I’ve spent the past two weekends away, courtesy of two great charities. The first one was a spa weekend at Ragdale Hall with Paul, a wonderful gift from the Willow Foundation, who organise special days for seriously ill people under forty. I chose a relaxing couple of days with Paul over a short break with the whole family, and I’m glad I did. Over the past few months, we’ve had almost no time together, what with endless appointments, visits to see Rach, and the chaotic newborn/toddler combination. It felt like a real privilege to be together, with nothing to do. And the kids had a great time with my parents.
The second was a residential Breast Cancer Care event in Bristol. Me and about forty-five other women with breast cancer. It was powerful, emotional and exhausting. On the first day, a small group of us lay on the floor and laughed until we cried in a laughter yoga workshop. And on the second, a different group sat in the same room and cried as we talked about our relationships and our new-found hatred of our bodies.
The women I met there were some of the kindest, strongest and most incredible people I’ve come across, and I’ve got cancer to thank for that, since that was our common denominator. I met a woman who is facing this illness for a second time, one who had a different cancer in her teens and two whose teenage children had really struggled with their diagnoses. Many of them, like me, are raising a young family. Some haven’t had children yet, and don’t know whether they’ll be able to. All of them have been through some combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormone treatment, and not one of them was self-pitying. It was truly inspiring.
However, I think it all hit me a little harder than I’d realised. A few days after I got home, my dad came over in the morning to take Joseph to nursery. He often does this so that I don’t have to get myself and both the kids up and dressed by 7.30am. That morning, for the first time, Joseph refused to go with him, and after many minutes of failed persuasion, I left Dad looking after Elodie and took him in myself. On the way, in the car, I told him that I was going to go to hospital soon, and there would be different people taking him to nursery, and that he had to go with them and not make a fuss. ‘I won’t make a fuss,’ he said, in a quiet voice.
When we arrived, he cried and cried, refusing to let go of me. I felt wretched. Driving home, I started crying myself, and I didn’t stop all morning. In the shower, feeding Elodie, answering the door to the postman. It felt like I might never stop. And I realised that, as a result of my sister’s stroke, I’ve spent a lot of time pushing my feelings about my own illness to one side. The weekend had brought them out, and I’m glad it did. When I picked Joseph up that evening, one of the wonderful women who look after him told me that he’d been fine after a short while. ‘He was angry,’ she said. ‘Not upset.’ I’m angry too, sometimes.
The following morning, Joseph was in bed with me. ‘You know that if you’re angry or worried or upset about anything, you can tell me, don’t you?’ I asked. ‘Yes,’ he said. He paused. ‘I’m worried, Mummy.’ I took a deep breath and asked what about. ‘I don’t want Elodie’s chair to be there, I want it to be over here.’ Then last night, he woke up in the early hours and said there were slugs in his bed. I don’t know how much of his behaviour is linked to my cancer, and Rachel’s stroke, and how much is normal for a three-year-old. And I’ll never know. I’m starting to accept that.