The Union

In December 2016 Dylan joined a club that no one wants to be a member of & consequently I immediately became a member too. It comes with a lifelong membership & it costs more than any club I have ever known.

I’m not really a fan of clubs, preferring to do my own thing in my own time & in my own way. Unfortunately with this club you are not allowed to leave no matter how much of yourself or your soul invest mentally or physically; you just never stop paying. It is more of a dictatorship & it will strip you of everything…if you let it.

To begin with I felt like such a fraud. I did not understand the rules. Smiling felt ridiculous, trying to be normal felt like a complete impossibility & trying to fit in with non members made me feel like a complete outsider. It has taken & will continue to take me an eternity to work out what I am meant to wear to this club; it is filled with so much commonality & diversity all at once.

The Cancer Club: it has got way too many members & is sadly still taking on more.

There is a distinct & definite line drawn in life once you are a member. On one side of the line is before; on the other is the interminable after. Dylan had six years, one month & seven days of a life before cancer was thrust upon his tiny existence; I had forty four years, one month & ten days before it was thrust upon mine. There is no going back & there is no way to erase that line. I do not know how it will affect Dylan’s future; I do not know whether he will grow up & if he does whether cancer will be a strange disquieting distant memory for him. What I do know is that cancer will be with me for the rest of my days. The sheer terror the word cancer brings is beyond comprehension; the cancer might go but the fear never will, the scars are both visible & invisible.

People often ask me where I get my strength from, I suppose it is within me & boosted by the elements of inspiration that I happen to stumble across from time to time.

A couple of weekends ago I approached a lady in the supermarket, she was collecting money for Latch (a Welsh children’s cancer charity); Latch have been wonderful to us as a family & I wanted to go & say thanks for all the incredible work they do.
I started talking to her & it soon transpired that her son also had cancer. By the time he had been diagnosed with stage four osteosarcoma his cancer was terminal & he passed away four years ago. I immediately felt ridiculous & as I tried to explain that I was not in her shoes she quickly held my hand, looked directly into my eyes & told me that she knew I understood & that she felt for my daily if not lifelong uncertainty. She told me that she knew exactly how I felt & that just because my child was still alive did not make me any less able to empathise with a large part of her life. She spoke to me of her depression & I understood. She spoke to me of her isolation & I understood. She spoke to me of her shock & I understood. She went on to tell me that in the four years since her son had passed away she had helped raise over £50,000 for various children’s cancer charities because in her words she wanted “to give something back”. As the conversation came to an end I went to give her a hug but she beat me to it; she hugged me so tight…a complete stranger whom I had dared to approach felt all of my pain & of course more.

I sat in the car for ages trying to make sense of the myriad of emotions coursing through me. I thought about how that lady had lived through every mother’s worst nightmare & was still here, still making a difference & still determined not to let this bloody awful disease strip her of everything. She was determined to be more than a mother of a child with cancer; that is difficult to say let alone do.

If that does not demonstrate strength, courage  & inspiration then I do not know what does.

Years ago, I graduated from university with a degree in furniture & product design & worked for fourteen years as an upholstery designer. At thirty two I became the design director for a large furniture manufacturer & then at the age of thirty six I was made redundant; a single mum with an eight year old son, a mortgage, school fees & all the usual bills. I set up as a freelance furniture designer; it was tough to say the least & I really struggled to make the the necessary adjustments.

Being made redundant as a single mother was petrifying, I could not see the wood for the trees; the humility & strength I needed to keep going was immense. Fast forward a few years & I am told that my son has cancer. To all intents & purposes life stopped at that moment; but I am still here & so is Dylan. I have no idea what the lady in the supermarket had gone through before her son was diagnosed but she had an inner strength & what she showed me was that despite her crushing loss, she was still here & was doing something incredible. I do know that she has other children & she talked about finding the strength to keep them as happy as possible despite their loss. She cannot protect them from the pain & just like the line that marks the “before” & “after” she cannot erase a life that for a short while brought them all happiness in their “before”; all she can do is hold their hands & move forwards inch by tiny inch.

On occasion, there are fleeting moments when cancer is not at the forefront of my mind, allowing me briefly to just be me & not just the mother of a child with cancer; not just a carer. These moments are essential for my wellbeing, for me; Siobhan. However, these moments scare me because somehow they do not feel real. Cancer is actually now so deeply ingrained in my psyche that despite those stolen moments I am not the same person I once was; standing the “before” me & the “after” me side by side is like watching day turn to night. I am like a Venn diagram of two equally sized circles; I have left parts of me behind & gained new parts. The place I need to find is right in the centre; the union.

It is not in my nature to quit; I do not give up…I never have in spite of anything that has been thrown at me…& there has been a fair bit.

I have so much to give & so much I want to do. I have no idea what tomorrow will bring but I know that I can take something into tomorrow because I am more than a mother of a child with cancer. I am that & so much more; as is that lovely lady in the supermarket.

That union with that lady inspired me; it gave me strength & it encouraged me to try to create a union between the two versions of myself instead of seeing them as two separate entities.

“Before” is where I gained the strength I need for “after”.

In some sense I am less than who I once was having shed so much of myself to change course because of Dylan’s unfortunate union with The Cancer Club; but in another sense I am so much more. I am more than a mother of a child with cancer.

I have recently realised that I am a union of my before & after.

4 thoughts on “The Union

  1. Compassion and understanding from the people in your life is such a blessing but there’s something extraordinary about the kindness of strangers and especially someone who has walked in your shoes. An unspoken connection that you are heard, you are held, you will get through this. What an amazing lady to create such a wonderful legacy in her son’s name.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a beautifully-drawn picture of your encounter with the lady from Latch woman and your response to it. Everyone has their own individual experience, unique to them, with cancer, don’t they? But it sounds a shared experience too…there’s a myriad of stories out there but they’re all joined by this unwanted, traumatizing lingua franca that somehow also is part of the way you process and deal with what’s happening. Thank you for sharing, as always.

      Liked by 2 people

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