Last week my mum started a course of chemotherapy because cancer has come calling.
I can’t believe I am writing that sentence. My mum has cancer. Or had cancer because she’s had surgery to remove it. All of it. They got all of it out.
A tumour the size of a large grapefruit they said. Just imagine that; inside my mum, all 5ft nothing of her.
They took it off one of her ovaries and she was bereft. But my mother is made of tough stuff. Anything which knocks her down only makes her stronger, more resilient, more determined.
She had a tumour the size of a large grapefruit and she survived.
Then they told her the grapefruit was cancerous and she stumbled again. They had removed everything, and had taken samples from all around the tumour site and couldn’t find any traces of cancer.
BUT it only takes a single rogue cell to escape detection and it could come back.
So they recommended a course of chemotherapy. BOOM, that word. Hair loss, sickness, feeling like crap, all the usual phrases were trotted out at my shell-shocked mum who had convinced herself the surgery to remove it was the end of the matter.
But again she rallied. I will get through this, I will make jokes about it, I will be that glamorous patient who swans into the chemo wing of the hospital looking all bohemian with garishly bright head scarves and at ease with the shitty situation.
My mum is amazing. She’s a survivor; a bouncer back. She’s independent and feisty and nothing is going to knock her down. I TOTALLY know where my daughter gets it from!
It’s been a tough few weeks as she’s endured diagnosis, surgery, recovery and prognosis. Tough. I didn’t know what that word meant until now.
But it’s been nothing compared to this week. This week they poured the chemotherapy concoction into her veins. Poison all through her body to ensure all traces of the cancer are eradicated.
We know it is necessary, she knows it’s necessary; knows that it’s just an insurance policy to ensure long life. But it’s that word; chemotherapy.
So she went for her first dose on Monday, staying at the hospital all day as they tested, hooked her up, told her what to expect, looked after her, poisoned her.
Do you know what chemotherapy is? What’s in the poisonous mixture?
For my mum it’s a mixture of platinum and yew. She jokes that when it’s all over she’s either going to be worth a small fortune or end up like Wolverine.
Chemotherapy works because the mixture is ‘cytotoxic’, which means it will kill cells that divide rapidly – cancer cells. But also bone marrow cells, hair follicles, cells in the digestive tract.
On Wednesday night, two days after her first treatment, every bone in her body hurt. She couldn’t get comfortable or sleep. On Thursday she couldn’t walk. She was trying to make her way up her beloved garden on a walking stick. My mum who plays ball in the garden with my kids. I speak to her and she’s positive and not giving much away but she sounds different. Not like her. Like a spark has been dimmed.
I wasn’t going to share any of this because, well, I don’t share everything and it’s a family thing. It’s ours.
But it’s invaded every nook and cranny of our lives. Mum doesn’t want to see her grandchildren while she’s like this because she doesn’t want to worry them or for them to see her looking so frail. But my kids miss her, ask about her all the time, want to be part of it. And so I share what I can and try to explain the best I can.
But what made me really want to write about this was a radio piece I was listening to on my way to work on the Chris Evans show on Radio 2 on Friday morning.
Next week is UK Carers Week and he spoke to radio DJ Johnny Walker about how when he was diagnosed with cancer 10 years ago, his wife Tiggy gave up her career to look after him. Then last year she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer, the roles were reversed and he became her carer.
What he said made my shoulders sink. “People will often ask how the person is who’s not well is doing but they don’t really think to ask how the carer is doing.”
You can listen to the short interview here.
I phoned up my mum’s other half Drew to see how he was doing. And he’s struggling. He can’t sleep because he lies in bed listening to her toss and turn with discomfort, worrying and wanting to take it all away. He’s exhausted from caring and worrying and supporting and running around and living on his emotions. He does all of this without complaint. I’ve never ever been so tired, he tells me. And for him to say that is something; he’s a former fireman who never stops, always fixing or building or DIYing or lifting or pottering.
He has been amazing. Through the whole thing. And I thank him and tell him to call on us for anything at any time.
Now think of all those many many thousands of other carers across the UK feeling the same way as him. Children, teenagers, the retired, husbands, wives, friends, relatives – the ‘job’ of carer landing on them sometimes out of the blue.
It’s been a strange few weeks. It’s made me stop and take stock and realise we can get through anything if we do it as a family.
But I’d like the last words to go to my mum; you are bloody amazing, I’m so very very proud of you and we’re all here just waiting for you to get your spark back x