Posted on March 6, 2016
I’ve thought a lot about whether to address this issue, and have decided that I will – but I will only do it once.
A couple of readers have bought it to my attention that they are concerned about my choices when it comes to parenting my children, whilst having a terminal illness. I have no interest in vilifying these people, I can only assume that the comments come from genuine concern, and we all have our opinions on range of issues, which we have a right to. I can also assume that if a couple of people express these things, then there must be a whole bunch of other people thinking it, who don’t say it.
So, here goes.
The very first thing I thought of, when the doctor said “I’m sorry, you have cancer” was my children. They are my first concern ALWAYS, and Gaz lags behind a tiny bit, as I do with him. They are for both of us first, always.
2014 was the year of hope. I found out that I might be eligible for a potentially curative liver resection, and even though the chances of it actually curing me were miniscule, I basically lived for that year like I wasn’t dying, because there was a tiny chance that I wouldn’t. That included how I parented. Around the ravages of treatment and major surgery, I kept things as real around here as I could. I cooked when I could, I cleaned when I could, I did all the school runs I could, I did the Saturday morning netball run..when I could. When I couldn’t, I drew my children as close to me as I could, into bed for snuggles and movies, whatever I could manage.
When the news came in January 2015 that the liver resection was a very dangerous prospect with a 50% mortality rate, things got distinctly abnormal. We explained to the children, in as simple terms as we could, the risks that mummy was taking to have this operation, but that it really was my only chance to be with them for a long time. The middle two seemed to take it quite well, but not my eldest, who declared her intention to lay down in front of the trolley and not allow them to wheel me into the operating theatre. She REALLY understood, and she was TERRIFIED. Yep, it was horrific, and further away from normal than you could ever imagine, but all we could do was be honest with them and all get through it as best we could.
2015 was the year of despair. On the last day of February I was wheeled out of the operating theatre only a couple of hours after I went in, with much more advanced cancer than they thought, and my last chance of a cure, gone. Only a few weeks before my oncologist had given me 6 – 9 months to live without a successful resection, so I knew what I was up against, I really was dying.
So, how should I parent now? Spend every second with them, make memories? This made sense, but to me (and ONLY to me, everyone elses decisions on how to tackle this have validity and I am sure are equally well thought out), it would also have them on constant alert about what was different….and what was coming. People in my circle did have opinions, and they did express them – that my life wasn’t my own any more, but all the time I have left to be given over to preparing Gaz to raise them on his own, and to filling memory boxes, writing them letters and reading them stories.
There is nothing whatsoever wrong with any of this, but I wasn’t READY. If there was anything I wanted, it was a “normal” regular every day family life for as long as I could have it – for them, AND for me. So, in the end, that is what I decided to do. I wrote about it in a blog post in March 2015, and I give you an excerpt here, as I think this explains it fairly succinctly.
“Someone said to me the other day that what was left of my time now was owed to those I will leave behind. To prepare them for the practicalities of life without a mother, to write my husband a long laundry list of the girls requirements, clothes and shoe sizes, where to order uniforms, how to get Georgia’s yearly nappy allowance. And to be honest, I will probably do that at some stage, but I won’t do it now.
Nope, for now, I am going to keep on teaching my girls how to hold onto that beautiful gift that is inherent in childhood, to be able to live the guts out of every day you have. I don’t want them to ever, ever lose that, not even when the harsh realities of adulthood try to seize it. I want to teach them to be resilient, to adapt with their changing world, but to do it without being bitter and cynical and looking for someone to blame for the way the cards were dealt. And most of all, I want to teach them to never, ever give up, to realise they have something of value to offer every single minute that their heart beats inside their chest. I want them to know if the great figures of history had known they were going to be felled early by a heart attack, cancer, or the bullet of an assassain, they might have done something differently, and the world would have been a lesser place. And the best way of teaching, is by doing.”
This time, NOW, is the only time I have to be a role model for my children. By the law of averages I won’t be here to see them through their teenage years, to have any influence on how they view the world. So, that is what I am doing. But do you know what. The passage taken from my blog / book above is actually the very essence of who I was BEFORE I was dying. I stayed home and raised my children until they went to school as that is what I wanted to do, but as Georgia was entering her second year of 4yo kinder, I started to get edgy. I wanted balance. I wanted to be a mother, but also re-define myself as a person. So, I went back to study, and there began a different and very happy chapter in my life. I felt no guilt that sometimes my children had to go to after school care, or someone had to pick them up. They were always well socialised and well adjusted children, so this didn’t bother them. Although I sometimes had to send them away when they wanted me, as I was on deadline for an essay or something, and I DID feel guilty about this, it was also an opportunity to explain to them that mummy had different responsibilities to different people, including HERSELF.
To stay sane, I always made a little time for myself. Nights out, girls weekends. Yep, I still do that now, too, even though it means spending time away from my children. It was good for me then, and it’s good for me now, it means I come back re-charged and ready to tackle life head on again. If I am to be honest, I need this now, more than ever. It also pays respect to my philosophy that what is left of my time on earth also belongs in part to ME.
Barring some miracle, there is a terrible day coming for my children, and for me. I dread it more than any day, even the one that I die. It’s the day that I come home from the oncologist and say to them that there is nothing else left to help mummy, and in a couple of months, mummy will die. But that time is not here yet, it doesn’t even feel close. I am not dying on anyones schedule, and at the time of writing this, I have been alive for 26 months from diagnosis. 26 months that I have had to enjoy my confident, well adjusted children. I had palliative care counsellors into them a couple of times, and after their second visit, I said to them, “what next”. And they said to me, this is when we withdraw from your children’s life – you are doing just fine, and so are they. That they were always there, always ready to come back, but the very best thing I could be doing for my children, I was already doing. That’s good enough for me, and a great place to end this particular discourse.
On a completely different note, today we celebrate 8 years with our littlest fairy. This day 8 years ago, I thought I was going to give birth to a completely different baby than the one I had. We were scared, but she turned out to be the perfect fit for our family, our very heart. She taught us how to live without fear of what is going to happen the next day, or even the next hour – as that is how she lives. She’s absolutely perfect – sometimes the universe just knows, eh? Happy birthday our gorgeous Georgia.
Til’ next time.