A tricky two weeks
Earlier this year, in April, I lost my step mother and my mother in-law to cancer, within two weeks of one another. Charlotte, my boyfriend’s mother, had begun to feel unwell but was told by the doctors it was nothing, until they finally did tests ‘to put her mind at rest’ and discovered she had terminal colon cancer. One month after endless tests and discussions her life had been given a sentence, a mere one year. As I lived close to her house I visited her often, and knowing she was ill, I tried to visit her more often with home cooked food. She despised waiting in the six hour queues to have her pick line cleaned (the tube attached to her 24/7 to run the chemotherapy through) so her brother, son and I learnt how to snap on the rubber gloves and fill the needles so it could all be done at home, every Wednesday evening. 7 months later we were sitting in her house and trying to clean the pickline when she couldn’t hold herself up long enough for us to complete it - 30 minutes. She slumped herself over the table and apologised profusely, taking occasional sips of coca cola then retching because she felt too sick to have anything in her stomach. After the cleaning, as we tried to help her put her arm back through her jumper, I couldn’t stop myself from stepping away as I saw every rib and vertebrae in her back protrude as though her skin were a piece of silk draped over them. It took my boyfriend 25 minutes to get her upstairs and into her bed, because she had to climb them on all fours. We left her house with a heavy sense of dread and sure enough the next morning we received a call to say she had been taken to hospital in an ambulance. Her swollen stomach, filled with fluids, was drained and they decided to stop treatment because of how quickly the tumours were developing. Within two days the idea to move her to a hospice was abolished because she began, or continued, to deteriorate rapidly. During her last week in hospital she was pumped full of morphine, but she still made jokes and did silly things such as ‘the hand softness test’. The following day I was away for a night in London, when I returned I went almost immediately to see her. She was lying in a bed that’s air pressure changed to stop her getting bed sores, her eyes were half closed and were a deep dirty yellow, with crusty pieces forming at the sides. Momentarily she zoned into her surroundings and seconds later slipped out again. I felt urges to shake her in to reality, and stronger urges to run away from the pain. Two days later, peacefully, she passed away.
My step mother had had cancer for the last 10 years on and off, what started as breast cancer spread and ended up taking over most of her body. Her warmth, creativity and sheer determination to beat her illness and get on with her life and all the things she loved so much inspired me. And I’d always felt that if anyone could prove the power of the mind and positivity it was her. Losing her crushed my security in life. After moving a four hour drive away from home she and my dad came to visit me once in the last three years, so I knew she was progressively getting worse. When she was submitted into the hospice 2 weeks before she passed away I was told that she was there because they were the experts in pain management, and that she would be home in 2 days. When I was phoned and told by a hollow voice that she had stopped talking and hadn’t eaten for 2 days I felt cheated. The week before I had watched the steady and rapid decline of my boyfriend’s mother and I knew that meant there wasn’t long. I had spoken with my dad every week about general life and of course her and her health. He had never fully explained that she had already spent 5 weeks in hospital on drips – and it was only April. I suddenly felt consumed with guilt that I had put so much energy into looking after someone else’s mother and not my own. I went to stay with my dad and visited her as much as I could but by the time I knew the severity of the situation she wasn’t talking a lot. Her medication made her confused and she would often say odd things. Sadly I only saw her a few more times before she passed away. I stayed with my dad in their house to keep him company which was filled with emptiness knowing that she had gone. I found it excruciating.
3 years earlier I lost a great school friend and to this day I do not know why or how she died, I think the parents wanted to keep it private, but the shock took away my feeling of security and I have had panic attacks for the last three years. The shock of losing someone and my own health troubled me. Thankfully these feelings have now lessened but under the stress of this year I feel the anxiety flooding back. In the same two weeks as ‘the mothers’ passing away I was also made redundant so getting back to ‘normal life’ has been made even harder and I find myself struggling with the stress and emotions. I often replay what has happened in my mind and get very frustrated with myself, as if I really need to sit down and tell someone every last detail about the experience, so writing this has already helped, thanks!