She still wears colourful jumpers. She likes to watch Columbo in the afternoons. In the evenings, she watches Cops and delights when the bad guys get tasered. She wants pancakes for breakfast. She talks about the caravan holidays we used to take in Great Yarmouth. She laughs as she recalls that photo of us with comedy arrows stuck to our heads. (I wish I could find that photo.) On good days she’ll go to the park with us and the dogs, sit on a bench and watch them play.
As beloved author Sir Terry Pratchett might say: She aten’t dead yet.
Mum’s living with stage 4 breast cancer. It’s been slowly spreading these past four years. Over the last year, there have been numerous visits to the doctor. Despite her history (two episodes of breast cancer, one of skin) her increasingly debilitating symptoms were variously dismissed (by the GP and, more recently, by A&E staff) as possibly being arthritis, an under-active thyroid, ‘something you ate’, a virus, an inner ear infection, the need for glasses, spondylitis, migraine, ‘the wear and tear of age’ (she’s just turned 69) and ‘generalised anxiety’. ‘MRIs are expensive’ said the GP, during a recent visit, when we suggested it might be time for more extensive explorations ‘We can’t send you for one just like that.’ He gave her some anti-nausea pills for the sickness and suggested she go home to rest.
So. We are where we are. And here’s the thing: as a family, we’re doing OK. We’re Getting On With It and Taking Each Day As It Comes. Sometimes, we drink tea by the beach. We don’t want sympathy, nor advice from Well Meaning People about what we should be doing.
Here’s some advice for anyone that discovers a work colleague is dealing with a loved one becoming Very Poorly. Both of the following were said to me today…
Correct response, from colleague no.1: “if you ever fancy a chat and a cuppa…” Perfect. That’s all that is required.
Incorrect response, from colleague no.2: “You should…” Nope. Don’t be telling me what I Should. I am not inclined to be listening to what you think I Should.
Incorrect response continues: “You should…speak to the care practitioner about getting your Mum on the Liverpool Care Pathway. It really makes things easier for everyone”.
If you’ve not happened upon the controversial LCP, it involves withdrawing medication, food and water so that people can die. What was said was a tiny order of magnitude away from saying: “I know someone that can give you a great deal on a coffin. You should give him a call!”
What I wanted to say: “Fuck you very much, but she’s doing just fine for now.” What I actually said (largely out of a startlement that rendered me inappropriately polite): “Right.” (long pause) “Well we haven’t reached that point yet.” (long pause) “I, erm, think I’ll go get a coffee…”
Next week, Cancer Research is benefiting from a ginormous celebrity-spattered fundraiser on Channel 4. Heart-rending and/or motivational adverts abound in the lead up to it. Now, I know that Cancer Research has indeed been involved in projects that have led to breakthroughs in cancer treatment. As a public health person, I receive regular bulletins from the Lancet and I have an interest in studies related to cancer. Nonetheless, I have a natural tendency to cynicism about wealthy charities. Furthermore, Cancer Research still uses animals in its trials. In line with British legislation to ‘reduce, replace, refine‘ when it comes to animal testing, it doesn’t use them all the time. However, what many people (who will be emptying their bank accounts next Friday) don’t realise is that there are alternatives. As technology advances, other research techniques become viable options.
When I was small, Mum used to read me bible stories from a children’s picture book. She wanted to teach me how to be a Good Person. She didn’t tell me that I needed to worship God, love Jesus, or anything of that kidney. She told me the story about the woman that gave away her last penny, and how that was worth so much more than the vast amounts of gold given by the rich man. She also told me – many times – that ‘we are all God’s creatures. Everything has as much right to life as you do’. I was taught to Do No Harm. Nothing was hurt in our house. Flies and wasps were flapped towards windows, spiders were escorted from the premises using the traditional ‘glass and card’ method, mice were caught in humane traps and driven to the countryside where they were set free.
Do No Harm applies now. Defeating cancer is important. Too many lives are cut short. Too many hearts are broken. And that’s why I’ll give my last penny to the Dr Hadwen Trust. Their People in White Coats are working to find a cure whilst Doing No Harm. My Mum is the most important person in the world to me. And she would say that, to a baby rat, its mum is the most important person in the world. One life is not more important than another. I don’t wish to appear ungrateful to Cancer Research, but, there is a choice about the type of research we fund. If more money goes into alternative methods, then these will become the norm and fewer animals will suffer.
And to all those people that post Facebook bollocks like MY PANTS ARE GREEN! in the name of ‘raising awareness’; firstly, it’s plainly bollocks. Stop it. And secondly, we can spend every waking moment raising awareness, but that’s all dandelions in the wind until GPs go back to the ancient practice of Listening to Patients and – and this is very important – put patient care ahead of Doing Well with Budgets and Targets.
Go live your life.
And tell people you love them.
And don’t be wasting this precious life doing shit you hate.
(It is, however, a valid use of your time to browse Comedy Internet Cats. Especially @MYSADCAT and @MYSWEARYCAT – the latter of which very nearly caused my bottom to fall off today, so very hard did I laugh.)
And don’t feel sad for me, my family and my Mum. She Aten’t Dead Yet.