Editors note: This is Julia's story - the third in a series that I have called "Cancer - Your Story". If you are interested in sharing your story please click on the link and contact me.
Julia at "What Will Julia Do Next" (Blog)
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All "Cancer - Your Story" posts
Photo credit: D Sharon Pruitt - Pink Sherbert Photography
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When I was a child, the word cancer was never spoken out loud. It was referred to by ‘the C word’ or in a way reminiscent of Les Dawson mouthing ‘down there’! It was certainly something you did not admit to having or knowing anyone with.
My mother became ill with cancer in the autumn of 1975. She had discovered a lump under her arm.. My parents were of the generation that kept physical things very private. My father was not really involved with what was happening & Mother did not share the workings of her body with anyone, let alone her daughter. What I do remember though was caring for her after her operation to remove some lymph nodes under her arm However, apart from ministering to her while she was poorly, I didn’t really know what was happening.
Anyhow, I was there when the Dr paid a visit to check on her progress. He told me that she would recover from the operation but that the cancer cells that had been found were secondary in nature. They indicated that wherever the primary cancer was(they couldn’t find it), it was probably quite advanced & that his prognosis was 5 years. My father & I agreed that she would not be told this & gradually life got back to normal. We were able to put this awful disease to the back of our minds. Looking back, I’m gobsmacked! That would never happen now. I would research & ask questions & a variety of treatments would be offered.
My mother died 5 years later, almost to the date of the Dr’s prognosis. Funnily enough it was a thrombosis that killed her. She had been feeling poorly & needed to go into hospital about 2 months earlier. Whilst there, & because of her history, the doctors did a variety of tests but could find nothing conclusive. They felt there was a chance that the cancer had moved into her brain but were not sure. My father had died two years previously & they felt that her apparent ‘feeling poorly’ could be a reaction to all that. I remember feeling very cross with her. I had returned to teachers training & was in the middle of my final teaching practice. It felt that she was just attention seeking. She had offered to look after my son while I was at college & suddenly I had to find someone else to look after him. I even got a speeding ticket, rushing from his nursery to drop him off to the child minder for the afternoon. All in all Mother was not my most favourite person!
My brother called me to tell me he had been diagnosed with bladder cancer in 1995. Although we were not particularly close, he was my big brother & reassured me that ‘this thing’ was under control & he was ‘going to lick it’. I remember feeling worried but not unduly – this was my big brother who always knew what to do & how to succeed. Our visits over the next few years showed how the cancer was taking hold. He lost weight & with it that confidence that had always been there for me to lean on. Just like my parents, he kept me out of the loop of all the details so it was a huge shock when I got a call from my sister-in-law at the beginning of 1999 to tell me he was in hospital & that I should visit.
I’ve been lucky in that I haven’t had lots of contact with hospitals either for myself or family & friends. I had never been to the Oncology hospital & remember being very nervous as we approached this concrete 1960’s style building. There was no colour anywhere. It was one of those places that you just knew people went in but didn’t come out alive.
We found him in a private room & I was so shocked. I pretended that I was not affected in anyway. I kissed my SiL & proceeded to sit & chat to my brother. He was not conscious but that didn’t deter me. Being a teacher the habit of answering my own questions came in handy. I probably talked to him for an hour. My SiL’s brother arrived so we took our leave. I said I’d come back that evening. My parting picture of my brother was that he resembled Munch’s ‘Scream’. I knew I had to get a different picture in my head. So we came home & looked at our wedding photos. There he was, that big man, making sure my OH was going to look after me. When the call came an hour later, I was calmer. I had the right picture in my head.
The title of this post is ‘It’s Always There’ because for me the fear of cancer is, especially as I get nearer to being 61. All three of my seniors (Mother, Father, Brother) died at that age & although it was emphysema that killed Dad, this figure is there every day.
My darling OH works really hard to point out the differences between me & them: I don’t smoke / they did; they didn’t exercise/ although not a lot, I am fit; my diet is much more healthy. Since retiring I like to think that I am making more of my life. I just hope that it will continue for many years.
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