcome in the start of a new and hopefully better year. Eventually after a few months I was able to pitch in with wallpaper removal, painting and pretty much anything that didn’t require too much exertion.

By May it was ready to move into and we left behind the old house and with it the memories that filled each room that I felt very lucky to be able escape. We closed the door on one chapter and started the next in the family home I’d envisioned when we’d put the offer in over a year ago, before any of this had begun. The house was our mountain and we’d smashed it.

All my love