The day that mum got diagnosed, I knew something was wrong as soon as I saw her. She wasn’t crying. She didn’t look visibly upset. She didn’t say anything. And up until this point she had kept her mum-head firmly on, never hinting that anything could be wrong beforehand in the hope to save us from unnecessary worry. But that day I just knew. I knew that something wasn’t right, and I knew that whatever it was, it wasn’t small.
Not only is mum the person I know the most in the world; she’s also the person that’s most like me in the world, and so whilst it’s difficult trying to explain how I knew, it really just came down to knowing her habits and mannerisms so well, that I knew she was acting strange within a split second of seeing her. Because her habits and mannerisms are my habits and mannerisms.
When I still lived at home and used to get home from work, I always had the same routine. I hate to sound so predictable, but as a creature of habit and a seeker of cosiness, these same five steps happened every single day:
- I would stick my head in the lounge and quickly say “Hi” to let whoever was in there know that I was home.
- I would walk into the dining room to throw my shoes and bag down in a random spot (which wasn’t where they ever belonged, but I continued to do it anyway).
- My bra would then immediately come off and PJs would go on.
- The kettle would be switched on. Snacks would be sourced.
- I’d then go back into the lounge (often joining mum), bust out a blanket, and put the recliners up.
And these weren’t just my five steps. These were mum’s five steps as well. My routine didn’t deviate; her routine didn’t deviate. Finding mum in any other way then in the step-five-position would have been weird that evening, because one of the many things that we have in common is that we like to be comfy. We often joke about how horrendously crap and lazy we’ll be in retirement and how we’ll never be those well put-together people who do their hair, makeup, and get dressed perfectly every day without fail, no matter if they have any plans or not; just like my lovely nanna (mum’s mum) does.
Nanna is never found slouching. Nanna is never found super casual. Nanna is always ready for anyone to pop round unexpectedly without the last minute panic of wiping smudged mascara of her face. Nanna is who we aim to be like in retirement but know that we will never actually be like because we can’t even manage it now.
And whilst it may seem like I’ve gone off topic a bit and you’re probably wondering why I’m talking about my Nanna, I haven’t at all. Because Nanna was the reason that I knew.
The routine that day got shortened from the usual five steps, to this:
- I would stick my head in the lounge and quickly say “Hi” to let whoever was in there know that I was home. “Why are you being weird? You’re sat like Nanna”.
That’s it. There were no other steps.
The world stopped.
And it really did.
We were confused. We were shocked. We were scared.
But then, the world started spinning again.
The world started to pick up the pace.
Life began to happen again.
Because mum might have had cancer, but she wasn’t dead. She was well and truly alive, and so we were sure as hell not going to allow her entire world to become about cancer and cancer alone.
I know many of the people reading this won’t know me in person, or if you do, maybe not that well. Instead, many of you will be old friends of mum’s, or people she has met or spoken to within the past year since this all began. Therefore, here’s a bit of background about me:
I’m not exactly the best at managing my emotions and anxieties (those that do know me personally are currently laughing their arses off at how much of an understatement that statement actually is, I’m sure).
Let’s put it this way: When psychologists say that we have both ‘Fight or Flight’ responses to situations, I’ve always wondered whether or not I was actually built with the ability to ‘fight’, as when afraid, I always magically grow the most large and powerful wings you could ever imagine, and they get me the fuck out of whatever situation I’m in as quickly as humanly possible. I panic. I avoid. I run.
It’s my default. It’s my coping mechanism. It’s often my worst enemy.
But through this, my brain and my ability to hide from the truth has been my best friend. We made jokes, we learnt not to talk about cancer every single day, and we kept things normal. We talked about insignificant things. She asked me about my friends. We spoke about the family. We talked about anything that wasn’t cancer. Except for occasionally (and when I say occasionally, I mean regularly) playing the cancer card, because why wouldn’t you?
I rarely asked her how she was or if she was OK.
I could see how she was, she looked like shit. I knew she would tell me if she was really struggling and needed anything, and so I knew that I didn’t need to ask. Just the initial few days of talking about cancer was draining, and we knew we couldn’t continue like that long term, for any of our sakes.
Everyone else was nice enough to ask mum daily how she was, and whilst appreciated, I felt like she deserved at least one person that was acting like nothing had changed. At least one person that wouldn’t be afraid to take the piss when she struggled to get up from the sofa. At least one person who wouldn’t treat her like she was going to break. And at least one person that would compare her to a Mitchell brother, which she undoubtedly did look like, but no one else would have the audacity to say it.
It’s not kicking a woman when she’s down, it’s jokingly kicking a woman all the time and not stopping when she’s down. That’s our relationship. That’s our humour. So it was about still having a laugh, still being cheeky, and still treating her like my mum, because she still was my mum. Even in the worst of it all. Even when her body looked as though it was going to fail her. And she gives as good as she gets, by the way.
In terms of letting it sink in for myself though, there was really only four times where I was properly scared or fully admitted that mum even had cancer. The rest of the time I was in complete denial.
I felt the cancer the day after she got diagnosed. I got out of bed at 7am and rushed to the shops to buy every cancer-fighting food I could find in a hope that I could cure her instantly.
I felt the cancer around a week after she was diagnosed when Jess Glynne’s song ‘I’ll Be There’ made it number 1 into the charts – honestly, listen to that song whilst thinking of cancer and it will absolutely destroy you. Apologies in advance.
I felt the cancer when I was ready to move out and I had this illogical meltdown thinking that if I appeared to not need her as much anymore, the world would be more likely to take her from me.
And I felt the cancer the day that o2 went out of service for 24 hours, which also happened to be the day that mum had her lumpectomy, meaning that I had no contact with anyone or any reassurance that she was OK – thanks, o2.
Now, I just feel incredibly lucky. I feel lucky that I have a mum that’s recovered (as much as a person can recover) from a super aggressive form of breast cancer, when it could have so easily gone the other way. I feel lucky that my new flat came with ridiculously dangerous blinds that tripped her over and caused her to check for a bruise on her boob. I feel lucky that it was caught before it had spread all over her body. I feel lucky that mum got diagnosed in a time and in a country where the doctors are like wizards with magic and potions that can do the impossible. And as I always have, I feel lucky that my mum is my mum.
Love Lauren (Melanie’s daughter)