Friday, 21 February 2014

Why Having Cancer Helped Me

I know, you're probably thinking how can something as bad as cancer be helpful? A disease that spreads itself around your body, putting you through months if not years or absolute torture, causing you to become reliant on drugs to survive, then if you're one of the lucky ones and you do survive it, there's that constant fear of it coming back and sending you straight back to square one. HOW is that helpful?

Me and Grandad
In February 2006 my Grandad died of cancer. He was my Mum's father and an incredibly talented artist, living up in Wigan. We didn't see him as often as we saw my other grandparents due to the fact he lived so far away, but occasionally my brothers and I would take it in turns to go up there in pairs (we'd have been too much of a handful all at once) and visit. Then when he could he'd make the drive down to us, but obviously this became more difficult as his cancer got worse and his health deteriorated. The last time I saw him was when I said goodbye as he prepared to drive back home, I remember his legs and his feet looking incredibly sore and swollen and after one last hug he set off. After that he became too ill and weak to drive down and eventually he was admitted to hospital, we never went to see him in hospital, mainly because of the long journey, but probably because at 13 nobody should have to see someone dying and bed bound. Then, one day in February Mum and Dad sat us all down in the living room and told us he'd passed away. Death is a strange thing. It's always the gentlest people who seem to be taken first, and no matter how prepared you think you are for that moment when you're told someone you love so dearly has died, you're never prepared enough for the effect it will have on you or the way it hits you and continues to effect you as the years go by.

The following year, 2007, was the year my Granny (my Dad's mother) also died as a result of cancer. The lead up to my Granny's death I remember a lot more of. When the hospital said they couldn't really do any more to help her, just make her comfortable she came to stay with us. Prior to staying with us she had lived down in Brighton and it was the hospital in Brighton, (the same one where I have been treated at) that she had also been in. On one of the few occasions I went to visit her in hospital, (eventually I couldn't handle visiting) we went into the building, up the stairs and into the ward she was in. She was lying on a bed nearer the end of the ward and despite being so ill, she was always so happy to see us. One thing about Granny was that she was always brave enough to smile through the pain, no matter how bad it was. We gathered round her and talked for a while, there was a lady a couple of beds up acting confused and kept asking questions that nobody could answer, simply because they didn't know what she was talking about. Seeing Granny hooked up to tubes was just unbearable, I had to make my excuses saying I needed the toilet and make a quick exit trying to hide the tears running down my face. I made it down one flight of stairs before stopping at a window, looking out, trying to disguise the fact that I was crying from other people going up and down the stairs. Eventually Dad came out to find me and once i'd calmed down we went back in to see Granny. Soon, there was nothing more that the hospital could do for her, so she came to stay at ours. I moved out of my bedroom on the ground floor as it was much easier for Granny as there were no stairs to negotiate with and the window looked out onto the garden, which was much better than staring at hospital curtains or walls all day. While Granny was staying with us I went on a school trip to Poland where we stayed at the Mount Haven Centre and helped out with the children who stayed there. I was only away for 10 days, but to me, those are 10 days I shouldn't have been away, they're 10 days that I will never get back when I could have been at home with Granny. The worst part about it was that each day I was away, was another day she just got weaker, which I was fully aware of. When I got back home, I brought back with me a couple of collectors spoons. Little silver spoons with Krakow and Poland written on them, these spoons from different countries were something Granny had collected for years since my Dad had brought her one back from travelling round when he was younger. I'd bought a hand carved wooden box for her to keep them in and after i'd gone into her room to see her and to give them to her, Mum told me that that was the most Granny had moved since i'd been away. She'd tried to sit up to give me a hug and she looked really happy with her gift. Not long after that Granny died. After Mum had told us Granny had passed away she tried to keep us out of the room, but when she wasn't standing by the door I crept in. Granny was lying there, it was just like she was sleeping, she even had her mouth partly open like she was snoring. I sat in the chair next to her and gently placed both of my hands round her left hand. It was cold, very cold, but I didn't want to let go, I didn't want to and I wasn't ready to. Eventually Mum came in and said I had to let go now and she took me to sit in the living room with my brothers and sister. We had to close the curtains and were told to keep them closed, this was because there were people coming to take Granny's body away and just like that she was gone.

Granny with my brother Charlie
Nothing prepares you for death. No matter how weak you see that person getting, or how quickly their health deteriorates, nothing prepares you. After Granny's death I really struggled. I knew she'd died because of Cancer, but why? For years I beat myself up about it and I couldn't get my head round it. Why did Granny die? Why couldn't I do anything to help her? Why didn't she stay with us longer? Why didn't the hospital help her more? Why did she get cancer? Why did it happen to her? Why did she stop fighting and just go, just like that?

But you know what, she did all that she could. It wasn't her fault and it wasn't my fault. She'd had enough. She couldn't take any more, physically or mentally. This is something that I realised when I was diagnosed with cancer and during my treatment. Being treated for cancer obviously varies depending on the type you have, but when I was going through my treatment, especially when I was first admitted, it was intense. I was being pumped with multiple bags of blood and platelets pretty much every day. I was put on so many different types of drugs, most of which I couldn't even pronounce and there were times when even I questioned if I'd be able to keep it up. Did I really want to lie in a hospital bed for months on end being pumped with different bags of fluid each day? Was this how I was going to spend the rest of my life? Luckily for me, once I'd gotten through the first several weeks and I began to respond to treatment, the number of bags of blood and platelets I was having decreased and eventually my blood was coping fine without needing extra help.

But going through all of that, finally made me understand. It made me understand that cancer is extremely hard, no matter how old you are. My Grandad and my Granny spent much longer living with their cancer, so for them it must have been far worse. Towards the end of my chemo I began to question how other people with cancer managed to deal with everything for longer periods of time, all the drugs, the chemo, the not knowing, just everything. My chemo was stretched out over about 5 months, but there are people who are having chemo for years and I simply don't know how they do it. I felt so drained and was so glad and thankful when it was finished. It all helped in making me realise that when my Granny and my Grandad died, they didn't give up, they'd just taken all that they could take. They didn't want to leave, they had to, they'd been so drained physically and mentally that the thought of no more pain, the thought of no more drugs, the thought of no more being poked around and no more lying in bed thinking back on how their life used to be, that was what they wanted, they wanted normality and more importantly no more pain, just peace.. and who can blame them?

Having cancer helped me understand that, which is something for me, no amount of 'talking about it' could. No I didn't like having cancer and no, I don't like the thought of it returning. But if anything positive has come out of this, then it's finally understanding that my Grandad and my Granny didn't leave me out of choice. They just couldn't take any more and I wouldn't have wanted them to go through any more either. I strongly believe that if I hadn't have had cancer, i'd still be going round in a destructive cycle, not understanding why my grandparents died. It's an extreme way to understand, but I now know how much the disease drains you and tears you down not only physically, but mentally as well.

They loved me, they loved all of us and even though memories and photographs are all that I have left, those are things that will stay with me forever and they can never be replaced or taken away.

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