It was a hot August day and I was enjoying the summer holidays like any other 14 year old. Mum and dad said we were going for a drive somewhere nice to get an ice-cream. Then they told me. Dad had cancer. No wonder they let me have a Solero instead of a Calippo I thought to myself! Straight away I got up from my side of the picnic bench to go and sit next to dad. I gripped his arm SO tightly, rested my head on his chest and said "but you'll be ok though won't you dad?". From that moment on all I wanted to do was to be with him.
On the way home I made sure I sat behind my dad in the car. After a few minutes I undid my seatbelt and scooted forward so that I could rest my hand on his shoulder for the whole journey. I was his little shadow for the next six weeks until he passed away, sneaking out of school to walk to the hospital and trying to make it to his room at the end of the corridor without the nurses seeing me and telling me off for it not being visiting hours.
I thought that if I didn't let him out of my sight then he couldn't go anywhere.
Fast-forward ten years and my mum was diagnosed with cancer. Once again, my first reaction was to cling to her as tightly as I could. If someone had told me how I could safely superglue myself to her then I would have tried it. I must have asked her "are you ok?" and "can I get you anything?" 100,000,000,000,0001 times and it didn't take long before I could see that, as much as she loved me, she also wanted to slap me. When mum offered to pay for me and my then boyfriend to go to a spa for a few days I realised that I had clearly turned into a Psycho-Sally and she needed some space.
It can be SUCH a hard balancing act when you find out a loved one has cancer. How can you be there for them without being in their face? I wanted to get the other side of the story from someone who has had cancer and the lovely B agreed to share her story ...
When I got diagnosed with Stage 1 Melanoma – better known as skin cancer - I was physically sick. I thought that only happened in the movie. Knowing you have something so horrible inside your body scares you and all you want to do is get it out.
After sitting by myself for a while I phoned my parents to tell them. This was the toughest thing I had to do. You grow up with a mentality of “it won’t happen to me”, or “things will always be fine” so when it’s not fine you don’t know what to do. You haven’t been through this before and don’t know how to behave.
My first thought was that I just wanted to go back to work and get on with it. Nothing I was going to do between that point in time and my surgery was going to change anything. To be honest, I just wanted to put it to the back of my mind. When I told my parents however all they wanted to do was pack their bags, head to see me and take me home. I straight away pushed back against this idea. To be sat surrounded by loved ones, feeling upset and sorry for yourself can actually make you feel worse. Doing nothing with your mind but think about your diagnosis could drive you mad!
Of course loved ones want to be there for you. They want to be with you every step of the way but sometimes you just want your own space and to take this on yourself. The way that I saw things, if I was strong, it would reflect on the people around me.
My only suggestion for the friends and family of someone with cancer is to listen to them and react accordingly. Never push them to do something then don’t want. Give them time and space. They know you are there for them, just wait for them to make the first move and soon they’ll be there with you too.
(B, 32, London)