The table was being cleared of the remnants of dinner when suddenly the words came tumbling out of Youngest’s mouth –
“Mummy, I keep thinking that you might die”
The general hubbub of dinner and the scraping of plates clattered to a halt. Suddenly it felt like the oxygen had been sucked out from the room. How had we gone from having a carefree dinner to this? A cold shiver passed over me and I now noticed previously unseen shadows in the corners of the room. How had I not seen this coming? Cancer had barged its way into the room again.
I looked at Youngest. She had spent the afternoon at a birthday party and her face had been painted so that she resembled Pikachu. Her face was the picture of innocence yet her big blue eyes looked scared. My cancer had robbed her of her childhood. I felt desperately sad for her; this is not what she should have to be dealing with at 6 years-old. I really wanted to make everything right for her.
I grappled with what to say. I needed to reassure her. I thought frantically back to what I had been told to say, what we had read. Reassure but avoid making promises you can’t keep. I thought back to the Macmillan leaflets. What had they said? Be open and honest was the over-riding theme. Six years-old though, isn’t that too young for her to know her mummy could die?
You can read all of the literature (which, for the record, there is a distinct lack of anything that is really suitable) but they don’t know your child. They can give you pointers but only you really know your child.
Trying to reassure her
I desperately wanted to tell her that it was all going to be okay, I would beat this cancer. But, I didn’t want to make promises that I might not be able to keep. I pulled Youngest close to me and hugged her, clinging onto her. I ignored my tears that threatened to erupt and set about reassuring her as best I could.
“If you have any worries, you must tell me so that we can talk about it. You don’t need to bottle anything up”
Youngest looked up at me, nodding slowly.
“I am doing everything I can to get as healthy as quickly as possible.” I ignore the voice in my head that mocks me – you were doing everything right before and you still got cancer – I carry on.
“I’m here for you and I love you very much” now I can really feel the tears threatening to spill and I take a big gulp. “We have so much to look forward to. We can go on an amazing family holiday together, that would be nice wouldn’t it? Where would you like to go?”
I try to distract her with plans and talks of the adventures we can have once this treatment is over. Under the table I’m crossing my fingers that we will be able to have those adventures, family holidays, a chance to make special memories. Memories that I will never take for granted again.
“Do you want to ask me anything else?”
I steel myself for what she might ask.
“When can we go on holiday then?” and just like that she is being cheeky Youngest again, and the usual glint is back in her eye.
“As soon as we can, as soon as we can” I reassure her. I know she needs definite timescales and dates, but I can’t give her that.
I know that she is seeking stability as she doesn’t like how her life has been disrupted. When we sat the children down to tell them I had cancer, it was 12 weeks ago. They had no real understanding at that point of how it would impact on their daily routine.
There is no getting away from it, cancer has changed all of our lives. We are desperately hoping and praying that we can get our old life back as soon as possible. The last cycle of chemo really threw youngest. Up to that point she had been positive and coping well. However, her seeing me poorly with sepsis and admitted to hospital must have scared her. She became quiet and withdrawn. She wasn’t her normal self. It was just another reminder that her life isn’t what it once was and that goes for her mummy too.
Then there are the ongoing teacher strikes which are also adding to the feeling of uncertainty. She has no set routine at the moment, no place of security, no sense of predictability. I wish there was something I could do. I remind myself that I need to keep positive. I just need to get through this. In the meantime, we just need to keep plodding forward and keep holding onto each other.
Over the following days we talk more and I feel like I handle it better. I tell her that when she is sad she should visualise Phyllis in her head and say how much she hates it, and imagine it shrinking. I tell her that she could take a pillow and imagine it’s Phyllis and punch it to make herself feel better. I’m not normally one for advocating violence but I figure it might help her to let some of her frustrations out.
I remind Youngest that the doctor is really positive that he can get Phyllis out of me; this time next year I should be back to my old self. If anything, I will be better than my old self because I will feel so much better. I hope these are the right things to say to her. I don’t want to give her false hope but I also need to take that fear away too.
Finally, I tell her that it’s completely normal to feel a mixture of emotions: sadness, anger and frustration. I tell her to imagine those feelings being like a balloon and, instead of holding onto them, she needs to talk to me about them. That way we can pop the balloon together and let all of the emotions out.
Not for the first time I feel the surge of anger towards Phyllis. Angry that my family are going through this and angry at what cancer is doing to us all.
I pull Youngest close to me again and I mutter that it’s going to be okay (It has to be okay). Again, in my head, I make the usual plea – please don’t take me away from my family.
Please let everything be okay.