Chapter 7 – Meanwhile at home, in work and in the real world

“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” ― Dr. Seuss.

All around me life was going on as before. Even in our own house we had adapted to living with a serious illness and in a way we too were just getting on with it.

Emma had her 10th birthday party in April which was celebrated like all her other birthdays had been – with a party. We were not going to let my treatment change that.

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Visitors to the house came and went. The postman was the busiest he has ever been as every day brought an avalanche of love and support in cards, letters and relics. My aunt actually sent my Mum some powder from the Holy Land which supposedly helps women who are having difficulty conceiving. I am not sure why she thought that would be helpful to me…. but people do what they do and try to help in whatever way they can.

I had very good days and very bad days. The bad days came when the effects of the massive steroid doses took hold and when they were wearing off. My voice changed and my whole body shook uncontrollably for several days each month as I bore the effects of the steroids. I was angry at people over silly things and then I was weepy for no reason. I remember snapping at a man for moving something on my check out belt and then being mortified afterwards.

I was delighted then when they told me I could stop the steroid treatment and plan for the harvest.

May 2007 was a gorgeous month. I spent a lot of time outside in the evenings with the kids in the driveway. We had huge excitement on the May bank holiday weekend when our cat gave birth to a single kitten which the kids named Rocky. It was a wonderful moment of new life in the house which was welcome when it felt like we were surrounded by unspoken fears of death.

Emma sat with Shadow (the cat) through her labour of about an hour. I still laugh when I remember her coaxing the cat to breathe and to push. It’s the ordinary and yet extraordinary moments like these that kept me going.

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At this stage both kids knew I was sick. Emma knew I was very unwell as I had given up work. Cathal, at only 2, was happy in his own little world. We took the decision not to mention the C word to Emma. We were afraid that off the cuff remarks about cancer might make her afraid. We told her that I had bad cells which would only be killed by chemo and so I would lose my hair and have to be in and out of hospital for the year. With Cathal it was different – he only cared that I was there in the morning and in the evening and not gone away from him again. We encouraged Emma to talk to her friends about it and to come to us first with questions rather than going online or somewhere where she might get the wrong information.

With the harvest coming up it was likely I would lose my hair as part of the process involved my first dose of  liquid chemo. I knew I had to prepare the kids so I decided to get my hair cut short. I had really long hair all the way down my back, which both kids used to love to get tangled up in.

I went off to the hairdressers and told them to cut it really short. The stylist looked at me and said ‘Are you sure? It’s a big change’. I told her to absolutely go ahead and she hesitated again. Then I told her that I was only going to have hair for another 2-3 weeks as I was facing chemo. She was shocked but I sensed real extra TLC in the way she looked after me that day.

The kids were taken aback with how short my hair was but they soon got used to it. I couldn’t predict how they would react to real and actual baldness but we would cross that bridge when we got to it.

In work life went on without me. I received cards and letters, emails and texts by the truckload from work colleagues who willed me on and wished me well. I used to hand write a letter to them every so often to keep them up to date.

Sometimes it was tough to look out at my world and to know that so much of life was going on without me. There was a time when I wondered if I would ever be the Brenda I was BC (before cancer).

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