Five Things I’ve Learnt so far – Part 1

Part 1 of a little series of posts about what I’ve learnt throughout my journey with Mum’s cancer, her death, and my grief.

Lesson number one – Cancer is confusing and unfair.

Mum’s diagnosis wasn’t straightforward. She was diagnosed in December 2016. February 2015, she’d had a routine mammogram which picked up a grey mass/area in her breast. This was followed up with a second mammogram, but nothing was found. In retrospect, I think that her cancer started to form prior to February 2015. This idea has popped into my head many times, and sometimes I let myself get a little too hung up on it. What if it was picked up here sooner? Would she still be alive?

Mum started to feel not herself late October/early November 2016. She was lethargic all the time, couldn’t concentrate, often felt dazed and groggy. She was in and out of the GP surgery two, three times a week. Mum had tests that seemed irrelevant. She had a liver function test, her diabetes was being monitored more carefully, and at one point she was being tested for an allergic reaction to beetroot…?

Her cancer diagnosis didn’t come for another month. By then I was like “well yeah, it all makes sense, of course it was cancer?” it seemed like that possibility had been overlooked throughout these tests, wouldn’t you want to rule out the most serious thing first? Mum left her office on the afternoon Friday 9th December 2016 to be told her results by the doctor. She never stepped foot in the office again. She never saw some of those people again. The office she had helped grow, and the people who she saw for nine hours a day, five days a week, for seventeen years.

Mum was the main breadwinner in our house, so whilst she wasn’t at work, she wasn’t able to earn. Her company were amazing and paid her full salary for another year after her diagnosis. It was so incredibly helpful of them, however something I don’t feel is addressed when people have cancer is the amount of money one has to spend on cancer’s additional goods and services. For example;

  1. Petrol/fuel for all those drives to the hospitals (sometimes four times a week)
  2. Parking tickets at the hospital – our usual charge was around £4.50.
  3. Hospital drinks, food, snacks (roughly 3–4 hours for each stay…you’re definitely at least thirsty)
  4. Incontinence pads/underwear. The chemo made all of her muscles weak – everything from her legs to her bladder.
  5. Specialist food and dietary supplements – food that’s good for keeping both your energy and fat consumption high*
  6. Supportive pillows.
  7. Things to do whilst at 3 hour long chemotherapy appointments.
  8. Sleeping aids like ear plugs, eye masks, and comfortable cases/covers for the aforementioned pillows.
  9. New clothes! Not fashion statements or seasonal changes. A whole new wardrobe of comfortable clothes because Mum lost so much weight that nothing fit her anymore and she often needed help getting dressed.
  10. Takeaways.**

Chemotherapy is AWFUL. You hear people say that, but it doesn’t really hit you…until you’re wiping sick off of your Mum’s face, and you realise you’ve never seen or heard her be physically sick your whole life. Because the last time she was sick was when she was pregnant with you…23 years ago. She was tired but couldn’t sleep. Hungry but nauseated by even the thought of plain toast. She was cold but sweating under a light dressing gown. She was uncomfortable but didn’t possess the energy to move her own limbs. She was my warm, reassuring Mum, but she was slowly fading into a shadow of herself.

*All Mum wanted was yoghurt, and high fat yoghurt just does not exist. We ended up buying clotted cream and stirring seedless jam into it. Potato/potato, right?

**Who the fuck wants to cook when they’ve driven their cancer stricken mother to her chemotherapy session…where they’ve seen her veins so battered that it took four different nurses to get a line in to the point that she was visibly shaking and squeezing your hand so hard you’d do yourself a favour to pop over to the A&E dept…

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