New Seasons and Sick Bowls.

I fucking hate spring. I used to love it. The joy of a new season. The green shoots. The blossom. Daffodils. New life. 

The last few springs have brought new life for our family, but not the one we wanted. In spring, they told my husband that he had a very difficult cancer to cure, but they were going to try. The following spring, they told us he was terminal. The spring after that, he died. Every spring, we’ve walked out of hospital grounds, as daffodils poked through the earth, feeling as though our own earth had been shattered. Spring hasn’t shown us its beauty for years.

This spring, the same pattern begins for me, but most probably with a more positive outcome. I’ll see next spring, and several after that. This spring marks almost a whole year without my husband, and I’m trying to make sense of this first, but surrounded by the same ingredients which took him away from us forever. Ingredients I never thought I’d associate with myself, or with any kind of future, come to that. But in an unusual twist of fate; without them, I may not have one at all.

Sickbowls. Hair clippers. Ondansetron. Epirubicin. Daffodils. Cyclophosphamide. Aprepitant. Palmar Plantar. Metoclopramide. Cannula. Mouth like the bottom of a bastard birdcage. Docetaxel. Constifuckingpation. Flowers. So many beautiful fucking flowers.

Side effects I’d forgotten my husband had had, are now mine. Side effects I’d wanted to forget – because, you know, it was too much to watch from the sidelines – are back in our home in full force. In fact, I think it’s easier for me now than it was then, because I understand it all so much better, and at least I don’t need anyone to hold my hair back when I’m throwing up in the night. I haven’t got any. (Although I still seem to need to shave my bloody legs. Where’s the actual justice?)

Yes, spring is a new beginning, alright. Every year, the start of a new life. A different life. I’ve always been one to embrace change with open arms, but – for fuck’s sake.

My husband and I had a fairly significant age gap, which was rarely a problem because we fell in love with each other’s minds, and the occasional discrepancy in physical stamina was our only real issue. But it did mean that, from an early stage in our relationship, we’d accepted the fact that – should life run its natural course for both of us – I would be left on my own for quite some time. There was never any question, at all, that my husband wanted me to move on, should he die first, and I felt the same about him, should I die early. You know, from cancer or something. We loved each other too much to wish lonely widowhood on the other, although we did often recognise the disappointment that neither of us had had the foresight to marry an octogenarian multimillionaire with a heart condition, instead of the skint and scruffy person we’d actually fallen in love with, 25 years out of sync. (But that was the point. We were in it for love. Nothing more.)

Telling the person you love that you want them to move on, should you die, is easy. It’s actually quite heartwarming, when you’re sitting in the garden, or on a hotel balcony, chatting over a glass of wine, and talking of an imaginary scenario years into the future. You know, when you’re not actually dying. When you’re completely full of life.

When that prospect becomes reality, it is heartbreaking. My husband held my hand, in his final days, in the makeshift hospice of our sitting room, and asked me to see his death as a new beginning. His beautiful blue eyes looked into mine, and he told me he loved me; that he always had, and that he’d be up there, sitting on his cloud, strumming his harp, watching us move forward, with love. He didn’t want to be missing from our future family portraits any more than we wanted him to be, but grudgingly accepted his time to go. All he asked was that, whoever it was, any future husband would be kind to his darling boys. That was a given, though I couldn’t picture a future husband at all.

I can’t imagine being with anyone else. Perhaps, under normal, non-cancerous circumstances, I might have been thinking about a different future by now, as the seeds of new life grow outside our window, because the lack of adult companionship, day in, day out, can be lonely and isolating. Especially now. But in my heart, I’m still married to my husband, and still faithful. Our bedroom hasn’t changed at all – except for the thermometer which has moved from his side of the bed to mine, with the Chemotherapy Hotline number still inscribed upon it in my husband’s hand. He and I are inextricably bound to each other by our children, who fear for a future without their last surviving parent. We’re still bound by those memories of a cycle of treatment which goes on and on. And on. And on. In some ways, these memories help my husband to hold my hand through it all, in the only way he can; from his celestial cloud (with the other hand strumming his harp.) Nobody else could take his place, because this is his place. He holds me through the treatment in my veins. The pills I take every day. The hair falling onto the sheets. The blossom falling from the tree.

He is still with us. Our hopes and our new beginnings are not what we ever imagined them to be, but he is still a part of them. Every spring, and always.

Love Fanny x

With every new spring, new sickbowls appear…

Brian May’s Merkin

This has just happened. 

After only a few days on chemo, I’m taking control of the hair loss situation with a pre-emptive strike, and I’m jumping before I’ve been pushed. Now I’ve done it, I’m not sure which would have been worse – waking up among ever thicker clumps of curls on my pillow, day after day, or the resultant ‘do which has seen me go from Tim to Edwina Currie in half an hour flat. I’m not quite rocking the Matt Lucas just yet, but give it a week or so.

We’ve been here before, with my husband, and we could always tell when the hair loss was a few days away when the pubes started to appear around the loo seat with alarming regularity. They were always the first to go. My somewhat unruly Widows’ Bush still passes the tug test for now, so I reckon it’ll be a few more days before anything happens on my head. Not that I’ve really spent an awful lot of time tugging.

I honestly thought that losing my hair would be the easy part. The mastectomy had been the frightening bit, because – before it happened – I thought it meant losing everything that made me a woman. The hair wasn’t a problem. I was up for it. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I was almost looking forward to choosing a cute little Audrey Hepburn pixie crop ahead of The Big Shave, and not having to dry the ridiculously thick, unruly mane I’ve learned to cope with over the years. After spending a large fraction of my waking life with my head upside down over a diffuser, a quick polish and go was beginning to sound appealing.

But that isn’t how it is. On a daily basis, since my op, I look in the mirror at the scar where my left breast used to be, and I feel OK. Early on, I realised that the boob had never, actually, made me who I am. And anyway, it’ll be back, nipple and all. In the meantime, I pop in a Knitted Knocker and off I go. I’m more bothered by the half a fucking stone that I’ve put on in the last few weeks. Seriously – losing the weight of my (admittedly fairly small) left boob seems to have made absolutely no difference at all, which is one of the greatest disappointments of my treatment so far, but that can be dealt with later.

Our boys have seen what’s left of me. I was determined, from the start of all this, to carry on as normal. We’ve always been an open family, and as they were growing up (OK, partly because my husband and I were far too tight to pay for interconnecting hotel rooms on holiday,) they’ve seen us in all naked shapes and sizes. They’ve seen us both at our chunkiest, at our fittest, and even felt the severe muscle wastage towards the end of my husband’s life, as we all smothered sun block onto ourselves in Lanzarote three weeks before he died. Fucking Lanzarote. It wasn’t just the sun we were blocking out. When we got home, they knew deep down, because they had seen it for themselves, that their Daddy had to die. I think we probably all did. They had to learn, at too young an age, that a fabulous body was nowhere near as important as a phenomenal mind, heart and soul, and their Daddy had those three things in abundance. To be fair, a great bod had never been quite his forte.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve made sure that the boys have seen my mastectomy scar as part of me. I feel fortunate that they’re still pre-pubescent, because I don’t suppose that their seeing me in various degrees of undress is something any of us would want in a few months’ time. At first, I suppose I eased them in gently, and it was just something they might have spotted if they were hanging around upstairs as I got dressed. No big deal. But yes – there were comments, as only 11 year old boys can provide. Now, they see it all the time, and nobody notices it any more, as I casually hop into the shower, or as I run down the landing half naked to bellow at them to get their fucking shoes on. I didn’t want one missing tit to be a big deal for them. I wanted them to see me, to know me, and to love me, just as I am now. I wanted them to realise that – heaven forbid – if one day they were to support their wife or girlfriend (or boyfriend – I’m very modern) through something similar, that loving their partner anyway, no matter how many missing body parts they had, would be the most natural thing on earth.

Still, when I returned from my oncology appointment the other week, and told the boys that yes, chemo would be of “indisputable benefit,” one vomited and went to bed for 24 hours. The other got into a fight with a friend. They were angry, worried, and upset – not about the pending sickness and tiredness, but about the fact that I was going to let the doctors do something to me which would make my hair fall out. I promised them that it would grow back, that I’d wear a hat in the meantime, and that they could even see the wig I’d chosen. They didn’t want to know, and I didn’t understand why the hair loss – of all things – bothered them so much, when the thought of it hadn’t been bothering me much at all. But, for the boys, cancer means chemo. Chemo means bald. Bald means dying.

Now, as the remains of Brian May’s merkin lie on the floor, and I look in the mirror, I can see it. I understand. I know what panics my children, and the fact is that no wig, no hat, and no prosthetic boob will hide it. Their mum has cancer. Their dad died, a few months ago, looking much like I will in the next few days. They’re not old enough, or strong enough, or confident enough, yet, to allow themselves to believe there will be a different outcome for me. They don’t care if I have a left breast or not, but until my hair grows back, they will know I have cancer. It’ll be written all over my face. They will remember, and that will hurt us all for far longer than it will take for my body to be slowly pieced back together.

Love Fanny x