My youngest, Jess, starts school on Monday. She’s so excited she might burst. She keeps packing her new book bag with toys and taking her new Clarks shoes out of their box.
The build-up to this big event has been carefully micromanaged, often from my bedside. Shoes were bought six weeks ago regardless of the inevitable ‘summer growth spurt’. Her uniform was purchased long before the end of last term. I had no choice. If I wanted a piece of this moment then I had to plan ahead.
When Emily started school two years ago we spent the last few days of her holidays chatting excitedly about ‘new friends’ and ‘homework’ over babycinnos and lemon muffins. Jess has had to contend with an absent mummy (again) and an uncertain future for our family.
I want to cry over the unfairness of it all, and I do occasionally, but only when I’m feeling really sick or the chemo tiredness is overwhelming me. The biggest event in my little girl’s life so far is being overshadowed by the side effects of a treatment that is slowly debilitating us all.
Since my diagnosis two months ago I’ve come to realise that cancer is a series of really shitty compromises. You start with the immediate ones, like the hastily cancelled three-week summer holiday that we somehow condensed into a weekend, to the endless hours spent away from my family in various treatment centres and hospitals when I should be OD-ing on coffee at the local soft play like all the other mums.
Then there are the ones that cut really deeply, like the immovable oncology appointment that means I won’t be able to pick Jess up after her first day next Monday, not to mention the months and months of watching my children’s faces dissolve into tears when I tell them that I can’t play with them again because I’m feeling poorly.
Cancer is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one. To a certain extent the latter is out of your hands. You show up for chemo, you take the tablets and then you wait. In the meantime you have thoughts, dark, dark, thoughts. Usually at 3am when all the steroids that you’ve taken to counteract the very worst of the side effects take hold. In that moment your courage deserts you and you imagine the worst. The unthinkable. The very thing you used to dare yourself to envisage when you saw ads for Cancer Research on the television.
When I started chemotherapy three weeks ago I had no way of telling how my body would respond to treatment. The reality was much more violent and I was eventually rushed to A & E. More blood was taken from me. More time was spent staring at a blank hospital wall. More time spent away from my children. More time agonising over how all this is effecting two little girls who keep asking for their mummy.
It is in this harshest of settings that I have to remind myself over and over why I’m doing this. A short-term concession for a shot at the ultimate long-term goal – never missing a moment like this in my children’s lives again.
For that, I can take the 24hr nausea, the stomach cramps, the uncertainly and the darkness. Why? Because I refuse to accept the alternative.