The Car Park of Destiny.

I haven’t written an update for a while, and to be honest, I’ve been enjoying getting back to normality (and trying to learn how to parent teenagers), with limited success. I think that writing Fanny through my grief and treatment was my way of releasing stress when I had nobody else to tell. Now, I do have someone to tell, who loves me deeply, but with that happiness and contentment has come a bit of Writers’ Block. Our stories don’t end as long as we’re alive, but perhaps I wanted Fanny to have her happy ending, and I wasn’t sure if there really was any such thing.

In fact, I suppose I thought a new beginning had come instead – in July last year, when my husband’s ashes were interred in the graveyard of the church where he and I had married 15 years before, almost to the day. I’d just finished my cancer treatment, and had decided that – having held my hand through it in the only way he could – it was time to let him rest. (Stick with this – it gets progressively less depressing, I promise.)

That day, for me, was a marker. I knew that I would be on my own from the moment we’d placed him in the ground. I’d spent the 15 months since his death holding on to what was left of him, but I knew that my future – whatever it held – could not include my husband as a living, breathing companion. I was ready for a future without cancer, but I wasn’t quite ready for anyone else to take his place. I still didn’t consider myself to be a single woman (as opposed to a woman who was married, but whose husband just wasn’t alive any more), but I suppose I needed to make peace with the fact that a different guy may one day end up by my side. It’s what my husband had said he eventually wanted for me after (and I quote) “a suitable period of mourning”, followed by the inevitable smirk and a wink. The idea of letting him go was as frightening as it was strangely liberating.

I’ve already written about how I met the New Chap, so I won’t go over it again (suffice to say that it involved a large amount of encouragement from my children, and an even larger amount of wine), but the short story is that we began communicating on an internet dating site which I’d joined, primarily to shut up the children, a couple of months after my husband’s ashes had been interred. Not being remotely experienced in the world of dating, my opening gambit was to send him a message to say that I’d noticed he didn’t look mad, and unlike the rest of my potential matches, he only lived up the road.

When I’d originally made contact, he was part way through running an ultra marathon in the Swiss Alps, but we’d managed to exchange some epic banter in the few moments he could snatch in between running and sleeping. We got on well, and I was pleased to be able to continue the conversation by asking him for some advice about training for my own forthcoming marathon. Only when I’d berated him for a misplaced apostrophe did I realise that his utterly perfect response confirmed his place in Pedants’ Corner, and therefore as a potentially ideal partner. I was just a bit worried that his enthusiasm for athleticism might not be entirely compatible with my somewhat battered and butchered body.

A few days later, when he was back home, 13.1 miles away (precisely a half marathon distance, as it happens), we arranged to meet. I hadn’t expected to date anyone so soon, so I’d had to come clean about the slight Trades Descriptions issue of my profile picture, which wrongly suggested that I might have a full set of boobs, and perhaps some hair. Meanwhile, he’d had to admit that he usually went for blondes with big tits, was about five years older than his profile suggested, and had had little success in the marriage department. Not to worry, I said – I could offer a wildcard option regarding hair and tits, and 48-year-old twice divorced men are exactly my type. Marrying one had worked very well for me many years earlier, so why change the habit of a lifetime? (Next time, hopefully, I’ll be a cougar and snare one from my nursing home.)

He’d only been to my neighbourhood once before (there would never have been a good reason for him to come here, as it’s not on his route to work, and all we have to offer are reservoirs, Brexiteers, and Morrisons). However, our local pub/restaurant was the halfway point between his house and that of a woman he’d met online a few weeks earlier, and after exchanging a string of messages, they’d met there one Saturday night for a pleasant but ultimately unsuccessful date. It also happens to be the pub where we’d held my husband’s wake, and which is directly opposite the church where we’d got married, had his funeral, and where his ashes are now interred. It didn’t seem right for either of us to meet there. So, instead, we arranged to meet for lunch in the small market town half way between our houses. But when the New Chap did what all good internet daters do, and web stalked me, he was shocked. My husband’s death had made the news. New Chap remembered seeing the story. He’d read it in the paper. It had massively resonated with him at the time, and he didn’t know why, but there was something about our story that had grabbed him, and he’d never forgotten it. When my husband died, the New Chap was still married, but he’d been separated for almost a year by the time he tentatively started dating again – beginning with the woman he’d met at my local pub.

We both thought this could be a sign that my husband had sent him to me. Of course, we’ll never know. The good news, though, is that our first date went very well. As did the second… and the third… etc.

Over the last year, we’ve grown to love each other so much. We’ve become each other’s best friend, and can’t imagine life without one other. We both look forward to a future of growing old together. The only thing that holds me back is my often overwhelming fear of him dying… but that’s probably understandable. What’s lovely is that the boys really seem to adore him, and I think the world of his kids too. My twins and his teenage daughter consider themselves to be siblings (and simultaneously love and hate each other accordingly), and when his two little boys are with us, it’s a breath of silliness and fresh air which was desperately needed in the house which has seen such pain and trauma. What’s even more wonderful is that my husband is always part of the conversation, and New Chap doesn’t feel threatened by his memory – he just wishes they’d met each other. So do I.

The other week, I was scrolling through the New Chap’s Strava feed (that’s Facebook for athletes) to see if I could see his epic Alpine run from last year. I was trying to work out exactly when we’d first made contact. I knew it had been sometime in September, but that was it. Having found the maps and noted the date, I carried on idly scrolling back. A little further down the feed, I saw a map of a route that he’d cycled a few weeks before he’d left for the Alps. It went from his house in the hills down to my neck of the woods, and because we’ve both now cycled and run that very route together several times, I recognised it straight away. He’d made the journey on his bike to collect his car from my local pub, where he’d left it after the pleasant but unsuccessful date the previous evening.

According to Strava, he arrived to collect his car on the same day, at exactly the same time, that I’d arrived with my husband’s ashes (in a Bag for Life, obviously, as regular readers will appreciate), ready to say goodbye for ever. At the very moment that I let go of the love of my old life, the love of my new life was right there. We will have passed each other in the street. The New Chap would never have had any reason to return to my neighbourhood after that, if he hadn’t met me online, in the Alps.

Little did he know on that morning, as he reluctantly resumed the search for the woman of his dreams, that she was actually right there: the teary-eyed bald woman with wonky tits, walking over to the church a few feet away, manhandling two bickering twelve-year-olds and a large carrier bag. Meanwhile, she definitely wouldn’t have paid any attention to the mutantly tall Lycra-clad lunatic trying to shoehorn a bicycle around two child seats in the back of a poncey Jaguar. Perhaps it was best that the two of us began to feel a connection in words before we looked for a physical one.

From the start, meeting the New Chap has felt like fate. Losing my husband ripped me in two, but my own cancer episode paved the way for someone other than him to complete the person I became in the time after he died. We can’t help but feel as if someone was trying very hard indeed to put us together at exactly the time when he knew we’d both be ready. The New Chap and I just needed a few more weeks to bump into each other again, when the time was definitely right for both of us.

Even after his death, my husband still manages to be right about everything. He (almost) always was. Fanny, meanwhile, will continue to write about her adventures as the Champion of the World alongside her ever-expanding family, but perhaps Volume One: The Cancer Years has reached a suitable conclusion. The happy ending has just written itself.

Love Fanny x

Way Out

Photo copyright My Parking Sign

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Mission Accomplished.

Ten months later. Unencumbered by a full set of tits (and saving 50% on nipple-chafing plasters), today I ran a marathon, and raised almost £6000 in memory of my husband, who wasn’t so lucky.

Cancer doesn’t always mark the end of your life. In my case, it marked a new beginning. My new fella helped me to train, and my husband inspired me to keep going.

Thank you all so much for your support over the last few years. My husband will never be forgotten, and is always missed, but would never have run a marathon in a million years. Even so, this one’s for him. xxx

Marathon

A Tale of Two Titties.

It’s been a while since I posted an update, and the truth is that I haven’t felt the need to. Literary Fanny has been having a rest while Actual Fanny has… well… been busy enjoying a wonderful new relationship. I’ve been feeling far more contented than I’ve felt for a long time, and – although my new chap is keen for me to keep writing, and hopes to feature more in future blogs – I felt it was wise to let our relationship develop privately for a little while. This is partly because he hasn’t been a twat (yet) so there’s not an awful lot to complain about at this point, and I’ve begun to realise that my urge to write seems to be fuelled, at least in part, by misery. I also think I needed a break from Facebook, which in recent years has – for me, anyway – become synonymous with grief and cancer. It’s been my outlet – and a bloody wonderful one, where friends and strangers have held me up in so many ways – but I wanted a bit of time to just be cancer-free, to find out who I am again, and to remember my husband in my own way, without the constant reminder that I’m a widow.

It’s strange, being in a relationship with someone other than my husband, but it also feels completely right, and in many ways, heaven sent. Although New Chap is a mutantly tall neuroscientist who runs ultra marathons for fun (so cannot in any way be compared to my husband in physical appearance, or matters of extra-curricular interest,) he is a keen inhabitant of Pedants’ Corner, where he snuggles up beside me to tell me tales of how he was once nearly electrocuted by Ronnie Corbett’s lawnmower, and that his ex-wife’s lesbian sister thinks I’m as hot as fuck (it must be the haircut.) All this is wonderfully reminiscent of the mind of the man that cancer snatched away, and I love it. Heaven sent? Yes, and I know exactly who sent him.

Neither of us ever expected to be where we are. Neither of us had planned for it. Of course I wish my husband hadn’t died. Of course he wishes his wife hadn’t left him. (OK, wives.) But we are where we are, and are enjoying finding our Plan B. Or, in his case, Plan C. In fact, our relationship is probably stronger for the fact that we’re both determined to learn from the past and embrace a different future. Things are looking brighter and better, and as we moved into a new year cancer-free and with renewed vigour, I was looking forward to making some changes to match the fact that 2018 was also going to be The Year of the Tit. I was optimistic, happy, and buoyant. (Unlike my left boob.)

I’ve had a couple of setbacks over the last few weeks, but with New Chap by my side, we tackled my return to the cancer hospital together. It was OK. It was so much easier to walk down those corridors holding hands with someone who actually cared whether or not I survived. We walked back through the door that my husband had been wheeled out of when he was brought home to die, and I was glad that my guy was there beside me. My husband would have been, too. Luckily, with a new cocktail of drugs, I’ll be OK again. I will survive. The final job (apart from growing out this abomination of a haircut) is to get my left breast reconstructed – something I was expecting to happen early this year – and apart from the next ten years of daily tablets, monthly injections, and the stupid twatting compression sleeve, I can well and truly leave cancer behind for good.

A couple of weeks ago, I went back to see my surgeon alone. I knew that I’d only be going there to book in for the reconstruction, and wouldn’t need any moral support. I was fine. In fact, I was more than fine. I was excited. New life, new boobs, new hope. I told the surgeon that I had a place on the London Marathon in April, so it didn’t need to be done urgently – in fact, if I could wait to have my reconstruction in early May, that would be bloody lovely, thanks.

But yet again, as with every time before in that stupid fucking side room, the stupid flowery frieze of wallpaper span around as my eyes exploded with tears because reconstructions don’t just happen like that, apparently. No. If I’d had a smaller cancer, they’d have reconstructed when they took it out. I knew that. But because I’d had a large tumour, invading my chest wall, skin and lymph nodes, a mastectomy was my only option. In fact, it wasn’t an option. I did what I was told. The cancer has gone, so that means my reconstructive surgery isn’t classed as cancer surgery. It’s plastic surgery. And because it’s not urgent, there’s a wait of eighteen months. Worse, I’ve developed mild lymphedema, so I can’t have the standard reconstruction that my local hospital offers because that involves fiddling about inside my armpits… so I need to be referred to a specialist centre, where the surgery is more complicated and the waiting lists are even longer. Most women have their surgeries cancelled three times or more before they even get to lie on the operating table, apparently. Fucking bastard twatting arsehole Tories.

This year, my plan had been to make some changes around the house, including redecorating the room where my husband died, and replacing the orthopaedic bed which we had to buy when he could no longer lie flat. I also wanted to change the car – which my husband got three years ago from Motability when he was diagnosed with a terminal illness, and which I bought from them for cost price after he died – because it’s just another reminder of the life of hell. The cancer hospital is still the top destination in the Sat Nav, for fuck’s sake. I want rid. I’d done the sums, and with a loan I could trade it in for something else. But instead of changing the house and car, I’m going to change my boobs. I need to move on, and quickly – so I booked in for a private appointment. I have no insurance, but I needed to know the cost of the surgery, and of course this couldn’t be done without a consultation. The surgeon who’d be working on me in a year or two can’t see me in the NHS clinic for six months, but for £150 she could see me on Thursday. And at THAT point she could give me a price. Funny, that. I decided to go for it. To own it. To take control of how, when, and where my tits go back on (and the sooner the better.)

The other day, while I was pushing my trolley around Sainsbury’s (buying ingredients for something for the slow cooker so I could go out and see the surgeon the following afternoon, but still find a way to feed the boys,) her secretary rang. She wasn’t sure what I’d booked in for, and wanted to check a few things before the consultation. Did I realise that the £150 fee was for cosmetic consultations? The fee for cancer patients is actually £250 (because we haven’t fucking well suffered enough) and the receptionist I’d originally spoken to obviously hadn’t understood what I needed. I wasn’t insured? Shame. To be fair, she did offer to ask if the surgeon would see me for £150 as a goodwill gesture. She promised to ring me back.

Ironically, I was standing beside a selection of melons when she delivered the news that the reconstructive surgery I need isn’t available privately, to anyone. I’d had my heart set on it. I didn’t care about the cost. I was ready to remortgage, or do whatever it took to move on. To move away from cancer, forever. I sobbed and sobbed, with old ladies walking past, squeezing the cantaloupes on display, and sympathetically clucking at the poor woman with the terrible haircut talking on her mobile phone in aisle 15 with tears streaming down her face. All the money in the world can’t buy the thing I most desperately want. I should be used to that by now.

I’ve cried all day. I can’t stop. It’s just too fucking much. There is one more option. A surgeon in London, who can see me for a consultation in March, but the operation would take place 200 miles from home, and I can probably manage to get there but it’ll be a logistical nightmare leaving the boys at home while I’m in hospital for a week. That’s it. Until then, I wait. And wait. And hope to move up the NHS waiting list as quickly as possible. I feel utterly deflated (just like my left boob.) And I feel angry. Angry that it took four months for them to diagnose my cancer in the first place. For all I know, if the sanctimonious little twat who told me there was no cancer on the first scan had actually seen something, they might have caught it in time to reconstruct immediately. I’m angry that they were so quick to whip away my breast with the promise it would only be gone for a year, when in fact the wait will be so much longer. Why don’t they put us all on the list the moment we have our tits removed? I don’t get it. But I also know that a) I’m better alive with one boob than lying in a coffin with a perfect and perky set of knockers (it would be difficult to close the lid, for a start,) and b) if you put me in an actual queue, with an actual person who needed emergency surgery, I’d obviously let them go first because reconstructing my tit could wait. I do get it. But my head being able to understand all this doesn’t stop my heart from breaking anyway.

In all of this, remarkably, New Chap seems to remain as keen on me as ever – uniboobity and all – as I am on him; but (although he’ll undoubtedly benefit from it,) this reconstruction is for nobody but me.

As for my husband… I’ll never forget him. Ever. He is on my mind all the time, and I’m sure he always will be. I still look at his beloved boys and wish they had their Daddy (and not just when I’m standing on the side of a freezing cold football pitch every bastard Saturday morning.) When I’m up and dressed and facing the world, though, I’m beginning to think more of the good times we had together than what was left of the man who died, and I smile with love and affection – all the while looking forward to a different future. Yet, every time I’m naked and I look in the mirror, I see that there’s something missing, and I’m reminded of just how much I’ve lost. I don’t just see the missing breast. I see a succession of bald heads, cannulas and sick bowls. I see the dying husband, and the children who’ve coped with so much. I can’t forget the past, but I don’t want to be a “cancer survivor” forever (they’re almost as irritating as vegans, and people who don’t own a television.) I want to move on. This is the right time to rebuild, using the strong foundations of the physical and emotional scars that cancer left behind. I guess just have to take my place in the queue, and wait, and remember to be grateful that I’m still here at all.

Love Fanny x

Image from Rethink Canada - http://rethinkcanada.com/blog/2015/11/melons-get-makeovers-for-breast-cancer-awareness/

Fanny for Grabs.

A few weeks ago, I did a deal with my son. My angry, grieving, difficult son. It wasn’t a deal I wanted to do, and – in many ways – it felt like a pact with the devil. I told him that if he would engage with a course of counselling, then I’d do what he’d been asking for, and start to look for a new partner. 

I knew that it would take several weeks to sort out my son’s head, and, through counselling, he’d probably realise that his problems were not going to be easily solved by my acquiring a substitute for his dad. I wasn’t ready for a relationship, and was otherwise muddling along as a double – not single – parent, but at my wits’ end.

Both boys have been desperate to see me happy again – and that, they believe, means for me to be married off as quickly as possible. Even when my husband was still alive – on the day we sat the boys down at nine years old, and told them their Daddy was dying – one of them disappeared with the laptop to look for a dating website so they could find me a new husband as a matter of some urgency. It took a little while to explain the concept of marriage vows, sickness, health, and death us doing part etc., but we got there in the end.

Since my husband died, though, the boys have made several less-than-subtle suggestions. On holiday last year, barely four months after I’d been widowed, they danced around me singing Love Is In the Air while I was having a perfectly genial conversation about table tennis with a 19-year-old member of the Croatian animation team. They’ve come home from school full of optimism every time one of their friends happens to have a set of parents in the throes of divorce. On the holiday we’ve just returned from, I sat in the bar most nights being elbowed in the ribs by an enthusiastic twelve-year-old who had spotted the multi-millionaire Saudi Arabian fortysomething with a penchant for $160 shots of cognac. Although he seemed like a nice guy, and we found commonality in being widowed parents of teenage boys, I couldn’t quite shake off the thought that anyone who could spend $160 on a single shot of cognac was probably more than a bit of a twat. All I wanted was a cuddle and a conversation with my ageing scruffy intellectual, who was usually floored by half a lager – the cheapest one available.

I’ve apparently had sniffs of interest via friends – which has been flattering, but unreciprocated. I’ve just not been ready to even contemplate a relationship with someone other than my husband. Since we interred his ashes in the churchyard a week after my treatment ended, though, I’ve felt an element of closure and optimism that I haven’t felt for a long time. I miss him, terribly. I always will. But he is dead – and burying a box in the ground with his name on it hasn’t brought him back to life, much as we all wish it could have done. Now, with every new hair that appears on my head, I feel a strand of hope; of a future which is new, exciting, and seems to be within my grasp. It’s been such a long time.

A few weeks ago, having returned from another very lonely holiday in which the children mainly made friends and buggered off, just as I’d expected and wanted them to do, I asked my husband’s dearest friends for advice and reassurance about the next tentative step I thought I might want to take. Without exception, they gave me a monumental thumbs up, and later that night, I got myself royally pissed and set up an internet dating profile.

I met my husband at work over 16 years ago, at a time when entire families were sharing a single dial-up internet connection, so online dating is completely new territory for me. As a widowed parent working from home, though, it seemed like the best place to start.

I knew that my husband had wanted me to move on after – and I quote – a “suitable period of mourning,” but my mourning period has been long and difficult, and isn’t over yet. It never will be, completely. Nonetheless, I was nervous as I filled in all the criteria (including an upper age limit of 48 – the age my husband was when I met him,) and selected that any potential suitor must be educated, and that he must have a proper job. There was no option to request that he have no pre-existing medical conditions, or a family history of cancer.

Out of about 25 possibilities, only one face leapt out at me, but I duly went through each profile one by one. As more and more so-called “compatible” matches appeared, and as I read through each one (deleting them with gay abandon) it became clear to me that I had a few more criteria of my own, which couldn’t have been picked up by the website’s algorithms.

– He must have a nice traditional name, but not the one belonging to our dog.

– He must be able to spell and punctuate.  

– He must not be a Tory.

– He must not be topless on his profile picture, although bonus points for removing his anorak.

– He must not be wearing a football shirt.

– He must not still be proud to display one of those Celtic arm tattoos.

– He must use a picture of his face, not his car.

– He must not use “LOL” at any point, especially not as an appendage to an otherwise rather dull statement.

– He must write something to make me smile.

– He must be someone that my husband would have liked. A lot.

Likewise, I tried to answer all the questions as honestly as I could.

– I explained that I liked all types of music, but that I wasn’t allowed to like anything too modern on account of it being embarrassing for the children. I also warned that I’m rather keen on musicals – particularly reenacting certain death scenes at full volume during long car journeys – and that I tend to forget that I am not in fact a member of Little Mix.

– I listed my hobbies, which include refereeing arguments between twin boys, swearing, and being the world’s most unremarkable cook.

– I said I was widowed with pre-teen twins, and looking for someone who, like me, was not in a rush, but who would enjoy intelligent debate, wine, sarcasm, and companionship. I also asked that he should be a dab hand at DIY, an enthusiastic grammar pedant, and enjoy getting up early to let the dog out.

I decided not to mention the missing boob and ghastly post-chemo crop at this point. I expected the search to take several months. I also knew that anyone who could jump unscathed through all the hoops would be a chap worth getting to know better, and if he still managed not to care about how many mammaries I currently possess, then that would say everything I needed to know about him.

I whittled my own shortlist to a grand total of one. A tall, handsome, marathon-running scientist, with an attractive smile and a self-effacing biography, who also happened to live the closest to me – just up the road in the next valley. The one whose picture had stood out in the first place. He was probably way out of my league in intellect and looks, but I’ve learned that life’s too short to not even try. We exchanged messages, and I was relieved to find that he used the correct version of “you’re” in a sentence. He had found my profile to be quirky and interesting, although I’d made the first move – it turns out, if left to his own devices, he wouldn’t have given me a second look as he normally goes for leggy blondes. As did my husband. My husband had not been a health freak – in fact, he got out of breath running a bath – and that was often a stumbling block in our relationship. A whole new outlook on health from a partner would not be unwelcome, but in the long term, I want a man who can stimulate my mind as much as he can stimulate my somewhat imperfect body. A man as imperfect as me. A man as imperfect as – though different from – my husband.

I will report back. Even if nothing long-term comes of this, I’ve had the joy of communicating with another adult, on the same wavelength, whose epic banter (in exquisitely-punctuated messages) has made my heart leap and a smile reach across the full width of my face. Who knows what will happen? We’ve been on a few dates already, and the connection is strong. We miss each other when we’re not together. He knows the score. All of it. He’s had his nose in my Fanny for the last few days (which is absolutely not a euphemism) and still hasn’t been put off by the grief, the booblessness, or the frequently awful children. If all else fails, he knows he could end up as material for the next blog post, so he’s trying his best to not be too much of a twat. And so am I.

I wasn’t expecting to click with anyone so soon. In fact, I realise now that I wasn’t really expecting any kind of life at all. I’ve simply been existing, day to day, for three and a half years. Three months ago, I was quietly planning my own funeral (I was going to have Brimful of Asha as my coffin came in, by the way. I thought it would be funny,) but now I’m planning a future, and it feels wonderful. The boys haven’t met him yet (nor has he endured Trial by Friends,) but they’re delighted that we’re going out on dates and keep asking me why I’m smiling for no reason. And, they’re both still receiving and engaging with counselling. These are still very early days, but they’re good days, and – far from feeling like cheating – being with this man already feels like the most natural thing on earth.

In actual fact, it feels as if somebody, somewhere, has played a very special part in this. He knows that the time is right for the boys and me to smile again after so many years of pain. Maybe, a loving hand from heaven has given things a nudge in the right direction. Time will tell, and I have plenty of that.

Love Fanny x

A Future for Fanny.

Following a few nail-biting weeks, I’ve just heard the two wonderful words which my husband never got to hear.

All clear.

Thank you to everyone who helped to drag me along the darkest path I’ve ever had to walk alone – in particular to The Fanny Pack, and to so many others, whose kindnesses will never be forgotten.

Thank you to friends, and strangers, who have joined me here on the blog, and supported the boys and me practically, at home or in hospital.

There is a new life at the end of the tunnel, and my wonderful, brave, much-missed husband is holding the light which guides us there. He always will.

Life, Part Three, starts here. (Well, when I’ve handed back my radiotherapy gown and finished setting fire to my wig.)

Love Fanny x

Chemo accoutrements, no longer required.

End of Part Two.

Today marks 1172 days since cancer came into our family. 1168 days since my husband and I walked through the doors of this hospital, hand in hand, for the very first time.

Those doors were the last thing my husband saw of the outside world, before being wheeled into an ambulance and brought home to die. He said, at that point, that a bag for life would probably be an unwise investment.

Today, 463 days since my husband died, and 343 days since my own diagnosis, I walk out of the same doors once again, on my own, to the outside world, for what we all hope will be the very last time. To freedom. To our children. To countless more days.

Here, they’ve given me the most precious gift – my life, wrapped up in a metaphorical box with a bow, when my husband couldn’t even begin to pick off the sellotape. Here, my treatment has finished, and I am cancer free. The words don’t even seem real, after so many days of nothing but cancer. It’s going to take a while to adjust.

To say thank you, I brought a big box of chocolates for my radiographers, and asked them to share it around my husband’s oncology team as well, in the room next door.

Next week, it’s our fifteenth wedding anniversary. My husband’s life in a box – the ashes which are all that remain of his hands, his smile, and his wonderful mind – will be interred in the church yard where we stood and kissed for our wedding photographs, and where his dearest friends carried his coffin as we said our goodbyes. In sickness and in health, I was with him, and he with me. Maybe it’s time now to let him rest.

Until my husband and I meet again, I’m going to do one thing – for him, for our children, and for me.

I’m going to invest in a bag for life.

Love Fanny x

One Fried Tit and a Healing Scab.

For two years, my husband and I went back and forth to the cancer hospital, through roadworks, down motorways, along side roads, and always into the same bloody car park. Back and forth. Back and forth. And then we waited. And waited. Their admin was dire. Their queuing system was dire. Their coffee was dire. But, the staff were lovely, and the relationship we had with my husband’s oncologist was great. Well, we knew each other very well in the end.

When we reached the end of the line – when it became clear that no more treatment could be found to save my husband – his oncologist told him that he needed to be admitted for a day or two; have a scan, and maybe a lung drain, and that we’d reconvene in a couple of days. Although the doctor’s message was clear to me, my abiding memory is of my husband being wheeled down the corridor to the ward, after the seventh failed attempt at cannulation. He turned around to grab my hand and said, “let’s not give up hope yet.” He couldn’t be dying. We’d just come home from holiday. A week before that we’d been riding rollercoasters in Blackpool. He wasn’t ready to die, and I wasn’t ready to let him.

But, there was no hope. I knew it. The oncologist knew it. All the nurses knew it. Over the course of the preceding weeks – when my husband was on a clinical trial which we thought might be the answer to our prayers – the oncologist hadn’t always been very direct, and we still clung on to the hope that a miracle was around the corner. 
A couple of days later, when we left the building for the very last time, we’d both commented that, at the very least, it was a relief that we’d never have to go back to that fucking place ever again.

How wrong we were. I now have daily visits to that same hospital, but without my husband to hold my hand. Parking in the same car park. Passing the café where we used to sit and drink awful coffee and wait for blood results. Walking past the same ward where I took one of the last photos of my husband, working on his laptop, tying up some loose ends. (We pissed ourselves at that, and he posed for the photo gladly. “I’ll rest when I’m dead,” he said.) I pass the BEREAVEMENT SUITE. It’s a hospital – of course there’s a bereavement suite – but just in case you’ve forgotten that this is a cancer hospital, it’s written there, just by the entrance, in massive jolly writing, so you never quite forget that there’s a chance of BEREAVEMENT the moment you step through the fucking door. (We never actually went into the BEREAVEMENT SUITE because my husband died at home. Our sitting room is our BEREAVEMENT SUITE instead. I never go in there now, either.)

I’d managed to avoid the cancer hospital up until now, apart from a brief visit to check that my heart was in good enough shape to start chemotherapy. How ironic, I thought, that they needed to check the condition of my heart in the very place where they broke it. I’d been fortunate, in a way, that my surgery was done in our local hospital where they also have an excellent chemo unit, and they moved heaven and earth to make sure I didn’t have to go back to the place so full of difficult memories. Until radiotherapy.

I was expecting to be able to have that treatment at one of the local satellite centres too, but my oncologist wasn’t happy. She said my tumour had been too large, in too awkward a place, and she wanted to fry not only my left tit, but also my neck and my chest wall, to give me the greatest chance of survival. She wanted me to be in the best place for the treatment I needed. The best place? That best place also happened to be the place where they couldn’t cure my husband.

So, there I go. Every day for three weeks. I walk down the corridors, in a building which was so very much ours. It’s not somewhere I ever wanted to be ours, but bringing a friend with me now would make me miss my husband even more, so I go alone.

On the first day, I walked through the same door, into the same waiting room, with the same writing on the board, stating that my husband’s oncologist’s clinic was running 60 minutes late.

I froze.

There’s a fucking surprise, I thought. There are probably people in here who were behind my husband in the queue 15 months ago and are only just being seen. Three out of four of them will be dead by this time next year, I realised. I looked around and wondered which ones.

The same staff, the same waiting time, the same room, the same chairs, but no husband. No husband at all, because they couldn’t save him, here in the best place.

My husband’s oncologist never actually came to say goodbye. He never shook him by the hand, or said that it had been a pleasure to treat him. One of his colleagues discharged him in the end, because it was late on a Friday night and everyone else had gone home. We never saw the oncologist again, until the other day when I bumped into him as I was walking into Radiotherapy, and he was wandering over to speak to a patient.

He was thrilled to see me. He summoned over the whole team who were all smiles and welcomes and full of words about how sorry they were to have seen on the news that my husband had passed away – he was such a lovely man, they said. So humble. We’d had no idea how incredible a career he’d had, they said. Nor did we, I thought.

Then, of course, at the sudden realisation that I was quite clearly now a patient, the joy turned to concern. They wanted to know if I’d be OK. The oncologist asked after the boys. One of the nurses ran off to find catering quantities of tissues, and shoved sheet after sheet into my hands as the tears came – just as they always did, for my husband and me, every time we mentioned our darling boys as we sat together, holding hands, in the room just steps away from where I stood again, on my own.

They hadn’t forgotten us. It made me feel validated again. I was a human being – not a patient – and, more to the point, so was my husband. Of course they’d wanted to save him. They wanted to save everyone – and for the people like us with young kids, they throw as much as they can at us, even when they know there’s barely a scrap of hope. A scrap is sometimes enough. I think I understand that now.

I looked around, and realised that there would have been a string of patients who’d died under the oncologist’s care since my husband was discharged. The corridor still buzzed with people walking up and down; some in hats, some with lanyards, some in uniforms. A woman pushed her husband, too frail to walk, in a wheelchair. I looked at her sympathetically – I’d been there, even though my husband never opted for a wheelchair if he had the strength to walk. I realised she was looking back at me with sympathy too; I’d forgotten that I was now quite obviously a cancer patient, not a carer. Her husband had probably been normal and healthy, when mine was the patient in that wheelchair, just over a year ago. She smiled a smile of cancer solidarity, which implied that she knew how I felt. You haven’t a fucking clue, I thought. You poor, poor woman. Just you wait.

I realised then, that I’d been carrying so much anger within me for the team who couldn’t make my husband better, even though it wasn’t their fault. They can’t possibly shake every patient by the hand when they send them away to die, or point their relatives towards the BEREAVEMENT SUITE, because they’d be doing it every day. It would be soul-destroying. But, they did remember us. My husband was someone to them; they liked him, and they did their best. Sadly, it wasn’t enough, but it wasn’t because they hadn’t tried. They tried everything. In fact, they probably tried too much – and my husband had wanted them to. Anything for another few precious days with his family.

Maybe, I didn’t just need this wound to scab over. The act of coming back here – of ripping it off, letting the blood flow out, and starting again, is perhaps just what I needed to do to let the healing process start afresh. It’s been a bloody long and complicated way of healing, though.

Just because my husband’s time at the cancer hospital ended, doesn’t mean that time stopped here for everyone else. The place still functions and runs without him, even if the home I return to doesn’t function anywhere near as well.

Wives still push dying husbands up corridors. Bald little children with tubes in their noses still walk into the garden to sit and read for a bit, and try to be children. Women with hats and drawn-on eyebrows still complain about the shit coffee, but buy it anyway.
 

And the lucky ones get to walk past the door of that fucking BEREAVEMENT SUITE on the way out, and keep on walking.

Love Fanny x

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