(Strong emotions alert)
I remember growing up hearing how cancer affects one in three people and somehow despite how tragic it sounded not let it touch me in the slightest. As an adult I became intrigued about it, curious and somehow thought I could study it and care for people with cancer. This was the first time Cancer became one of my life’s interruptions. How wrong was I! I thought that being a nurse would be coming in and saving the day! Then there I was on a cancer ward, on my final year of nursing only to find I could not save my patients. I learnt something I hold through my nursing career – that I can only support patients and relatives in their journeys without knowing what the outcome will be and at times seeing first hand how devastating it can all be.
Fast forward many years after the decision of looking after a different segment of patients. This meant I would only have the occasional patient with the cancer diagnosis but it was when I realised there was a massive taboo where healthcare professionals will look after a patient through a whole episode of care without mentioning that small big aspect in their lives. It can be so hard to talk about it! And at the time I appreciated being able to sit down and really talk to my patients not being afraid of where they needed our conversation to steer towards.
And I thought, that was it! Surely Cancer would not be closer than an estranged grandparent, or the occasional cases at work.
Until the end of 2018, the year I married my life partner and had a big celebration in Portugal. The year we took our little one to Eurodisney on the day of her 6th birthday! The year I miraculously fell pregnant after 5 years of no contraception. There it was, the year of some many possibilities! During a very sick episode while pregnant abroad in a hospital not knowing if either baby or both of us would survive it reared its head – a “suspicious mass”. Still, in my mind, it must be a kidney stone or cyst, right? I had decided I was to get better and return to life back in the UK, with no interruptions other than those of a high risk pregnancy. But there it was just seven days before Christmas and the confirmation, it was cancer!
There it was another of life’s interruptions! Dear Lord, but how!! How could I have my long awaited pregnancy, the one where I was not alone, the one where I would have someone who truly loved me to share the joys and not run out of the door after I chose the baby and not him! Surely not now, but older bubba had prayed for a sister for five years she had shared, since she was tiny. It was true because at the tender age of two and a half she would tell nursery staff mummy was pregnant! She was the only one sure it would be a girl, she was the only one right! Father God, not now! I promised when I was sick and the cancer was found I would no longer question, I would trust, I have to trust, but I can still cry! Cry on the car journey. Hubby had wanted to go with and to drive, as if he had had a whisper on his shoulder about being needed like many times before. Just in the car because our friend had kindly offered to have my child over while we went to the Drs. and I could not cry in front of my bubba. Then at home it became that thing we could not mention until adult hours.
Coping with a high risk pregnancy and the challenges of asserting my rights at work, were strenuous enough. But coping with the possibility of life with cancer or even death, that was hard!
I then remembered what I had asked a cancer nurse that had worked with patients for over thirty years during my time as a student – How could you do this, one patient after the next and the next? Seeing the devastation and still having your cup full for the next. She told me – we are here for what the patient needs us, if they want to talk we chat, if they want someone to sit in silent with them we do that. I then asked her, in all her years, does she ever have an idea of who may make it and who may not? She answered, there is no science behind it, but from experience those who surrender to the treatment and learn to go with the flow normally fare much better than the typical type A personality that struggles to surrender any control over something that definitely cannot be controlled.
So I made a decision, one step at a time! I was fortunate, because I was able to wait for my baby to get to full term (to the day). I was given eight weeks to recover from birth before having to go back in to have major surgery and have my kidney removed. There was little time to think. Only closer to the date, I started worrying, panicking about being there for my eldest 7th birthday! How I would do her afrocurly waist length hair! Would I even survive? All the horror stories of patients not making it through anaesthetics kept flooding my mind! Would my tiny baby miss me? We had already been robbed of our breastfeeding experience because of the stress of the whole situation. Would she need me to fall asleep? She was about to turn two months old! I won’t even be able to pick her up when I am back! Not to mention the whole body image insecurities! With all the craziness and lack of family support, my hubby was my stronghold, after God that is, as I remembered Him comforting me in my dreams, even place sisters in prayer on my path praying rooting and cooking for me.
Recovering from the pregnancy issues, the operation, the impact of the three little big words – you have cancer, resonating in my being far longer than the cancer itself (because I was one of the lucky ones). Grieving the loss of health, the struggle to do what before I never had to even think about… It is a daily battle! One I fully intend to keep fighting with all my strength.
Things happen for a reason! God has a plan that includes all our planned and interrupted changes.
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