Happy Birthday, Dear Chemo.

My relentless positivity is waning. The dark thoughts are setting in, and becoming far harder to shake off than the last few eyelashes which have long been sobbed into a snotty tissue. I have two children who miss their father, but I miss him too, and if it weren’t for them, perhaps I wouldn’t have bothered to fight this at all. In fact, I think I resent the fact that I can’t just say fuck it and join him, wherever he is. Because I do have his beloved children, though, and no family nearby to bring them up, I don’t have a choice. But, Christ, it’s hard – especially when the two children you’re doing it for are not helping you to row upstream, but are standing on the riverbank, chucking rocks at you as you try to do it alone.

They’re eleven. Nearly twelve. And they’re about as much fun as you’d imagine a pair of bereaved pre-teen boys dealing with yet more cancer to be. We’ve been talking about their forthcoming birthday celebrations. Supermum here has always made sure they had a party – and a bloody good one. Well, they’re twins, so I massively overcompensated for the fact that they never got to have a party of their own (the obscene quantities of pirate bunting in our loft are testament to that.) But, yet again, this year, the thought of a whole load of boys in the house (all, inevitably, being dickheads – none more so than our elder twin) fills me with fear. And I’m trying to plan the date around my chemotherapy, and find a weekend when I’m most likely to be well enough to cope.
So why not postpone their birthday? Well, because this is the fourth birthday of shit, and they barely remember what life was like before cancer. The boys were eight when our world was turned upside down. On their ninth birthday, I handled things, because their dad was on chemo. He was involved in the party, but not feeling too well. They understood that it needed to be low-key, and that their next birthday would be better. On their tenth birthday, I handled things, because their dad’s first round of palliative chemo had just begun. They had a sleepover, but it was low-key, and they were really good about it, because they knew it might be the last one with their dad. On their eleventh birthday, their dad had just died. They had a sleepover and a trampoline party, but it had to be low-key, and we were all feeling pretty flat but didn’t want to not celebrate, because that’s not what Dad would have wanted. Just widowed, I didn’t have the energy to field a whole houseful of Year 6 boys, but I’d promised them, now that the whole cancer thing was over, their twelfth would be one to celebrate. And now, yet again, one of us is bald, sick, and having to crawl through yet another birthday on our knees.

None of this is fair – not on me, but not on them either. Recently, I’ve begun to identify the problems, and there are so many, I don’t even know where to begin. My husband and I had all the answers, you see. We were the greatest team in the world, and our children were brilliant. Not perfect – still little shits at times – but loved, secure, interesting, engaging, and funny. Happy. Really happy. We were so fucking smug about how happy they were, because we were getting the whole parenthood thing pretty much right. We decided, when they were tiny, that the greatest gift we could give to them was The World, and went on wonderful adventures to faraway lands with two little smiling blond boys, all skater shorts and smiles, who could have stepped straight out of a Boden catalogue. People would stop us in the street and talk to us, wherever we went. Our openness and sense of fun must have shone out of us. I didn’t realise at the time how precious this was, or how far down the spiral of shit we’d all fallen, until I walked into the house the other day to find one twin in his new natural habitat, fingers glued to the X Box controller and half an eye on a YouTube video about Fifa or wanking or whatever, and the other screaming into a kebab because the idiot in the shop had put salad on it. The stupid fucking twat.

They’re awful, gobby and angry, and I’m beginning to understand why. Because, three years ago, I was the same. I hated their dad being ill. I sympathised with him, because I’m an adult and (three weeks out of four, anyway) more rational than a little boy, so we talked about it at night and hugged each other better. We were both fucking furious with the disease, but while he just laid there being ill, I had to run around and pick up the pieces of the life we had before, and it made me bloody angry, but he understood, and he kissed me better. Our entire life as we knew it had been ruined, but I thought if he could just get off the sofa and pretend to be well, or turn up to football matches, or attend parents’ evenings, everything would be OK again. All those feelings of rage within me have now been turned on to me, by our children, who see me being defeated by the same damn disease which claimed their dad. They are afraid – quite legitimately – of becoming orphans. At their age, I’m fairly sure that my greatest concern was which member of New Kids on the Block I’d marry first. (Not Donny.)

Well-meaning people constantly tell our boys to look after me, but it’s the worst thing they could possibly say. It implies that we could all have done more as a family to save their dad, if only we’d looked after him better. It isn’t true, and it hurts so bloody much. We could not have saved him, and the boys can’t save me. We just have to hope that I’ll be fortunate enough to be on the right side of the survival statistics, and I believe I will be. Either way, there’s not much I can do about it, but by the time they really start to believe I’m fine, when this is all a dim and distant memory, their childhoods will be over for good.

In only a few weeks, we’ll be back to normal. It won’t kill the boys to have a bit more screen time until then. It won’t hurt to just eat freezer food with oven chips. It’s fine if they go to bed a bit late, or haven’t brushed their teeth for precisely two minutes. Or at all. It doesn’t matter if they didn’t work all that hard at school today. Only a little while to go, and we can pick up again where we left off. Never mind that they don’t want to do drama at the moment, or cricket, or roller skating, or football. It’s fine. We’ll go back to it in a few weeks. It won’t permanently damage them if they don’t eat their vegetables for a while. Just let’s get through this bit of chemo and then we’ll slide back into normality again.

We’ve been saying all that for their last four birthdays. This brief hump of chemo, to overcome in whichever way we can – and another, and another – has become a lifestyle. An entire childhood. Because I don’t have the energy to pick many battles, I’m letting a lot of things slide. In fact, half the time, I’m lying down and crying while the pre-teen cavalry ride roughshod over me with their Xbox controllers and tracksuits, grunting into their phones, and dropping bits of unwanted kebab salad in my ear.

We’d always been honest with our children about cancer, from day one. They knew their Dad’s would be a tough one to fight, respected our honesty, and believed us. We shared our triumphs and our darkest moments, and realised that no amount of stretching the truth would stretch out his life, so saving their feelings with white lies was pointless. As the oncologist said, if a miracle happened, the boys weren’t going to come back and punch him in the face for making their Daddy better. However, the doctors made a mistake. They thought he was getting better, and we told the boys we’d still be a family for a year or more. We hugged each other with delight, and booked another holiday. Six weeks later, he sat on our sofa late on a Friday night, having been brought home in an ambulance, hooked up to an oxygen tank and permanently discharged from hospital. We hugged and cried with our beloved boys again, as he told them they’d missed the biggest tumour of them all. It wasn’t fluid on his lung. He had been brought home to die. And guess what? Our boys now don’t believe anything that the cancer doctors say. So, why would they believe that I’ll be alive for their thirteenth birthday, even though the doctors are sure that I will be? Why would they trust that we’ll ever go on a Christmas adventure holiday again, when the last three have been cancelled?

And nobody really, truly understands. Even I don’t understand. That’s why, maybe, despite my kids being the most difficult, angry, stubborn, malnourished, over-screentimed, worst people in the world at the moment, I still feel the need to fight their corner. I observe the boys and their friends a lot, and canvass opinion with other parents, and the general consensus is that they’re no worse than anyone else’s children at this stage in their lives. In fact, considering what they’ve been through, they’re doing bloody well. They’re working hard(ish) at school, seem popular with teachers (mainly,) are maintaining and developing friendships, and are also going through all the usual shit of being picked on or dropped by others. But that’s what kids do, and – for the most part – I let them get on with it, because two oversensitive kids who are already struggling with friendships probably don’t want some bald-headed titless wonder wading in and cramping their style. Apparently, some of their friends are bored with hearing about cancer now. Well, so the fuck are we.

In a few weeks, when the chemotherapy and radiotherapy are over with, I like to think we will – somehow – find this elusive New Normal. The one we’ve been trying to find for so long. The one with discipline and energy and fun and good manners. And possibly even one or two vegetables. (Sadly, I think I’ve probably lost the Battle of Boden, and the tracksuits are here to stay for the foreseeable future.) Until then, I know I have to just keep a lid on it and understand things from our children’s point of view, when I’ve stopped screaming at them. Our children, who still play football on a team run by dads, who desperately miss their own dad being on the sidelines, cheering them on. Our children, whose mum had no sooner taken the role of Dad, than she’d begun to disappear from the football sidelines as well. They don’t believe it’s temporary. They don’t believe I’ll be back, willing them to victory next season, along with their friends. I intend to prove them wrong.

Until then, I’m going to give them the one thing that their friends have had every year, even though our boys probably don’t deserve it – a birthday party, with cake and candles, friends and fun. And, next year, there will be no cloud of doubt to choke them when the candles are blown out.

I promise.

Love Fanny x

The shittiest birthday cake of them all. (Source: Google Images.)

25 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, Dear Chemo.

  1. Katie francis says:

    You are a star – have been through some of what you have and yes we have little choice but go you xx

  2. KerryCan says:

    I read your posts and just sit and try to think of something to write–something encouraging, or to suggest I know what you’re going through. But I can’t imagine all you’re dealing with and words of encouragement probably ring pretty hollow right about now. I guess I just hope, really hard, that you’ll turn the corner soon . . .

  3. AllieJ says:

    I once found a woman trying to gas herself in her car along with her two dogs, when I tried to help, she told me to fuck off with my blue dress and pink lipstick, and my lovely life, and mind my own fucking business.
    I don’t know what happened to her, she escaped me when I (stupidly) went for help from the police, but I hope she found a fraction of the strength, reason, stubborn-ness, insanely mad positive anger you possess,
    I’m on the other side of the world, so I can’t offer any physical support, however, as you can see, I can take a good venting at, and still remain upright. Willing to offer services as a verbal whipping post at the email hopefully supplied to you.
    Breathe in, Breathe out, and if that is all you can manage at present, then it’s enough. Kids who come out, the other side of diversity, appear from my 57 years of experience, to be quite, quite special people, who still live normal lives, without hating the world, or the people they travelled through it with.
    It’s okay to say ‘No’, despite that C*** on your shoulder telling you otherwise xx

  4. margaret21 says:

    Reblogged this on From Pyrenees to Pennines and commented:
    I’ve found this most recent post from my daughter the hardest of all to read, because we’ve seen at first hand the boys’ anger and fear over their mother’s cancer. I doubt if I could have found it in me to reblog her thoughts if we hadn’t been in Bolton this last weekend.

    We were there because Ellie wanted to be at her annual professional conference overnight. Voice overs work in the main alone, so theirs is less a conference more a knees-up and a chance to bond. Her colleagues have been unendingly supportive and helpful since Phil’s death, and she spent the weekend being hugged and loved.

    Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the boys were doing their own thing. Twin Number One got invited for a sleepover. Twin Number Two wasn’t, but elected to come shopping and bake a cake with me instead. Then he too found himself off playing footie with his mates and being invited to spend the night at a friend’s house.

    Suddenly, we were only babysitting the dog, who required a long, energetic and healthy walk on Sunday.

    Perhaps it’s the light at the end of the tunnel. Ellie was happy. She had a much needed break. The twins were happy. They had time away from each other, and they could see their mum was OK.

    It’s chemotherapy again on Wednesday. But it’s the LAST ONE. However bad it might be, it’s THE LAST ONE. Then there’s radiotherapy, which will tire her out. But that’s the LAST TREATMENT. She’s booked a family holiday for August. Perhaps they can dare to hope that this is the year when cancer finally pushes off and leaves them alone.

  5. Kiki says:

    Ellie, your mum’s blog brought me here – again – I fully well realise that NO words can bring any light, any help, anything good to you and your boys – but maybe (hopefully?) the knowledge that many thoughts and prayers for healing are being made on your behalf, add a tiny light.
    May you have your LAST chemo tomorrow – yes, yes, yes – may you never need another one and may your boys have a totally crazy, funny, cheerful birthday, this year and every year to come. And may you have a first great holiday after so many years and so much hardship.
    I also know that your beloved family pet is giving you all much needed comfort, love & lickings…. So important when all you wanna do is scream! Love you girl, boys and doggie

    • Fanny the Champion of the World says:

      Thank you Kiki! It was all a complete blur, but the boys enjoyed it… I think! (When I wasn’t telling them to CALM DOWN – and other ignored advice.) Already picking up from the LAST CHEMO (woohoo) so let’s hope it’s all upwards from here. Thanks so much for your message. xx

      • Kiki says:

        Ellie, couldn’t post my comment to your ‘picture of denial’ post – Will you let me do it here instead? If not, just delete it….

        Fanny, I had to read this and cry a lot – then I had to put it away because the lump in my heart and another one in my throat were too big to talk about those other vicious lumps. What an incredibly brave and utterly beautiful woman you are. And how much I understand your underlying anger and frustration over your husband’s negligence. I was a lucky one, I went for a small cut before it got too bad, jumped from the bandwagon, and I will never, ever allow anything and/or anyone to rule my feelings – if one feels something is wrong, it MUST be looked after.
        What surprises me is the fb effect everything seems to have on everything nowadays. I’m one of the very few who refuses flatly to join social media. I have however added the ‘pink cancer ribbon’ to my Flickr account. And Fanny, you’re so right, your boys have a right to keep their mum, at least!!!! Their mum, who is, beyond the shadow of a doubt, not only one of the bravest, most courageous woman, but also one who is with or without lumps, bumps, hair or none, an outstanding human being, beautiful, wise, funny and wild – they should be proud of you, and one day, they will (maybe in 30 years or so, don’t get your hopes too high up!).
        Wishing you buckets full of good things…. strength, stamina, love, health and heck, let’s go for it, a wild bob of newly grown hair!!!! And take a tremendously big and tender hug from me as well – you might need it!

      • Fanny the Champion of the World says:

        Hi Kiki, thank you so much! I have no idea why it wouldn’t post onto the right thread, but who cares? You’re here now. 🙂

        My husband didn’t really delay, so fortunately I’ll never have to have that anger inside for his negligence, but there are always those first few weeks where you think it’s probably nothing. If anything, I delayed for longer because I thought my husband had enough to worry about, and didn’t think lightning could strike twice! Oh.

        Thank you so much for all your kind words… I’m not brave, I’m just getting on with it in the only way I know!

        Much love to you and yours. xx

  6. Joyce says:

    Your boys must be angry and frightened. Its inevitable. They love you and they don’t want to lose you. You just have to battle through and get better. It must be the worse thing ever, and like you said, if you were by yourself you might have given up. But you’re not alone, so you won’t give up. You’re amazingly honest in these blogs! I admire your honesty and spirit. When you get better and your boys feel safe again, who knows how they’ll react. I’m sure you’ll give them some space. Wishing you all the best x x

  7. naturebackin says:

    Your resilience in the face of totally crap, heartbreaking and tough circumstances, including enduring surgery and being worn down by chemo side effects, is extraordinary. You are so right that none of this is fair. The courage it demands of you is immeasurable. That the chemo is nearly at an end is an important turning point even though there is radiotherapy to follow. I hope that this too will soon be over and you can start recovering from the battering the treatment rains down on you. Thinking of you and best for the boys’ birthday too.

      • naturebackin says:

        Glad the birthday went well for the boys (though exhausting for you!) and you are starting to feel a bit better after the LAST chemo. Hope your eyelashes and hair grow back soon, and good luck with the radiotherapy. You must all be looking forward to your holiday in August, which is now surprisingly imminent!

  8. Yolanda says:

    Am always full of admiration for this gutsy lady. Also relieved that she didn’t make that birthday cake!

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