Doing it for Tits and Nipples.

I never thought that a campaign for nipple preservation would be a thing, but it is.

Even though I’m practically qualified as a consultant oncologist after the last two years’ hands-on training, the whole process of my cancer diagnosis has been completely new territory. My husband had had several scans and described them to me in detail (well, basically, he said he’d just lain on his back and waited – much as he’d done in certain other aspects of our marriage, come to that,) but I was surprised to find that my MRI scanner was set up like a massage table, with a hole for my face so I could lie on my front, and two incredibly optimistically-sized buckets in which to place each breast. I actually laughed as I tried to stretch them widely enough apart to place enough flesh in each hole.

Before I went for my results, I started to hatch a plan. Maybe, just maybe, if I ask for some different treatment – chemo, even – those two tumours might shrink enough to let the surgeon just snip them out one by one, and I won’t lose my breast. I mean, really. Who the fuck asks for chemo? Me. I’m not frightened of it. My husband was on and off it for two years, and it’s only at its worst when there’s no hope left at all. I know this. I saw it, lived with it, and with huge sadness had to support the decision to eventually quit. I’m not in the terminal category – this would be a means to an end, and I’d rather temporarily lose my hair than permanently lose my breast. I can’t lose my breast. Not now. It’s too soon. Losing a husband and a breast in the space of six months, well – it’s verging on carelessness. (I already felt bad that I’d had my husband cremated and our dog castrated within the same week, but this seemed to be a punishment too far.)  Chemo would at least give me some time to think, and maybe get some counselling. What do I deal with first? The loss, or – well, the other loss? But don’t just drag me into hospital and take off my tit before I’ve even come to terms with losing my husband. Please. It’s the last fucking straw.

Two of my dearest friends had come along to my appointment. We’d all met at NCT antenatal classes eleven years ago, and we were the only three couples who weren’t a bit weird, or unprepared to stuff our children full of chips and Haribo from time to time. Our entire friendship had been built around frank discussions about vaginas, breasts, and our awful bloody children, so they seemed like a safe bet. There’s very little we don’t know about each other’s intimate regions, but barely know each other’s kids because we sacked off meetings in soft play centres for child-free evenings of Thai food and Prosecco years ago. Team Tits ‘n’ Fanny held hands and we all looked anxiously at the two ladies in lanyards who had come back into the little side room to give me my scan results, and who smiled. Politely.

There are three tumours. Not two. Well done, me. What an achievement. There’s no way, with my minuscule mammaries, that they can do anything other than take away the majority of the left one to make sure everything’s gone away. There’s no other way of doing it, and chemo isn’t generally very effective on the type of cancer I’ve got, anyway. I’ll be on Tamoxifen for five to ten years, which will bring on the menopause but keep the disease at bay… but won’t ever shrink it down enough to do anything other than take off my breast. So, no option. I need the mastectomy. So sorry, they said.

It took a while to sink in. They explained the procedure. They told me that they’ll scoop out my breast like a pumpkin, and reconstruct with some material taken from a cow. I think that was meant to make me feel better. I wondered if I should shove a candle in my bra and sit in the window on Hallowe’en. Some surgeons prefer the sort of reconstructive material that’s taken from a pig, they added, but at my local hospital they prefer to use the product from a cow. I couldn’t really give a flying fuck, I thought, as long as I don’t start mooing. And they’re certainly not going to be milking me at any point soon.

I began to cry. They offered to show me some pictures, so I could see that the result wouldn’t be as bad as I’d feared. They fired up an iPad with photographs of reconstructed knockers. Few of them matched their counterpart in size or shape. And none had nipples. I sobbed. They said it was OK – there are plenty of options to have a nipple put on later. There’s even a drawer somewhere that’s full of stick-on ones, they said. But all sensation will be lost, and you’ll never feel yours again.

I couldn’t hold back the tears, and wanted my husband back. My friend said he’d probably be pissing himself, looking down on five women in a side room, scrolling through a catalogue of tits on an iPad.

They said there might be one more option. They’d see what they could do. They’d never had a situation before quite like mine – especially not in somebody so young – and seemed to want to help, which I’m very grateful for. I didn’t want to wait too long, though, as surviving for my boys is the most important thing, but they assured me that a couple of weeks here or there wouldn’t make any difference. There’s a specialist plastic surgeon a few miles away who might be able to take flesh from under my armpit, reconstruct my breast, AND keep my nipple, they said, but I’d need to have sufficient muffin top to do it, and they thought I wasn’t big enough. I offered the ample flesh from my arse. But that’s not an option, apparently. Bollocks.

We went to see the specialist surgeon a couple of days ago. She squeezed as much armpit flesh as she could, took a sharp intake of breath, and said she could probably manage a reconstruction with the limited amount of spare skin up top, but only just. She prescribed plenty of pie. The pictures on her iPad were wonderful. It was as if there hadn’t been a reconstruction at all on any of the ladies she’d worked on. She smiled and pointed out that I was looking at the Before photographs.

But, it can be done. Probably. Possibly. They need to get the cancer out ASAP, and as long as it’s still contained within the breast, I can then have the reconstructive nipple-sparing surgery three weeks later, followed by radiotherapy. My left boob will never look quite as fabulous as its twin sister, but it’s the best of a bad bunch of alternatives, and certainly better than dying. We’ll only know for sure when the results of the first surgery are back from the lab, but provided the lymph nodes and margins are clear of cancer, we can go ahead. That wasn’t the case for my husband whose cancer was never completely removed, but then, they had to break a rib and collapse a lung to get his out. This either confirms that he was a true pro, or an awkward attention-seeker. I only wish he’d been as reassuringly bog-standard as I am.

If my husband had been here, none of this would have mattered. He loved my boobs, but he loved me more. We’d have skipped into the nearest hospital and asked the first person we saw to whip off my breast and stuff it full of whichever animal product they bloody well liked. I don’t know why it’s so important to keep my nipple. I don’t even plan for anyone to see it, apart from me. But, I suppose, right now I can’t face looking in the mirror every morning at a reconstructed breast and a scar where my nipple should be, and being reminded just how much of our marriage that bastard cancer has already so cruelly snatched away.

Love Fanny x

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I need to put on some weight pre-surgery, apparently. These should do the trick. (Picture: faxo.com)

 

 

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Metaphorical Warts.

As I sit at the pool bar, I silently judge the figures of the women who walk past, and assume that the perfectly-formed ones must be as boring as fuck. I shuffle my cellulite between my tailbone and the barstool, and congratulate myself for being fascinating (despite being slightly generously-proportioned in the arse department) with another handful of nuts from the bar, washed down with a swig of the local brew. I wonder if I’ll ever enjoy exercise as much as I enjoy cake and wine.

The boys and I are on our first holiday without my husband. I was wary of taking them to a new place on my own, but in fact, all those trips we took as a family have paid off. They know how airports and hotels work, and (on the whole) how to behave in a foreign country. Apart from my son’s not-so-hilarious prank of changing his iPad home screen to a picture of Osama Bin Laden as we rushed through Frankfurt Airport Security on a quick connection, things have gone reassuringly smoothly so far. We’ve spent a few days by the pool, managed to hire a boat without a man in the family to take control of the entire transaction, and even indulged in a bit of culture (although too much culture usually ends up with a child suffering from some sort of life-threatening illness for which ice cream is the only known cure.) The younger twin tells his new friends that his dad is away on a business trip, which hurts, because it means he’s not yet able to accept the truth. On the other hand, I want people to know that I’m happily married more than I want them to know that I’m widowed. I’m certainly not on the market. I am happily married – it’s just that my husband is dead, which is why he’s not here. Even though he would have been, in a heartbeat. If he still had one.

The body and soul that we fall in love with and marry is not usually identical to the one that we die holding hands with. That’s part of the fun. We all evolve as characters, become more like each other, and kind of chill out a bit once we’ve had a slice of that great libido-killer, wedding cake. My husband and I had pretty much tried to stay the same size over the years, without doing any real exercise, and without quitting the wine, or the chocolate, or anything really. We did have a gym membership, and imagined the weight might melt off in the sauna or jacuzzi, simply because we’d made the effort to turn up. Our quitting smoking coincided with my pregnancy, and although my body changed while I ate for three, my husband raided the fridge every time he craved nicotine. By the time I was ready to give birth, either one of us could have passed for the one carrying twins. He didn’t have the luxury of breastfeeding two babies to ping him back into shape, and although I quickly slipped back into a size ten, he took eight years to really try to lose the weight, because, to be honest, he didn’t really try at all. With 25 years between us, I did recognise that it was easier for me than for him, but his lack of commitment to getting back into shape drove me around the bend. I asked if he wanted to look after his body enough to see his kids grow up. I was only being dramatic – I didn’t actually think he wouldn’t be around to see them grow up – I just wanted him to be a bit slimmer. To prove that he wanted me to find him attractive. To show that it mattered.

About four months before he was diagnosed with cancer, we went through a fairly difficult period. To get back on track, we traded searching for bachelor flats on Rightmove for a Slimming World subscription and a daily sexathon. That was an idea I found here, during a browse of an old Saturday Guardian, and it’s a technique I can highly recommend. I don’t mean flicking through the Guardian will save your marriage. I mean flicking… oh, never mind. Anyway, he lost weight, and so did I. We got on well, we laughed a lot, and we were happy. Not because we both suddenly had fabulous bodies, but because we loved one another enough to at least try to be attractive to each other again, and as extra little kindnesses automatically slipped back into the relationship, the pounds fell away from us both.

I don’t think his losing two stone was the be-all-and-end-all, but at the time, it mattered. I’m embarrassed to admit that now, because just over two years later, all that was left of the slightly unkempt and chunky fellow of before was a bald skeleton with spirit and skin, in his trademark brightly-coloured t-shirt, whose jolliness covered the physical and mental pain behind it.

The body is simply a vehicle for the soul. I didn’t marry my husband’s body. The body I married was a bonus fourteen years ago, but I actually married the laughter. The fascinating ideas. The pisstaking. The generosity. The intellect. The adventures. I also married the morning breath, the stubbornness, and the refusal to ever eat fruit. But they were all part of the package, and the package came within that body, which contained that wonderful, frustrating, hilarious soul. And he married me. Not for my lovely breasts (and they are bloody lovely,) or the bottom I’d never liked, or my dodgy complexion. The whole me.

And that’s why, without him, I’m petrified of having a part of me sliced off – a part he loved.  After his operation, he was embarrassed about his scars, but the boys and I had seen him through the surgery, seen how the scars had saved his life, and were grateful for what they represented. The scars had helped his wonderful soul to keep on going for a year longer than it should have.

My soul will not disappear just yet, as long as a well-qualified person in a white mask with a big fuck-off scalpel cuts off my left breast sometime soon (preferably while I’m asleep.) But, there’s a hole inside my soul – bigger than my C-cups, and even bigger than my husband when he was at his biggest, heaviest and cuddliest. It’s why I’m baffled that I still judge and compare and hate my body, because the heart that beats inside it is as whole and as full and as generous as anyone else’s, and I wish that my husband’s body – in any shape or size – was with us now. I wish that he was here to love my body, as the husbands of those ladies-of-all-shapes-and-sizes around the pool love them; metaphorical warts and all. All I have now is a box of ashes which I can’t bear to let go of and bury in the churchyard. But it doesn’t make me laugh or tell me I’m beautiful, or reassure me that it’ll all be OK, lovely boobs (or lack of) notwithstanding.  On the contrary, it tells me that I’m completely on my own.

If my husband had survived, we’d have laughed about this. We’d have called ourselves the Frankenstein’s Monsters and thrown some sort of Hallowe’en-themed party with extra added gore jokes to celebrate the ridiculousness of it all. But I don’t have my Partner in Pisstaking, and there’s nobody left to reassure me that I’m just fine being me, and to love me because of my flaws (and my soon-to-be bionic breast) not in spite of them. Not for the first time, I’m completely fucking petrified, and I miss him. Every wobbly, opinionated, unshaven, and infuriating last bit of him.

Love Fanny x

fanny-cremated

 

Seven Bells and a C-Cup.

Were there always so many bras and little tops in department stores? I can’t say I’d ever noticed before. Sports bras, padded bras, and skimpy cleavage-flashing numbers with glittery fabric. A few weeks ago, I might have walked up to them and fondled the material and checked the price tag before thinking better of it and walking away. But they’re on every fucking rail as I wander aimlessly through the shops, trying to think what last bits we need for our holiday. Since I’m soon going to be having my left tit hacked off, there’s not a lot of point in buying something to flaunt what I’ve got, when fairly soon I won’t have it anyway.

Then, I see t-shirts my husband might have worn. Shopping trips were always fairly simple for him and me, on the rare occasions we did them. “Do I like this?” he’d ask, and then shrug, and completely trust my judgement when I said yes or no. He couldn’t be arsed arguing, but he always looked pretty good to me (as long as, like most husbands, he didn’t attempt to dress himself from head to toe too often.)

I want him to hold my hand as we browse the clothes rails in the store. To cry with me in front of all the bras, and to tell me he doesn’t care how much of me they take away – that he loves me for me, not for my great pair of tits (although he might still admit to them being a bonus.) I want him to tell me that it’ll all be OK, and to say he wasn’t really keen on those lacy bras anyway. I want him to ask me if I really need another jolly fucking scarf because the peg in the bedroom is full of them, and to roll his eyes and say that the one I’ve picked out is identical to the 93 others I’ve already got. It isn’t, of course. He never did understand scarves. I’d have ignored him and bought it anyway, if he’d been here with me, staring at all the scarves and the dresses and the bras. But he isn’t, because he’s dead.

In some ways, I’ve forgotten to grieve for my husband in the days since my diagnosis, because my head is just too full of breadwinner money worries, boy timetables, dog walking schedules, questions on how the fuck I’m going to break this news to everyone, and visions of prosthetics awkwardly balancing inside a sturdy bra. It’s just the same as it was when my husband was diagnosed the first time around, and we didn’t sleep for weeks, but all I could think about was how much time I’d need to master his recipe for the world’s most epic roast potatoes before he had to leave us. He knew I’d manage it. Not rocket science, he said. (The roast potatoes, that is. None of us were really expecting me to be having to juggle widowhood and more bloody cancer all at the same time just two and a half years later.)

I miss my husband every second of every day, but I’m sure he won’t want me to join him yet, wherever he is. He knows I’ve got two important jobs to do, and I promised I wouldn’t let him down. Those important jobs are currently beating the living crap out of each other in the sitting room over something to do with the Xbox. Will those little boys suddenly treasure me, and each other, or will they fall apart when they hear the news? Will their anger eat away at them, or at their friendships, because they can’t safely take it out on the only person left who understands and loves them unconditionally? Will they try to look after me and help us all to work through this as a family, or will they resent yet more effing cancer and a mum at half measure? Will that important job of mine become impossible because cancer has killed their Daddy and knocked seven bells and a C Cup out of their Mummy as well? Only time will tell. But time is precious. At the very least, whatever happens, we still have plenty of that.

Love Fanny x

Remaining Buoyant.

I walked into the funny little side room where they’d ushered my friend and me, with the inevitable flowery wallpaper border in an awkward shade of peach, and the strategically placed box of tissues. Different hospital, but the same sort of set-up as it had been last year when they told my husband he was dying. They’re all as cheerless as each other, these rooms. The fact that someone’s tried to jolly them up with imitation flowers makes them all the more depressing, but that’s not the fault of the two ladies who were sitting there in their lanyards, smiling weakly – they’re healthcare professionals, not interior designers, for fuck’s sake. I wondered why there really needed to be two of them for something so routine.

I didn’t know if I should start the conversation with a general grumble about what a waste of NHS resources it is to bring in every bloody patient to discuss their results when a quick chat on the phone should have been enough to say that everything’s fine, but I thought I’d leave that bit for afterwards. I shook my head and apologised for wasting their time, but admitted to being just a little bit paranoid because my husband had died four months ago from cancer. I haven’t actually really accepted that he even had cancer, let alone died from it, I said. Silly, really, but it’s always best to get stuff checked out, I suppose. The pressure’s on to survive, because without me, our kids don’t have anyone left.

Sit down, they said.

So, to backtrack, my husband is dead, our kids are soon starting high school, I’m trying to single-handedly build an empire with the remaining crumbs of our once-thriving business, cook meals, walk the sodding dog, drive the kids to footy, drama and youth club, and we’re about to go on a summer holiday where we finally – for once – forget about cancer (but never Dad,) and start building a new life again, just the three of us.

I’m so excited about this holiday that yesterday I even splashed out on four new bikinis. Unheard of. I’ve had the same three bikinis for the last ten years.

Nobody in my family has ever had cancer, I told the boys the other day when the subject came up again. They’ve been worried for a while that they’ll somehow lose me, too. I don’t speed – ever, I told them. I don’t take unnecessary risks any more. I don’t walk down dark alleyways at night. I drink more wine than I probably ought to, but that’s about it. Who doesn’t? But I’m not going to die, lads. Don’t worry. I’m in rude bloody health, me.

It was the school holidays and I had nobody to watch the boys, so I dragged them along to my appointment and lied and told them I had to go in for a routine test that all ladies over 35 have to have, just to keep our boobies safe, and grinned and smiled and laughed through gritted teeth behind the curtain as they played on their iPads and I had six chunks of my left tit smeared into a Petri dish. Dad’s family is riddled with cancer, I said, but my side – no way. I didn’t want to worry them, or myself. I just knew I had to put my mind at rest and hear that these silly little lumps were as insignificant as I’d imagined.

But they’re not. My friend held my hand as my world fell apart again, and the nice ladies in lanyards told me that I have two tumours in my left breast, which is pretty bloody high achieving of me, actually. They’re still fairly small, and it seems that I did the right thing to alert my GP friend who turned up for a bottle of wine and a grope of my tits just weeks after my husband’s funeral. She wasn’t too concerned, but as a matter of course said she’d send me down to the Breast Unit. I didn’t even know there was such a place. My hubby would have liked to have had the opportunity to accompany me there, I thought.

I shook my head when the nurse asked if I qualified for free prescriptions, and she smiled and said “you do now,” while thrusting a form into my hand with the box I am a cancer patient already ticked.

I have leaflets, and scan appointments, and two booklets with cartoon superheroes fighting bad cartoon cancer cells to give to the boys (one each, so they don’t need to squabble over them.) I don’t yet completely know what the treatment will be. But I do know that I’ll need a mastectomy, and with that it’s curable. I think the timing is shit and my heart is ripped to shreds for our growing boys who have known nothing but a parent with cancer since they were 8 years old and need a fucking break. But, I also know that my husband was given a 16% chance of surviving beyond two years. Conversely, I’ve got about a 16% chance of dying, as long as we act fairly quickly. He fought for two years and several rounds of chemo to stave the fucker off. I know, therefore, that I am lucky, that this is but a brief blip, and that I owe it to him to take those odds, to use them to my advantage, and to not complain. Not too much, anyway. Two years ago, we would have given anything at all for the odds that I find myself blessed with, and it could be so much worse for me right now. Still, so much of me wishes that my husband could be here to hold my hand through this, as I held his, and another part of me is glad that he doesn’t have to, because the news would have crucified him anyway, not least because he’d always admired what he described as my cracking set of baps. It’s always harder for the carer, he said. Well, that’s OK, because mine’s already dead.

This coming holiday, I’m going to wear the fuck out of those four bikinis.  Soon, I’ll have half the number of buoyancy aids that I had before, but I’m damn well going to keep afloat. I’m all that our boys have left to cling on to.

Love Fanny x

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Small, but perfectly formed. And rising back to the surface… eventually.

I wrote this blog on 12th August 2016, the day I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and almost four months after my husband had died from oesophageal cancer. Now that we’re back from our holiday and I’ve told the boys, I can publish this, as they now know the full situation. They are, of course, upset, but understand that it’s completely curable, that my treatment will be nowhere near as gruelling or as long as my husband’s, and that I still plan to keep working, just as he did. With the help of some truly wonderful friends and family who will drag us over these next few hurdles, we remain very lucky indeed.

Life Ensurance.

A few years ago, I read on Facebook that a woman named Desreen – a beautiful woman, though that’s probably irrelevant – had been knocked over and killed after leaving my auntie’s brother’s house. Her two-year-old son was with her, along with her husband. It’s a loose connection, but because I know and love someone who’d met her personally, I’ve read her husband’s Life As A Widower blog with interest and sympathy, never imagining that one day I’d be widowed too. Although my husband died in much less tragic circumstances, the end result is the same. A dead spouse. A new widow. A child or two to bring up alone, alongside the grief. A whole load of shit to shovel through the tears. I could say the same things to Ben Brooks-Dutton as people say to me. You’re brave. You’re amazing. I don’t know how you do it. And all the while, no doubt, like me, he’ll be grateful for the support, glad that he can release some of the pressure in his head by pouring words onto a page, and he’ll think, but I don’t really have any other choice.

One of Mr Brooks-Dutton’s articles resonated me with me recently, but probably not for the reasons he’d intended it to. It wasn’t long after my husband had died, and I saw that one of his blogs had been shared by WAY – a charity I’d joined fairly early on, for moral support. I was drowning under a pile of probate, trying to work out what the fuck I needed to do with the mortgage and the business, making spreadsheets of what I had to earn in order to survive, and sorting out which car I could afford to keep and which I’d have to sell. My husband had made it all pretty easy – he didn’t really have any savings (apart from the ISA we’d half-heartedly been stashing bits of cash into, in a vague attempt to reduce the mortgage capital when the time came) but he’d written a will and a letter of wishes, and things were as straightforward as they could have been. Nonetheless, it was still a nightmare for a grieving simpleton like me, who’s never really been all that interested in money or investments. We once thought we’d be clever, and invested my husband’s rather pitiful pension with a stockbroker. It was 2008. I probably don’t need to tell you the rest. In my life, I’ve gone from ordinary, to homeless, to comparatively rich, but the amount of cash in my pocket has never really determined how I feel about being me. I’d be lying if I said that losing the house doesn’t concern me, though, especially when we’ve already lost the one thing that money can’t buy. But it’s not everything, because we’ve already lost the one thing that money can’t buy.

Ben Brooks-Dutton had written about the concept of Love Insurance – and why, if you love your family, it’s important to take out an insurance policy to look after them in death as well as in life, as we don’t ever know what’s around the corner. (Actually, even when we’ve known what’s around the corner for two years, we don’t really know at all. We simply turn around and walk in the other direction, until we hit the final wall and it tears us to pieces anyway.)

I totally understand his point. When I was 26 and had just given birth to twins, we took out a policy which would see the mortgage paid off and my husband and boys looked after, should anything happen to me. My husband was older than me, you see. 25 years older (but not in his head.) Taking out insurance in your twenties is cheap, affordable, and something I’d encourage everyone to do as a matter of course. It’s just one of those essential life expenses, even if you don’t yet have a family.

We investigated a joint policy, and baulked (or laughed – I can’t quite remember) when they told us it would cost around £500 per month for a 52-year-old ex-smoker with cancer running through the heart of his family. He did have a few policies anyway, bought to pay off old mortgages from years ago, but they had been due to run out before too long, and having already had two divorces under his belt, his finances had never been quite straight. My husband had been a practically professional smoker for about 30 years. A joint cigarette break on the fire escape at work had brought us together in the first place, so we owed our entire relationship to Marlboro Lights, even though we’d both quit when the boys were on their way.

That £500 per month didn’t seem affordable at the time, and probably wasn’t. We shopped around, couldn’t find it cheaper, and decided not to bother.

My husband was the greatest Fuck-It Merchant on the planet. He wasn’t completely reckless or a total spendthrift (hello, we had an ISA!) but money burned a hole in his pocket. He enjoyed what he had, and loved to share it about. His inherent generosity towards the people he loved was one of the many things I found attractive about him. He never planned to retire, and if he had, at 25 years his junior I’d have been his pension anyway. We’d already decided that we didn’t like the local private school anywhere near as much as we liked the local state school (frankly, we were both a bit too left-wing to seriously consider it,) and justified every holiday with the fact that we would all learn more from seeing the world at first hand than our little boys would, stuck inside an expensive classroom.

That £500 per month (added to the theoretical thousands we were saving on school fees) paid for us to take our little boys all over the world – to the Pyramids of Giza, to tree houses in the national parks of South Africa, via Glastonbury Festival, the Acropolis of Athens, and sleeper trains through Thailand (that one almost ended in divorce.) Our kids have bartered for fake footy kits in Turkey, kayaked along the shores of Lake Garda, swum with turtles in Barbados, and picked out street jewellery in Tunisia. We’ve also done Disneyland at Christmas – I mean, come on. It can’t all be as wholesome as fuck. Our boys have no problem navigating an airport, but show them a bus and they probably won’t even know which side of the road to stand on to catch the bloody thing, but everything in time.

I’m glad that, when he died, I had hundreds of photographs of my husband in places all over the world, standing with his boys. They are smiling, and cuddling, and full of life. Even when he was dying. Especially when he was dying. The pride and love and happiness in that man’s face shines through, as it does in his children’s. I’m glad that we couldn’t choose which single memory summed him up the best, and in the end went for a montage of photographs to use in the order of service at his funeral.

Now that I’m the sole breadwinner, I won’t be stupid with money. I was always the more sensible one, anyway. Without a cushion, it’ll be a bumpy ride, but if those boys aren’t incentive enough to keep our business running now that it’s spluttering along at half the power, I don’t know what is. What would I do if we’d taken out that life insurance and now I didn’t have to work? Sit in our paid-for house and remember all those amazing times when we’d stayed at home, working? Meet friends for coffee? My friends all work full-time anyway. I need a push, and I’ve bloody well got it. I won’t fail. I can’t afford to.

Our age gap is unusual, and every family must do what they need to. I recognise that the sudden death of a young woman like Desreen is completely different from the expected death of a near-retired man, except perhaps inside the heads of the young kids they leave behind. Many young widowed parents and their children can only live as full a life as possible, because they’d taken out cover, and I’m glad Desreen was able to give her family that unwanted but nonetheless useful gift.

We chose life ensurance over life insurance. My husband hasn’t left us destitute – he’s left us with skills, with options, and with few regrets – except for the things we never got around to doing. He hasn’t left our kids with piles of money. He’s left them with the world on a plate, and with enough deposits in their memory banks to make them millionaires.

Love Fanny x