Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Not crying over spilt cancer.

No, that wasn’t a typo.
Earlier this year, I landed my dream job, moved to the city my long-term-long-distance boyfriend was living in – and my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer. I’ve spoken before about looking back and remembering exactly how a memory felt at the time, but it isn’t until now that I realise – I have never had a memory as crystal clear as my mum telling me she was diagnosed. The jilt in my stomach when I clocked the tissue my dad was holding sheepishly in his hand. The feeling of confusion while trying to make sense of the glass of wine she was passing me, and the sombre look on both her and my dad’s face. The pause that felt like an eternity while I watched her take a breath before delivering the news. I can see every single movement in my head even now, months on.

Obviously the tears came, the questions soon after… and hugging. There was lots of hugging. Fortunately or unfortunately – I’m not too sure – I was the first out of the three daughters to be told, so it was up to me to be there and help my mum stay calm as she broke the news to my sisters. I think, had I not still been a little in shock, I would have found it much harder than I did.
Once everyone had been told, and we’d hugged each other silly, it was time to return to work – my new job that, only a couple days before, had been my only great concern. I worried about telling them, and wasn’t even sure what I was telling them. I didn’t know how bad the situation was, what treatment she needed, when it would all start, if I would be needed at home – it just felt like words. Like it wasn’t really happening.

I arranged a chat with my editor in private, and was sure that I could manage through the opening line without crumbling – I was wrong. Before I’d even explained what was wrong the tears were falling. Albeit slightly shocked, she looked at me sympathetically and said something that has stuck with me throughout these past few months of hospital appointments and 'how are you feeling' text messages:

“Oh sweetie, tilt your head back so your mascara doesn’t run.”

At the time, I tilted my head like she said – but all it did was keep the tears off my bottom lashes and instead running freely into my ears. But it soon became planted somewhere in my brain, ready to recite itself whenever I could feel myself getting emotional about the situation. It reminded me that crying wasn’t going to change anything. Ruining my mascara wasn’t going to take away the cancer. Crying over spilt milk wasn’t going to clean up the puddle. There was no point in crying - it was part of our life now and I had to realise that.

One operation, one round of chemo and numerous blood tests later, she has just started new treatment, due to finish by the end of January, and has been the same old lovable loon that she always was. Apart from telling us about the diagnosis, I’ve not seen my mum cry once. Not after her operation, or when I came home to her shaved head sitting atop her beautiful face for the first time, or on any given day that she decides she could cry – all day if she wanted to – because she had cancer.

 But she never did. For that, and for so many other things, she’s my bloody hero.
Oh god - here come the tears again... *tilts head back*

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