Humour has always been a huge part of my life but the day that Dylan was diagnosed I left a large part of myself at the door to the oncology ward, taking only the essentials with me as I took my 6 year old boy’s hand & walked him down the long corridor to Room 9. It was as if I had been turned inside out; “humour” was left behind & with each step I took I became more & more laden with sadness & fear. Hospital fast became my safe place & pretty much anything outside of that safety net made me feel detached. We had entered a complex new world & had to learn quickly how to navigate our way around it. As time went on I learnt new forms of humour within this hideously suffocating cancer bubble. I surrendered so much in order to make room for so much more. Nothing felt the same, nothing looked the same & nothing meant the same as it had done up until someone uttered the words “Dylan has cancer”.
I remember the first time I went home after Dylan had been admitted, the house was empty, the Christmas tree was up & it looked as though I had just popped out for a pint of milk; it looked as though any minute now Dylan was going to run through the door with some crazy exclamation & we would start putting presents under the tree. In reality a guillotine had been dropped slicing life into before & after & as I sat on the sofa I wondered what home would ever feel like again. It was like an out of body experience, like it wasn’t real; but nothing could be more real.
I remember a similar feeling whilst waiting to get custody of Ruari twelve years before. The pain I felt was so intangible that I literally became numb; I wondered whether I would actually feel anything either physically or mentally ever again. I couldn’t laugh & I couldn’t cry; it was as if I had somehow left myself. So one night in the depths of a freezing cold winter I drove the short distance to the sea near my house & I stood on the beach until my hands felt so cold I could think of nothing else. My frozen hands were proof that I could feel something & that gave me some sort of reassurance; I was just relieved to feel something. As it turns out I was awarded full custody & the pain went away but not without leaving some pretty deep scars.
This pain though, this cancer pain has not shifted. Its ongoing presence is leaving gaping wounds which are turning into a series of indelible scars & in doing so are leaving me considerably altered. I’m feeling numb & slightly detached.
Lately I have found myself wondering how certain emotions are born; what viable essence I can grasp in order to continue without drowning in the sea of bewildering feelings that I am unsure how to navigate.
I cling to external consistency because there is no internal consistency, change no matter how small is now a magnificent source of anxiety.
I have had to relearn certain things. I have had to learn how to laugh again without feeling guilty. Just being able to laugh when your child has cancer puts you in a whole other world filled with a strange distorted kind of humour that plays tricks with your head. It is a humour filled with a quiet icy bitterness that you mask with fake smiles; a humour that leaves you humouring others whilst muttering under your breath; a humour that forces you to manage other people’s expectations because through no fault of their own they simply do not understand that whilst you look the same on the outside your insides have been ripped out & left at the door of that bloody oncology ward. It is a humour which forces you to deal with people who do not really want to listen & who do not want to acknowledge that you have changed & that you will continue to change because tomorrow will forever be a concept. In fact, it is not really humour at all, more an internal black comedy where shit keeps coming at you & all you do is smile & wave because punching people is not really an option.
I have some incredible friends, many of whom live on & around my street; for years I have marvelled at how fortunate we all are to have formed genuinely close friendships…we pretty much see each other everyday; they are my other safety net. These friends know me, some of our kids went to the same school, pulled the same stunts & caused us the same grief. We have supported each other through thick & thin & we will continue to do so.
For years before Dylan’s diagnosis pretty much every Friday evening was “gin night” & some of my funniest memories were made.
Then one evening I found myself standing in my neighbour’s dining room with these friends; they knew something was wrong & had been & bought us all the food we needed for the impending Christmas day.
I remember them all looking at me as I told them that Dylan has cancer. The pain & helplessness I saw on each of their faces was heartbreaking. I do not know what they saw looking back at me, I did not cry; I was in shock. We still did not know the exact diagnosis by this point, I just remember delivering the information that I had & then leaving with a turkey & all the trimmings.
I had singlehandedly delivered the biggest dose of pain that we had felt collectively as a group since we had got to know each other. They lovingly humoured me through so much of Dylan’s diagnosis. Gin night continued & became a way for me to escape a tiny bit of my reality whilst having the chance to bring certain elements of myself back.
In those moments I relearnt humour; I found a place where I could leave a little bit of cancer at the door & I could thaw away a bit of that numbness. They made me laugh, they let me sob, they listened to me rant & they watched me wither. They tapped into me because they know me & I am not sure they will ever realise how much they contributed to helping me reintegrate elements of humour into my life.
There is no humour whatsoever to be found in watching your child suffer with cancer & all of its side effects. For a long time, laughing with Dylan caused me more pain than happiness; I would laugh with him & then run out of the room to cry because his laughter pierced my heart & exacerbated my fear of the unknown. Even now, it sometimes feels as if it is getting harder because the continual mental adjustment can be so overwhelming; cancer keeps forcing change.
I have recently learnt to adjust my humour; I still need it in my life but I am drained & what little is left desperately needs to be kept topped up. I do have a sense of humour & I know that there is much to find humour in but I can no longer expend my energy humouring what is unimportant to me.
If I am not careful humour will displace humour. It is a little bit like you have got to laugh or else you would cry.