Tuesday, 2 May 2017

The big 'C'

On reflection, yesterday's post makes me sound like a whiny bitch, so I guess I should have a go at something else.
Even though it's far from being an uplifting subject, I want to ponder the 'C' word.
No, not the one reserved for Audi drivers, nor the one that happens on the 25th of December, but the really big one. Cancer.
I've been working up to this for a while, but haven't been able to formulate a plan for how to tackle it.
So I'll just dive in and see how it goes, because it's something quite personal and it might make me feel more clear-headed about it to write it down.

Ten and a half years ago I lost my mum to pancreatic cancer, aged 70. They caught it too late to do anything, but as pancreatic is one of the most determined killers it wouldn't have made any difference.
I had a good relationship with mum, and to suddenly be left without her was absolutely devastating for me.
Looking back, I don't think I've ever really come to terms with it. At the time I coped with it by burying my head in the sand, trying to get on as if nothing had changed - in my mind there was nothing I could do to change what had happened.
The day after she died I just went to work as normal; just taking off the day of her funeral where I cried about it for the first time.
Even to this day, if I happen to see a little grey-haired old lady wearing a red jacket I still do a double-take, thinking for a brief moment that it's her, only to come crashing down when the reality bites back that she's long gone.
I've been told that I never really grieved for her passing, but to this day I still don't know what that really means. Is grieving some sort of ritual that needs to be observed in order for the pain to go away? I can't see it.

Soon I'll have the opportunity to have another go at dealing with it because my dad has terminal lung cancer and has been told by the doctor to make sure his affairs are in order.
He has been a smoker all his life, so this is not exactly unexpected.
He had it a couple of years ago and underwent a course of radiotherapy to try and get rid of it.
This was the first time I'd ever seen my dad show fear and vulnerability. He stopped smoking immediately - even being a stubborn grumpy bugger took a back seat for once.
After about a year of fighting he was finally given the all-clear. The cancer had gone.
So what was the first thing he did to celebrate? He started smoking again.
No surprise then that the cancer came back pretty quickly, but this time there's no way out.
The location is too difficult to operate on, and being 82 and in poor health he probably wouldn't survive surgery. He can't have further radiotherapy because he's already had a lifetime's dose of radiation, and the effects of chemo would finish him off anyway. So that's it - just a matter of time.

My relationship with my dad has always been different from what I had with mum.
The only time I've seen him openly show any real emotion was when I took him to visit mum in hospital right near the end, when tears rolled down his face as he reached out and held my hand.
Within the family he's often been likened to Victor Meldrew (if you're not from the UK, he's a character in a TV sitcom called 'One Foot In The Grave') and I have no memory of him ever even hugging me as a child. Or any time for that matter.
He's never felt particularly warm, and whenever I've been round to visit he's made it clear after about half an hour that he's ready for me to leave.
Since the last diagnosis however, the reality of the situation seems to have hit home.
Suddenly he's more communicative, as if he realises there's now limited time to say what needs to be said. He talks about things in a way I've never heard from him before, and I can't help but think he knows how he's been in the past and is trying to make up for it before it's too late.
He's never been a big chap, but now he's practically a walking skeleton and it's hard to predict whether he'll be finished off by the cancer or malnutrition because other issues mean he's hardly eating.

For a long time I've been of the opinion that when dad dies it won't hit me as hard as when mum went, because I've never felt that close to him. He's always been that old-school, brusque, stiff-upper-lip type that just won't let anyone in or express himself in a way that lays him open to showing vulnerability or affection.
With his recent change in attitude, for the first time in my life I'm seeing another side to him; perhaps the real person that he's spent all his years repressing.
It saddens me that at 45 years old, it's only as he's at death's door that I'm beginning to get to know my father.
He's always been there physically, but the only real connection has been blood. Since mum died I've only been to visit him out of a sense of duty rather than a desire to spend time with him.
Why has it taken imminent death to bring him to life?
If nothing else, it makes me glad that the relationship I have with my own son is nothing like the one my father made with me. I'd hate to get to the end and have regrets about it.