How cancer affects a family

Quick check-in with Janathon: I had aimed to run the speed session at club tonight, my first since returning from injury – both official club run and speedwork session.  I stayed at Mum’s last night and when I took her for her doctor’s appointment before heading home this afternoon, she was reffered to the hospital so I didn’t get away in time.  I did get in a progressive run of three miles though – starting at 10mm pace and working my way up to just under 9mm.  One of my most solid and steady runs since returning from injury and I was beaming when I returned home…Only to go and miss a step when heading downstairs and slide down onto my right foot which is now up and being iced.  Fingers crossed it’s just the ice still making it throb!  I’m determined to think positively!

I’ve not really spoken about ‘The Big C’ on here in any detail. Last January my Mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I remember the day she told me very clearly.

Dan and I had returned from our New York adventure on the 3rd January. Mum and Dad had kindly agreed to look after Bella for us while we were away so the weekend after we returned they made the trip to bring our cat home. A trip they’ve only made twice since we fully moved in three years ago.  The four hour round trip is a bit of a trek for them as unconfident drivers.  Therefore I was incredibly surprised when we got a knock on our door at 8am the following week and I answered it to my parents.  I had even told Mum on the phone the evening before that Dan and I planned on heading to Parkrun the next day.
We never made it to Parkrun.

I called Dan downstairs and like me he was equally surprised to see them but headed through to the kitchen to make some drinks for everyone.
Mum and Dad sat and Mum started to make small talk but didn’t even finish the first sentence before her voice cracked and she just held out her arms and I went over to wrap my arms around her while she cried.  After five minutes of us sat hugging and both Dad and Dan sat looking rather uncomfortable she managed to tell me that she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and that the cancer was in several areas of her body, but had started out in her stomach.
For the first few weeks she was very scared.  Her doctor had left her assuming that she could die incredibly quickly and I can’t even imagine all of the things that rush through someone’s mind after hearing such news.  I speak to my Mum on the phone almost every day but our normal joking, chatty phone calls were replaced with instructions for funerals and who was to look after what when she was no longer here.  She was very tearful and incredibly scared.

When she was assigned a consultant and treatment co-ordinator at the hospital she became a little more optimisitic.  Our phone conversations became filled with success stories and news of her progress.  She discovered that ‘terminal cancer’ was just a term meaning that the cancer would always be there and that the cancer would win at some point, but that that time could be 6 months, 1 year, 5 years or even more depending on how much she fought.

She decided to sign up to a trial to help look at new ways of fighting the disease and a few months after first being diagnosed she headed for her first session of chemo.  She had already had several scans in that time, pints of blood tested and some other surgical procedures which I won’t go into on here.

She was very insistent that she didn’t want anyone to know, other than very close family.  She didn’t want people to ‘treat her differently’.  I went in with her as moral support to hand in her notice at her job.  She had worked there for eleven years.  The doctor had given her a note to cover the two weeks she had already taken off but she was very insistent that no-one but the manager were to know about her illness.  They must have guessed though and several staff tried to persuade her to stay on, that the doctor notes would cover her time away from the job but Mum said that she would feel too guilty, knowing that it was unlikely that she would be able to return.  I helped her make her getaway.

The first batches of chemo were tough.  Mum didn’t cope well with the treatment.  As she had agreed to the trial, it meant that instead of having chemo treatment every few weeks she had to have treatment every week but in smaller doses.  The hospital is 40 miles from where my parents live so Dad did the 80 mile round trip weekly, and even though Mum spent less time actually receiving the chemotherapy, it was still a full day event due to the blood tests and scans she had to have before the chemo began.

Alongside the trips to hospital for chemo she had to have her bloods taken weekly at a climic 15 miles away, in order to check her immunity levels.  Often these would be too low to receive the chemo so a nurse would come to the house several times a week to provide a jab which aimed to bring them up high enough to cope with the treatment.

As she begun to lose her hair she also began to let more and more people find out about her illness.  Talking to people helped and we were all amazed at how many people we knew who had actually had a form of cancer at some point in their lives.  Macmillan fitted her with an excellent wig.  So excellent in fact, I genuinely thought it was her natural hair!

Mum's wig

After ten sessions of treatment she was scheduled in for an operation.  The aim was to remove as much of the cancer as possible, although they had already let her know that there were some areas of her body that were too riddled to remove any substantial amount from.  The operation was a scary time.  I waited and waited for the phone call from my Dad to say that she had come through and things had gone well.  After over three hours of not being able to contact Dad I was about to get in the car and drive to Norfolk when I got through to him.  So many people had rung him that every time he had picked up the phone to call me it had answered someone else’s concerned call.

The two weeks that she was in hospital after the operation I often drove straight from my job in Cambridgeshire to my Dad’s, picked him up and then drove over to the hospital for visiting hours before taking him home and feeding him, and grabbing a few hours sleep myself before waking to my alarm at 5am and heading back to work.

My Dad became involved in everything whilst my Mum was at her worst.  He threw himself into a house he was doing up, constantly cleaned the house, set, picked and delivered vegetables from the garden to friends, fixed absolutely everything that had ever needed fixing.  He worked so hard at being the perfect husband – rushing Mum around everywhere and being there when she wanted something or just to talk.  Every time I picked him up to visit Mum he would have fallen asleep within seconds of getting in the car.  The meals I made him were probably the only actual meals he had.

My brother made himself scarce, almost like he didn’t want to know what was happening and therefore it wasn’t actually real.

My Mum’s sister had always been very close to my Mum.  She is the only remaining family on my Mum’s side and when I was younger she would frequently come and visit.  During the last five or six years she had become more distant and it had broken my Mum’s heart when she stopped coming to visit or calling.  But when Mum wrote to her to let her know about the cancer, my Aunt responded and left a voicemail message and they began to write and call regularly (due to Mum’s low immunity she barely left the house during the chemo weeks, for fear that she would not be able to continue the treatment).

I was the practical one.  I looked after my Dad, and rang him on days I couldn’t make the journey over to visit.  I made sure that he was eating and I was an ear for him to talk to.  I made sure that their dog was walked, there was food in the house, petrol in the car, the house remained clean and tidy, that people who needed to be updated on the situation, were.

I still find it very odd how everyone has different ways of coping with bad news.

Batch two of chemo came and went much quicker this time over the Summer.  Mum’s hair had even begun to grow back by the time I had my Macmillan cake stall in Holt in October.

MacMillan Cake stall - Me and Mum

At her consultation in October she was told that she had progressed very well and her case would be reviewed in six months time, although she would continue to have regular blood pressure checks and the occasional blood test to be on the safe side.

After complaining of achy joints and throbbing bones for a few days now she spoke to the nurse today, who referred her to the doctor, who sent her for bloods in the fear that the cancer has now spread to her bones.
Now?  Now, we wait again.  Mum is very strong, and incredibly determined to make my wedding in August.  She is very definitely a fighter and the cancer has not beaten her in the last twelve months, I am sure she will get through this next stage too.