This Sunday, Wifey and Thing I are taking part in the Race for Life 5K run in Carlisle. I’m trying to make sure all my writing commitments are sown up for the week so the weekend will be completely free to support them. So I’m putting the finishing touches to one last story in my collection of short stories which I’m still trying to get finished and published (the woes of a busy freelance writer!) and it is an interesting coincidence that this story is based on a real event in my life when I found out my mother had cancer.
It was many years ago, when I was in my first job as a teacher for a school in Cambridge. That first teaching job was the most stressful I’ve ever known, so when I received the call from my mother telling me she had cancer I had little emotional reserves to cope with it. My short story is based on the effect that news had not just on my teaching at the time but how it affected the whole of my teaching career after that.
My mother recovered from the operation and, to my knowledge, the cancer never recurred. Certainly it is many, many years since it happened (can’t be too far off 20 years I think?) and she is still living a happy and fulfilled life now.
The second time cancer entered by life was just before we moved to Bangladesh in 2008. This time it was my father – who had never had a day in hospital in his life (or mine at least) – and it was terminal. Sometimes being healthy is a curse. My father, so used to being so well bar the odd bad cold or two, hadn’t noticed anything was wrong and basically the cancer had grown and spread in him for many years until it was too late to do anything about it.
In retrospect I should have guessed something was up. We were living up in the north of England by then and my parents have always lived in the Midlands since I was young, so we only saw them a couple of times a year at most. This one time we came and I was shocked that somehow my dad had become old. For the first time in my life I had seen him not as I always thought of him – a tall, middle-aged man with broad shoulders and imposing bulk – but as a frail old man, thin and ravaged by time. I mused at the time that old age comes to us all but I should have realised that the contrast was so stark that it couldn’t just be age. In fact it wasn’t: it was cancer.
My father battled it and almost lost the fight after the operation when something wasn’t right during the recovery. Eventually the medical experts were convinced something was amiss and went in again, if I remember correctly. After many days in intensive care my father pulled through and I got my dad back. But it was touch and go for a while.
I’m grateful for those days following. My father was always a jovial chap and loving and caring as any father could be, but he was also of the post-Victorian generation where bad feelings were not aired and the British upper lip had to remain stiff. After the cancer we both had the chance to tell each other how much we loved each other and how proud we were of one another. I am blessed that when my father did die I knew that I had said everything I ever wanted him to know. There were no regrets.
Just as my mother’s call to tell me she had cancer had come at a stressful time in my life, so her call to tell me my father was dead was lousy timing too. We were in Bangladesh by then and suddenly my vision had gone to pot. I couldn’t see correctly and huge black spots were floating around my line of sight. The fear was that I had a detached retina and I was packed off into a private car and taken to Dhaka – a good 12 hour journey – to see an eye doctor as quickly as possible. He saw me and after an agonising half-hour of examining my eyes told me that my retinas were fine and that this was simply age catching up with me. Relieved, but now with eyes in great pain after the examination, we travelled all the way back up to LAMB in the Northwest. I lay down in the back of the car all the way, unable to see for the pain and feeling nauseous.
It was the next morning when I received the call from my mother. My dad had gone from feeling perfectly well, to feeling off, to telling my mum to call for an ambulance within a very short space of time. By the time the ambulance came he had already gone from us.
We packed up and left for Dhaka a second time as quickly as we could and were back in the UK after a few days travelling in good time for the funeral. I wrote a piano piece and performed it for the service and talked briefly about the thing I most cherished about my father – his sense of humour. I will never forget him and miss him every day.
So the fact that my Wifey and daughter, Thing I, are running Cancer Research’s Race for Life this weekend is very important to me. Although I have spoken about my parent’s battle with cancer, my wife’s family have also had their battles but that’s a story for her to tell and not me. We’ve all felt the effects this last great scourge of mankind can wreak on people. One day it will be cured; until then, research continues to need funding and these races are great ways to raise awareness and funds.
If you’re a regular follower of this blog you’ll remember that Thing I is a dancer. That dancing life has had to come to an end because she has suffered from a problem with her knee for years and it has hindered physical activity; sometimes she’s had to be on crutches.
So it is particularly brave of my young daughter to attempt 5K in one go. The pair of them have been training – when weather had permitted – to build up to the run over the last month or so. The moment of truth is almost here – we’ll see how my girls do!
If you would like to donate to the cause please do sponsor them both. They have a site where you can donate money and if you are a UK tax payer they can use gift aid to increase the value of your giving. Please consider donating a few pounds and pennies (dollars etc. too) to this worthy cause. Click on any of the links above or here to donate.
Thank you 🙂