Life begins at 40
I had been planning my 40th since I was 30. Gary and I would be in New York, staying in an exclusive 5 star hotel. Perhaps The London or maybe The Oriental Mandarin. I'd be perched on a bar stool sipping an ice cold flute of Champagne, or, more likely a Sauvigon Blanc, (bubbles have never been my thing). Gary meanwhile would have a Bombay Sapphire G&T whilst stood at the bar before we head off to a Michelin star restaurant for an evening of fine dining and yet more vino. The evening will end in a quiet candle lit piano bar. We will snuggle up listening to our Wedding song which will remarkably be playing in the background.
I can picture it now..and with that thought..the silent tears are already starting to form. For this is all a dream. A dream back in the day when my life exisited of rainbows and bubbles. No worries and no baggage. Life was for living and the roads were paved in gold. Yep, funny how life is a fairytale until reality happens.
Fast forward to March 2015. I am 8 months pregnant so thoughts of celebrating the big birthday in a far flung land with copious amounts of alcohol is definitely a no no. Instead we are having a quite celebration in a local restaurant. My parents are here and Nathan is being quiet playing on his tablet. To the unknown we are a typical family enjoying a celebration. If you look closer though, you can see my eyes are not shining with the same hope and expectancy of your usual pregnant lady. Look closer at my husband and he has a pained expression on his face. He doesn't touch any alcohol and can only manage a small mouthful of soup.
We hid those silent tears very well that day but we all knew this was a turning point. Five days later we received the devastating diagnosis.
Yes, life does begin at forty. Just not the life I was expecting.
It's not good news......
It's wierd how you remember really unimportant things when you are hit with news that will shatter you forever. I vivdly remember the brown woollen maternity dress I had on and marvelling at my bump as we sat in the waiting room. I'm sure my bump has grown or maybe I had eaten more birthday chocolates than I should. Either way, Baby Boo was on the home straight. Not long now until our lives are turned upside down by the arrival of tiny feet. Little did we know that our lives would be turning upside down even sooner than that.
Looking back, that day we walked into hospital for the diagnosis was so unreal. I was heavily pregnant and my Husband looked in good health. He had lost a bit of weight and if I say so was looking rather handsome. We probably looked like all the other couples who headed towards the prenatal unit. Except we did not stop there. No, we continued to outpatients where we sat in the cold isolated waiting room. Waiting for the news that would reduce us both to a blubbering wreck and transform our lives forever.
I tried to prepare myself for what the Consultant was going to say. As with all situations, Gary and I had spent several hours, seperately Googling (is that a verb??) his symptoms and had both come to the conclusion that this would not end well. I, being a pessimist thought that if I thought the worst, then surely good news would come. I was also using up my quota of prayers (sharing equally between my unborn daughter and my unwell Husband, asking God to please look after them both). Anyway, before I walked into the Consultant's room I gave myself a good talking to. "Do not break down and cry no matter what the outcome. It is Gary who can be sad, you need to be strong, after all, he will need a shoulder to cry on" I kept telling myself that perhaps good news would come and Gary would be diagnosed with Man Flu. Me, Gary and the Consultant would then fall around laughing (in a similar fashion to the end of Peppa Pig, for those who watch this) and we would discuss how we thought it would end bad but it was just Gary being a typcial Man and not coping with a slight bought of the cold.
Oh how I wish it was a touch of Man Flu !
We walked into the Consultant's room, (Dr Wright), who as Gary had previously described to me was a young chap who liked his Rugby. Gary and Dr Wright had a brief chat about Rugby and the weather (as if we were in the pub), then it was down to business. I didn't know where to look, should I look at Gary, at the Consultant to work out if the news would be good or smile sweetly at the Nurse who had accompanied us to the room. (I later learnt there was always a nurse in the consultant rooms. Somebody, I guess to hand out the tissues when bad news was informed). Instead I fixated on a splodge of something black on the floor. I nodded in the right places and gently carressed my blooming belly in the hope that if I looked like a loving pregnant lady, bad news would not happen. Well, how could it happen, I was about to give birth. Babies were happy occasions so no sadness was allowed - correct??
If I'm truthful, I could not tell you what the Consultant said. Not even sure if he was talking in English. I was concentrating so hard on not shedding a tear that I missed everything he said. I did however understand that this was not the happy Peppa Pig ending we were all hoping for. I shook hands with Mr Wright, remembering my customer service skills, I had a firm hand shake, looked him in the eye and thanked him for his time. The Nurse then took us into a "side room". Obviously the place you go once you have had bad news. There were leaflets on various types of cancer and "what happens next" scenarios. For the first time, I looked at Gary. He squeezed my hand and the tears then started to roll. Surely this was not happening. Surely I am not sat here, 8 months pregnant surround by "helpful" leaflets after my husband has just been diagnosed with Cancer. Not just one Cancer either. No, my Husband is special. He has two Cancer's in him. Bowel Cancer (very common) and Bile Duct Cancer (very rare).
The Nurse ran us through the types of treatment and advised they would get Gary on the Chemo as soon as possible. What about the Baby, I mangaged to stutter, can Gary be near me when he is on Chemo? Of course, the Nurse smiled sweetly but I wasn't listening . My wandering mind was wondering how I explain to Nathan that Daddy has Cancer. Does Nathan even know what Cancer is? On top of all this, what about going to work ? How will we have money to live and pay the rent if Gary has to go to hospital and I am on Maternity leave. This is not happening. THIS IS NOT HAPPENING !!
So what now?
Exactly, what now? Where do you go from this? Well, I went back to work and Gary went home to phone his Mum. Looking back, the news had obviously not sunk in. Why on earth would I go back to work after having heard the worst news possible. The same as why I went back to work after every subsequent news and events, I needed normality. Going back to school and busying myself with the day to day meant I did not need to focus on what was really happening.
"How was the appointment ?", I was asked. Without even thinking I answered "It's Cancer". Then I looked up at the voice that was asking and with the look of shock and pity on the face, I realised I was not just informing about the weather, I had said out loud that my Husband had Cancer. I was ushered into the office and the door closed (an event that would happen rather too regularly in the months to follow.) I repeated the words, "it is Cancer." Then, in a slightly higher than normal pitch I heard myself saying "but it is OK because they can cure loads of things these days can't they?" I continue, "I'm about to give birth and we have only just moved into our new home and Gary has only been in his job for a year, so it's got to be fine hasn't it?"
"Do you want to go home and be with Gary"? I was offered. "No, no thank you" I answered. For I knew I could not go home. What words could I say that would make all this disappear. If I went home I would have to face the truth. If I stay at work, I could pretent it wasn't happening. If I cuddled my belly once more, I could pretend that I was a very happy expectant Mum and not a wife whose whole world had just been shattered.
How do you inform your almost 6yr old that Daddy has Cancer? Exactly, how do you? There is no right or wrong answer, just the truth, so that it what we did. We told the truth but in the early days we did water it down a little. Nathan knew that Daddy was sick as he had not been at work for a while. We told him that Daddy was poorly and had Cancer which meant some of the cells in his body were not working properly. A bit like in Star Wars (he is an avid fan) there are good and bad cells and for Daddy the bad cells (Darth Vadar and Co) were taking over the good cells (Luke and Han Solo). Daddy needed something stronger than Calpol so would be going to the Hospital to receive extra special medicine to help make him better.
Sometimes I wish I was young again. A simple sypnosis of Star Wars and Cancer seemed to do the trick and off Nathan went, keen to write his birthday wish list and hope for a Nerf Gun.
The Easter holidays soon came round and with it the start of my Maternity leave. Rather than focus on Cancer and Gary's up coming Chemo, I settle my thoughts on organising Nathan's birthday party and of course the immenient arrival of baby Boo.
Once you or a loved one becomes seriously ill, it is amazing how much extra knoweldge you collect. To be fair, I didn't know what the Bile Duct really did but now Gary had an issue with his, I made it my business to find out everything I could. Many a night Gary & I would lie side by side in bed, each of us staring intently on the mobile screen researching everything we could. Depending if I was happy or sad would determine if I would be looking at cures for cancer or "how to cope with the loss of a loved one". I know the latter was being extremely pessimistic but as I said before, if I thought the worst, I really believed it would not happen. Bizarrely, Gary and I never spoke about our late night Googling sessions. Neither of us acknowledged the findings, particularly if they were not favourable. I guess both of us wanted to battle the demons in our own way. Gary's was to remain upbeat and positive at all times. Mine was to be pratical and be forward thinking.
After the diagnosis we had a couple of weeks of waiting to find out when the treatment would start. Luckily it was Easter Holidays so with Nathan at the Grandparents, Gary and I spent a week bobbing in and out of Maidstone Oncology to get the paperwork and treatment starting.
Now this is where I become a little bit selfish (so please bear with me). Being almost 9 months pregnant now, I was used to the fuss being made about me. It was therefore a shock when suddenly I became invisable (no mean feat considering the extra bulk I was carrying). Gary went to have his pic line fitted (basically a connection into the veins for the chemo to be attached to, to save being injected at each session). I went with him and as Gary was offered tea, sandwiches and a comfy chair, the young fat one (Me) was virtually ignored. I remember waddling as quick as I could down the hospital corridor as Gary and the Chemo nurse stridded ahead talking about treatments and chemo routines. In my pregnant state, I needed the loo quite often but the toilet in the Chemo ward was only for patients. Fat women with babies in their tummies had to waddle back up to the main reception and search for the toilets down there. In my defense, my hormones were all over the shop but I recall feeling really put out that nobody was interested in me.
The whole act of putting me 2nd was strange for Gary too. All his life, Gary put me first. So, to suddenly be the focus of attention was a strange scenario for him. Those who know Gary would think this was odd. After all, trying to get a word in when he was on one of his infamous drinks at the bar session was virtually impossible. However in the world of hospitals and Doctors, Gary would have prefered to be anywhere else and thus was strangely quiet.
I promised Gary I would go to all his Chemo sessions, so together we set off one Thursday morning to find out what all the fuss was about. This was my first visit to Oncology and I don't think I was really prepared. Oncology at Maidstone has it's own entrance. We lived just around the corner from the hospital which was a godsend. My heart went out to those patients who have to travel miles to get there. There must be nothing worse than having to go through the trauma of the Chemo each week and have to travel a fair distance for the pleasure.
So, back to the story, we walked into Oncology and immediately I felt a rush of heads swivel in my direction. I guess it is not every day the patients see a heavily pregnant lady in this part of the hospital. The lady on the Reception was lovely and over the next few months she knew us rather well, calling Gary and Darcey by name. What about my name, I hear you cry. Don't forget, I was invisable and usually only refered to as Gary's Wife or Mrs Molloy.
Reality really hits you when you arrive in Oncology. There are patients waiting for blood tests, various tanoy announcements for CT Scans and then names called out to head down to either the Radiotherapy or Chemo ward. My first thoughts when I walked into the waiting area was just how many people were there. I know Cancer is a very well known illness in all its various forms but until you sit in Oncology waiting room you don't really understand how many lives it affects. The majority of the people there were over 60 and I did feel a little bit of an anomilie. My other first thought was that most people had hair. Now, this is probably a bit of a weird thing to say but I automatically thought that Cancer = hair loss. Later in our Cancer journey (I refer to our journey as we were both affected) both Gary and I realised that hair loss was due to the Chemotherapy and it depended on which Chemo you were given.
Gary's name was called and we headed downstairs to the Charles Darwin ward. Gary's new home for the next few months. After being weighed and measured, Gary was escorted to a large comfy chair to wait for the nurse. I hovered in the background carrying coats, bags and newspapers and looked around in the hope there was somewhere I could dump everything. I noticed there was a small plastic chair next to Gary's throne, so I perched there.
It is at this time that I must mention the staff at Maidstone. Everyone has their own opinions of the NHS and mine is nothing but favourable. The staff in the Charles Darwin ward were happy, infectious and talked to the patients without any condescending voices. Considering the hours they put in, there was always a smile and they made everyone feel at home. Gary immediately perked up when the nurse came over and opened conversation. Gary loved to talk and now had his private audience for the next 8hrs.
I meanwhile, had lost the ability to talk. I looked around at his fellow ward mates, each with a partner perching on the plastic chair. Some looked nervous others bored. Their partners all trying to keep up a polite conversation but with the haunted look of somebody with the world on their shoulders. It was a very surreal place to be. I tried to talk but my voice kept switching to a high pitched squeal as I hid back the tears and the extremely large lump that kept forming in my throat.
Initially, Gary had to attend hospital once every 2 weeks for Chemo. The session took approx 4hrs and when he left he had to be attached to another chemo drain for 24hrs. This was weird to get used to, particularly at bedtime but we soon got used to it and after a while I didnt notice the tubes coming out of Gary's chest and the baby size bottle that was sleeping next to me. Before each Chemo on the Thursday, Gary had to have blood tests on the Tuesday to check that he was well enough for the next session. Every other week he had a consultant appointment or check up meeting with the Oncology nurse. In between these days, Gary suffered sickness and extreme tiredness. To start with I remember thinking that surely Gary could go to work and still attend Hospital. However as the sessions continued, I realised this would be impossible. Gary was using all his strength to get through the Chemo sessions, then once home he had me, Nathan (and very soon Darcey) to cope with.
It was after one of the first Consultant visits that we were put in touch with MacMillian. There is a MacMillian office in the Oncology area of the hospital so we went around for some advice. I say "we" but once again my lack of speech took over and all I could do was mumble hello as Gary explained the diagnosis and our situation. We basically wanted to know what financial help was available to us. I was off on Maternity Leave and Gary's statutory sick pay was pityful to say the least. We went through all our finances and the MacMillian person said sadly, that we were probably not entitled to anything. "But we won't be able to pay the rent" I exclaimed, shocked that my voice had returned. "unfortunately the benefits you are entitled to do not take account of your outgoings. You may need to move to a cheaper place".
I could not believe this. Not only was Cancer here to ruin my husband, because of the illness we would need to move house and put even more pressure on the very fragile family that was very slowly being torn apart. I stroked my belly again. "but I'm almost 9 months pregnant" I exclaimed. "irrelevant really" was the reply.
I was about to break down and let the tears flow when the Macmillian adviser casually mentioned that the only way to get access to the benefits woud be if the Doctor could get Gary a special form. "it's for those with a terminal illness, usually if there is only 6 months to live. Your Doctor might be able to get one but it will obviously depend on your situation plus you may not want to ask for the form as you may not want to ask that question".
Then Gary spoke....."you mean this form? Yes the Consultant gave it to me, I have it already" "Oh, great" said the Macmillian advisor, in which case you can apply for.....".and she reeled off various benefits. Now I don't know if Gary realised what he had just acknowledged but I certainly did. If we had "the form", this meant only one thing. The Doctor's think my husband is going to die. My son will be without a Daddy and my unborn Daughter may never even see the man that made her. Silent tears, if ever there was a time for them to flow, then right there in the Macmillian office, I must have cried a river.
It's a Girl
After Gary's diaganosis, there was apprehension that Baby Boo may arrive in the midst of a Chemo session. We therefore had standby plans and various communication chains in place regarding who would look after Nathan and take him to school and who would ferry me to hospital if Gary could not drive. There was even competition to come into the birthing room. However, I had my mind clearly made up on this one. If Gary was not there, then I wanted nobody.
As it happened, Baby Boo knew exactly what was going on and timed her arrival inbetween Chemo sessions nicely. Our beautiful Darcey Ella was born on 22nd April. On 23rd April, Gary started his 2nd cycle of Chemotherapy.
Let's back track to that day. Gary had had his first chemo session and we were both pleased that it went well. There were no major side effects to begin with so the week leading up to Darcey's birth was as normal as it could be. I had been informed that every birth is different and not to expect anything would be the same as it was for Nathan. That was obvious for me as Nathan was 6 weeks early and born in Spain. I was strapped to the bed, legs in stirrups and out he popped before he was rushed away to ICU and put in an incubator. With Darcey, I hoped it would be slightly more relaxed and that I would be able to communicate to the midwives. (Despite living in Spain for several years, my Spanish skills did not stretch to giving birth vocab.)
So, the pains started in the early hours but I didn't want to wake Gary unnecesarily as I knew he needed his sleep. I therefore laid still in bed until 6am when it was obvious this wasn't just a stomach ache. I phoned the birthing centre and they suggested I leave it a bit longer and then come in. Still not wanting to wake Gary or Nathan, I ran a bath in the hope the water would calm things down. At 7am it was obvious things were progressing, so now unable to get out of the bath, I telephoned Gary "I'm in the bath. The baby is coming, can you come in". Yes I know I was only a meter or so away from the bedroom but I couldn't shout that far. It was then full speed ahead.
Nathan went off to breakfast club all excited that his baby sister was coming and then Gary and I drove off to the Hospital. There, for the next 24hrs we were like any other expectant family. There was no mention of Cancer or Chemo. The staff at the Birthing Centre were not even aware that Gary was ill. I (well Darcey once she arrived) was the centre of attention. I'm not afraid to say that I lapped this up. For I knew that once I left the Birth Centre, we would go back to "Cancer" and it's various treatements being the main focus of our attention.
We arrived at the Birthing Centre at 9am. Darcey was born at 11.11am. I opted for a water birth and was therefore very proud of myself for delivering our 2nd child without any drugs. I did succumb to Gas and Air for the stitches though. As I lay in the room waiting for the various after birth checks and stiches to take place, I looked over at Gary and thought how very proud he was to be holding his little Princess in his arms. "Please let this moment continue" I recall thinking to myself. "Please do not let Gary miss out on his daughter growing up".
Yes, even in the midst of childbirth, that horrible word "Cancer" was still there to ruin the moment.