September 2019. These last few weeks have been tough. Dad went back to work after the summer off and is once again readjusting to spinning a million and one plates at once. Evelyn, you started pre-school and for the first few days trying to get you to put your new uniform on was a real test of wills, there was a lot of tears and certainly no winners. This week they’ve said you’ve got to wear a hair bobble, I’ve just left that one in their capable hands. Grace, you have just moved out of our room and into a cot and are threatening to crawl any day now. Cue frantically rearranging the house into a baby friendly haven for at least the next year, until you’re steady on your feet and not putting everything you get your hands on into your mouth.
Things certainly aren’t easy, but when I get a moment I remind myself that it’s all good. That these stresses are nothing compared to where we were six years ago, that although they are real and sometimes it can feel like a struggle and all I want to do is go and hide in the shed, it’s still manageable. So I take a deep breath, regroup and get back on the treadmill, most of the time with a smile on my face.
Wednesday, October 16th 2013. The day after my first visit with the consultant I went back to work. I didn’t need to be there but I couldn’t cope with waiting at home alone for the news. I must have told the story a hundred times and I learnt a lot that day, mainly about what not to say to someone who’s just been diagnosed with cancer. Maybe that’s not quite fair, I’m still not sure there is a right thing to say and everyone is different, but there are definitely a few things I can’t imagine anyone wants to hear. So I’ve listed them here, just incase you’re ever in that position. The first, in response to their news is never tell the person that you knew someone once with that particular cancer that’s now dead. This is not helpful. Number two, don’t tell them you KNOW it’s all going to be fine. Really? You know something my consultant who’s been working in this field for fourty years doesn’t?! And lastly, don’t tell them if it comes back they’ll probably die. Actually, it was my consultant who said this, not a colleague, and although it’s factually correct, it also lacks any trace of sensibility. It’s a good job he made up for it in the end by saving my life, so all is forgiven.
I didn’t do any teaching that day, I mostly sat in the office and chatted and cried. I went to cake club and ate copious amount of cake and I met with the deputy who was very supportive and reiterated that I really didn’t need to be there. The following week was half term and after that my treatment would begin, so we agreed, in all probability I wouldn’t be back until at least Christmas. The following day I went in again and even managed to teach a few lessons but my head wasn’t really in the right place and so I was glad when the last bell went on Thursday and I could go back home.
I received a lot of cards and flowers that week and I can’t express how much that meant to me. Some people wrote the most beautiful messages and others told me simply, I was in their thoughts and prayers. Looking back now this is still one of the most important lessons I learnt. In the past, sometimes, when I didn’t know what exactly to say I thought it might be better to say nothing. I was wrong. What I know now is that an acknowledgement is far better than nothing, a card, a text, a phone call, means the world when you’re feeling so alone. And in truth, despite what I’ve previously said, it’s also important not to get too hung up on people saying the ‘wrong thing’ because no one really knows what to say, most, want nothing other than to reach out and comfort you in your time of need.
What I realised very quickly, was that I needed to hear more stories of hope. I needed to hear about the boy I taught who’s mum had the same disease in her thirties and was now fifty. I needed to hear about the teacher who was about to retire who had beat this fourty years ago and the Facebook girl who posted that five years after the all clear she didn’t think about it all the time any longer. I wanted stories about normal people who’d had this disease and who’d gone on to lead full and happy lives once more. I wished that magazines wouldn’t fill their pages with stories of families who’d lost loved ones, that leaflets and posters didn’t just highlight people whose cancers had reoccurred and that TV stations stopped documenting so many, who’s lives were cut short. I felt like it was everywhere I turned, people dying of cancer, heartbreak and lives being turned upside down. I know that when raising awareness it’s important these stories are told, that people are not forgotten and that their legacies go on. I know it’s these stories that make people check their bodies more often, make them go for their smears, check in with the GP if they spot something unusual or make them donate to research and better treatment. But I also know, when you’re in the midst of a diagnosis it’s not what you need to hear.
Last week myself and my friend Kreena launched our podcast The Intended Parent. It tells the story of two normal women whose lives were rocked by cancer, who’s fertility was stolen from them and whose dreams were put on hold. But despite all this, six years later they now have families they can call their own, they are happy and healthy and with the love and support of some amazing people they are leading, (fairly) normal lives once more. It’s exactly the kind of story I needed to hear all those years ago and I hope it’s exactly the kind of story someone else needs to hear today. September 2019, yes you’ve been a struggle but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Forever and Always