Sometimes your world crumbles in a matter of seconds…you can pause and be sad but then you have to regroup and be stronger than you were before. People say that things come in threes, but I think that things just come. You can’t predict it, you can’t predict how you will react…My dad has cancer. I use to be able to say my dad had cancer and is in remission. But we all know that with cancer things change quickly and without notice.
I got married 3 weeks ago and it was an amazing day. To me it was amazing for so many things. I never thought it would happen was one big reason – but also because prior to that moment we had been celebrating a year of remission for my dad! He was in good spirits. He had bought a new suit, he had enjoyed being one of the boys with my husband and his friends and he proudly got to be the father of the bride. He was glowing.
In December 2012 my father was diagnosed with a Birkett’s lymphoma. I don’t remember a lot about the moment other than being told it is rare. Cancer doesn’t seem rare to any of us. I am certain that everyone who reads this knows someone with cancer or may have had their own battle cancer. It is everywhere…it seems. He fought hard. He had set backs – including his heart failing at one point, getting numerous infections, being rushed to the ER from home on countless occasions and his golf game has gotten much worse. BUT we got through that one. It went from 119mm to nothing. The doctor is a genius and the nursing staff deserve every medal we can give them…and more pay. We celebrated 1 year. We celebrated it with Veuve Cliquot. It has become our drink of choice since. I was married on 15 July 2016. On 16 July 2016 my father told me his cancer was back. He had known for 2 weeks – in fact he found out on my birthday. I do not give this information to make it about me…although don’t mistake cancer absolutely affects more than just the person who has it. I give you that information to highlight my father. A man that loves his daughter and his children…so much so that when faced with heartbreaking news, news that requires unrelenting support towards him, he buried it, gave me away, gave a beautiful speech and danced and mingled the night away. When he told me I cried. I sobbed actually. Turns out you can never feel comfortable about defeating cancer. It is a beast. It does not discriminate. It is not polite about when or where it will occur. It is the worst house guest and it is never ever invited. But…it came back. Once I was done crying my thoughts went to my father and mother.My father because he has to stump up and do this again. He has to go to battle, every single day. His armour is his mind and his spirit – and cancer will do everything it can to destroy that. He has good days, bad days and he has damn ugly days. There are days when he wants to eat super foods, drink super drinks and do exercise and there are days when he just wants to hide. When he is angry and when he is absolutely deflated and no one can say anything to make it better. However, my father is doing something differently this time. He is reading mindfulness books, he is listening to a nutritionist and doing some weights (they are ruby weights and his darling granddaughter is called Ruby – there are some sweet ironies in it all) and he has had a beer between treatments with his great mate Joe. These are good signs to me. Whilst inside he may be defeated and crushed, he is doing all he can to make lemonade. He is living as best he can, inside hospital walls and even with a drip attached to him every day. He has named his drip…her name is Mary.
My mother. She has one of the hardest jobs of any of us. My parents don’t live in the same state as my brother and I. That is hard. My mother’s best friend lives in Sydney. I am scared. She is scared, but every day she wakes up, gets dressed, goes to the shops and buy whatever my father has asked for and goes to the hospital. When she gets there she doesn’t always know what it is going to be like. When he is up…we are up. When he is down…we are down. When he is upset – she is in the firing line. She deals with 1am emergency room trips and she deals with the nurses and the doctors and the patient. My mother can hold the attention of a room with one graceful entrance. She is bright, vivacious, spunky as all hell and she is the strongest person I know. Being away from her during this time is hard. Knowing what she is going through breaks my heart. They have been married for 48 years! They are best friends. But you cannot deny that cancer changes a relationship. They are comrades now…they have to stand side by side every day in battle.
Cancer changes the way people interact with you. Some people get it – take Joe (my dad’s golf buddy) and his wife (she also had cancer) – they know when they can visit and they know what they can do to help and they do it. They don’t ask for permission they just do it. I will never be able to thank them enough for the support they have given mum and dad. There is a person who mows mum and dads lawns. He just does it. Friends can go missing for a period of time too. Cancer can make people uncomfortable – cancer patients look different and they look unwell. You can’t be near a cancer patient if you are even slightly unwell. My mother is an amazingly hospitable person and on the front door of our house is a sign that reads “ if you are unwell or feeling unwell please do not come in – we have a cancer patient inside…”. Our house is a germ free zone. Washing and sanitising your hands is a religion in our house. When times are hardest it is the family that is the middle of it with the patient and there are a small handful of friends who stand on the edges and gently place their hands on our back for support. Sometimes we don’t know what support we need…sometimes we just need someone to hold us up.
When my step son first met my father a year ago, he sat and stared at him throughout the lunch. It was amazing to watch and I had no idea why. When we got back in the car the eldest children started talking about how much they loved my mother. She is so friendly and nice and she gave us ice-cream. The youngest was silent for a little bit and then he said “I like your dad because he almost died but he didn’t.” That has stuck. That is the truth.
With your permission I intend on writing a little throughout this experience. Not because I think I am unique or special – but because I think we need to support each other in this community in whatever way we can. I don’t need to hear miracle stories of people who have come through the dark – those stories are amazing and there are a lot of them. I don’t need sympathy from a crowd – I am fortunate enough to have a wonderful husband who gives me hugs when I cry for no reason. What I would love though is for us as a community to remember that every day there are people and families around us who are struggling with this. Give them a hug, take people like my mum a coffee, visit them, remind them that they are humans and just sit and laugh with them. You don’t even have to ask about cancer. My dad will absolutely tell you about his cancer and his treatment if you ask. But sometimes he just wants to talk about the Golf.