Well, it was not the start to the New Year that I had hoped for.
On 4th January 2018 Jill Williams, Nick’s mother (Dylan’s grandmother) passed away. She had non Hodgkin’s & Hodgkin’s lymphoma & as I mentioned in my previous post had been battling cancer on & off for the last twenty years.
Recently she had been hit by an infection, which appeared unaffected by the strongest possible antibiotics that the doctors could administer. Due to the infection, she was unable to have the chemotherapy treatment she needed as her immune system was non existent.
The cruelty of this disease manipulated the sequence of events that followed her most recent relapse.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas Jill was in hospital; at one point there was talk of flu, then there was mention of sepsis.
We were so desperate to let her see Dylan, but at the time they were both too unwell; Dylan was taking antiviral meds because he had been in contact with the chicken pox virus & Jill had her own infections to deal with. We took advice from both Dylan’s & Jill’s medical teams & it was agreed that the risks of taking an immunosuppressed seven year old with cancer onto that hospital ward were just too great. We also had to be careful to not bring any infection that Jill might have been carrying into our home, just in case it was passed onto Dylan.
Years ago, when Dylan was a toddler Jill relapsed. They were unable to see each other for months as he basically had all the illnesses children pick up from nursery at that age & Jill had no immune system to fight anything he might pass onto her.
Fast forward six years.
It is a dark day when your cancer stricken child is unable to visit his cancer stricken grandmother in hospital as she awaits her fate. Both suffering from a strain of the same disease, both hit by the side effects of a low immune system caused by toxic chemotherapy & both fighting infection.
In mid December there was a discussion with Jill’s consultants about sending her home with a palliative care team as they felt there was nothing more they could do, but after a few days she appeared to gain some strength & her temperature levelled. This was such welcome & uplifting news as she was able to go home in the week leading up to Christmas.
However, she was readmitted just after Christmas as her temperature had spiked again. We had all hoped that she was getting strong enough to be able to restart chemo but it was not the case.
Nick, his sisters & their father spoke to the consultants again on 3rd January & they confirmed once more that there was nothing else they could do. The fever was not an infection but it was instead the cancer taking over. Again, they would make arrangements for Jill to go home & be looked after by a palliative care team, they just needed a couple of days to organise a hospital bed to be delivered & she could go home at the weekend. The consultants broke the news to Jill. Perhaps she had been waiting for that confirmation. As it was, she waited for all three of her children, her husband & her sisters to be by her side before she finally let go the following morning.
It is a dark day when your partner calls you, fighting back the tears to tell you that “she’s gone”. Dark not only due to the sadness that such loss brings, but also because it brings into even sharper focus the fight our son is currently undertaking.
Rewind 365 days.
Late December 2016, Dylan’s grandparents visited him in hospital just after he was diagnosed. It was tragic & tense. Jill felt that she was partly responsible for Dylan’s cancer, she felt as though she had somehow given it to him. My heart broke for her when I heard her say that & it was devastating to see her understandable grief. At the time I was lying in a hospital bed with my six year old boy curled up against me; as Dylan’s mother my heart was already broken. As I mentioned in my previous post, there are moments when I have to protect myself; this was one of those moments & so I asked that she leave the room. I did not have the mental capacity to hear her distress…mine was already so great.
I have spent much of the last year trying to reconcile my feelings with my actions at that precise moment. It is not guilt that I feel, but pain. Pain in the shared understanding that this disease takes no prisoners; she knew all too well what sort of journey Dylan was about to take, she was a mother herself & could only try to understand the journey I was about to take with him. It was just too painful for us both; I could hardly manage my own pain, I could not take on that of anyone else. The complexities of that moment are overwhelming.
In my previous post I wrote of the possibility of relapse, I wrote of the five year cancer “all clear”, I wrote of no guarantees & I wrote of balance. I think this entire post clearly illustrates just a small part of the “tightrope” I was alluding to.
From day one Dylan has absolutely adored his grandparents & so on 23rd December Nick took him to see Jill, as she was at home.
What a blessing & a curse; two generations struck by different versions of the same disease saying hello & goodbye to each other. One aged seven, the other seventy five; the scene is unimaginably moving but this was the reality.
Nick has since told Dylan of Jill’s death as gently as he could to his son of seven who also has cancer. He gave Dylan no details & he of course did not mention the reason that she passed away. Thankfully the concept of death in young children is so different to that of an adult; it will take a while for Dylan to fully understand that Nanny is not coming back.
This time last year Ruari came home to his brother in hospital, this year he came home to the news of Jill’s passing. More shock & more tears.
Jill was a tiny lady in stature but she was so large in life. She had hundreds of friends thanks to a beautifully exuberant personality, a great sense of humour & the biggest heart made of pure gold. She doted on her children & more so her five grandchildren. She loved Ruari & when he entered her life at the age of nine she immediately accepted him into the fold with warm open arms, as she did me.
She was a very thoughtful & wonderful mother-in-law who, much like Dylan, was in awe of life’s simplicities.
Rest in peace dear Jill.
May your spirit live on in all who knew you 🖤