How is everyone else?

Something I noticed, however, was that the follow up question was always the same. “How’s your dad coping?”.

Over the weekend, I had the most wonderful oppportunity to volunteer at a local COVID-19 vaccination centre. It was a really good experience and I really enjoyed ensuring the vaccinations went smoothly, making conversation with those being vaccinated and meeting fellow volunteers.

One subject that came up a lot when meeting my fellow volunteers was what I am up to and if any of my family have had the vaccine. My technique when it comes to talking about family is to just talk about my dad and my sister, I don’t really want to have to say what my mum used to do.

But I was asked about my mum. And so I had to tell them that she passed away last year. Everyone who I told this to was very sorry to hear this and acknowledged how difficult it must be.

Something that I noticed, however, was that the follow up question was always the same. “How’s your dad coping?”. It’s a valid question. My parents were together for 30 years before my mum died and, as all of these volunteers were married, they were probably looking at the situation from the perspective of a spouse.

Silently though, I wished they had asked me if I was okay. Nobody seemed to think about the fact that a loss is painful for everyone involved, no matter what your relationship was to that person. We cannot compare grief and think about how it must be so painful for one person and not as painful for the other. It is painful for each individual who had the priviledge to know the person who has passed.

This is not the first time I have had this, though. I have had people who I know very well say how tough it must be for him. And 100%, it is tough for him, and I would never want to take away from that. But it is tough on the patients who loved my mum and asked every week when she would be returning to nursing. It is tough for my grandmother, she has lost her daughter. It is tough on my sister, she was only 18. And it is tough on me.

So, when it comes to grief, we cannot think that it is hurting one person more than it is hurting someone else. Everyone’s life was impacted because of that person, and each person is experiencing a loss. The important thing is to support everyone and ensure that everyone is receiving the help that they need, irrespective of how much or how little you expect that person to be upset.

Feeling Raw

It’s been a year and a half since I’ve written a blog post. This is because on the 25th December 2018, my mum was taken into A&E with fluid in her lungs which wouldn’t drain out. My mum was the last person I expected this to happen to; she ate a healthy, balanced diet, was a non-smoker and exercised regularly. I was completely unprepared for what would unfold.

I remember when she had been in the hospital for a week, the doctors narrowed down the options to three possibilities: pneumonia, tuberculosis and cancer. Everyone had an inner feeling of what the culprit was, though; just before she went in for surgery to remove the fluid and obtain biopsies I was handed a card for Macmillan Cancer Support.

Two weeks later my dad and sister went to meet my mum at hospital to find out the confirmed results. I remember texting all three of them to ask how the meeting with the doctor went, as I was giving a presentation at university on the day. I remember receiving three different conflicting texts and at that moment I left campus to find out exactly what was going on.

To find out when you’re 20 years old that your mum has lung cancer hurts. To find out that it’s already at Stage 4 hurts even more. To find out that nothing will cure her hurts more than it is even possible to describe. I couldn’t imagine my life without her. I needed her there to guide me, to help me, to look after me. In actuality it was me who needed to help her.

My mum was on targeted therapy for approximately nine months before things inevitably became worse. Those nine months that she was on targeted therapy contained such incredible moments. She was happy, able to walk around, and lead an ordinary life. She and I spent the summer together making memories and we even got to go on a family holiday, which was absolutely amazing.

Mum was well enough to attend my BSc graduation ceremony in Summer 2019. We had a fabulous day.

Unfortunately, in October 2019, my mum started to become very unwell. She was struggling to see, falling over and could barely use her left hand anymore. The doctors insisted that there was nothing wrong but my mum was adamant a full body scan was done. This confirmed that her cancer had metastasised to her brain, and we later found out it had metastasised to her spine, ribs and bone marrow, as well.

After a round of whole head radiotherapy, we were told nothing more could be done. No more targeted therapy, no more radiotherapy, no attempt at chemotherapy. We were basically told that was the end of the road in February 2020. That was really difficult to accept. However, there are some really great resources out there, we received great advice from Macmillan and from hospices, too. Definitely don’t be afraid to seek help because there’s someone out there who can understand and support you even when nobody around you seems to get it.   

One of the hardest parts to come to terms with was when my mum could no longer remember who I was, due to the brain metastases. It can be very distressing to see someone’s memory fade before your eyes. The person who I would always approach first no matter what I was feeling could barely recognise me, let alone talk to me about my day or give me advice.

She died exactly three months after the doctor told us she had maybe a few weeks to live. She died six days before my 22nd birthday but I think she was trying very hard to stay with me for that moment. I’d like to believe, even though she couldn’t recognise my face, deep inside she knew who I was.

I’m glad that I made the most out of the time I had with my mum. We were best friends for 21 years and she will forever remain the best friend I’ve had. She worked for the NHS for 30 years and was loved by all the staff and her patients, and the contributions she made will always be invaluable.

I’d like to end by saying please don’t take what you have for granted. Relish every day that comes and make time for all the important people in your life. You never know what tomorrow will bring.

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