A Guest Blog Post for Leaven

Founded by my friend Syreeta Challinger, Leaven is a space to ‘permeate or transform for the better.’
To feel better, to live better.

https://www.thisisleaven.com/

“Podcast guest Siobhan O’Flynn from Series 1, reflects on life now, post shielding, post childhood cancer and as the world opens up tentatively for them as a family. An hour to share the continued experiences that shape this remarkable family”.

After almost one year of shielding Dylan was removed from the list of extremely clinical vulnerable people & the world of Covid-19 was presented to me in a way I hadn’t seen it before.

Having spent so long fearfully enslaved in the world of paediatric cancer where I became a pro at living in a state of permanent unknowns, to then be told to shield Dylan just short of his treatment ending brought a fresh reverberation of unwanted but all too familiar emotions.

Realising immediately that Dylan would be unable to mix with his peers for an indefinite period of time meant I had to dig deep and adjust yet again to new world that we were told could also kill him; having not quite seen our way through a cancer diagnosis that almost took him from us, this came as another traumatic blow to our already traumatic existence.

But we made it, and as I write this I’m acutely aware of those who haven’t been so fortunate, who are still shielding and who, like me, are afraid of the world opening up again.

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Today, Dylan, now age 10, is in school for the second day of the new Summer Term. This is the first time he’s been to school properly without the ravaging effects of multiple weekly and monthly chemotherapies, monthly steroids and subsequently as a Covid-19 shielder since he was diagnosed with cancer at the tender age of six; that was in 2016.

There is no way of getting away from the absolute horrors that we’ve faced as a family over the past few years but within that time we have been blessed with some beautiful life-affirming moments, a wealth of grounding perspective and the continued survival of our incredible boy.

Covid-19 put paid to life after treatment as I’d pictured it, so I chose to reimagine the start on the road to healing. We would at all costs continue to protect Dylan and in some peculiar twist of fate I realised that having him at home with me on a daily basis meant I could watch him mend, keep an eye on him for possible signs of relapse & see him grow stronger day by day. After everything he’d been through, having this opportunity has been a gift alongside the gift that is his life.

The Easter holidays have just ended; two weeks of not having to sit in the online classroom that had become part of our everyday for over a year, warmer weather and no longer having to shield meant we could think about taking Dylan out of the house for something other than early walks around the local park.

Covid-19 is still very much at the forefront of my mind, having been in permanent lockdown for so long it’s going to be hard to work through the intense terror it and cancer have indelibly left on my soul; to be out, with a new take on the tension & looming fear I’ve been carrying for so long was overwhelming in a strangely uplifting way.

The other day we drove half an hour to walk around a beautiful nature reserve, we got there at 9am simply to avoid too many people. It felt odd and unfamiliar but also curiously liberating.

Early one morning a couple of days later with the sun shining in the bright blue sky, we left the house on our bikes. 

Watching Dylan ride through the park has taken my breath away before; over the years there have been moments where I truly didn’t think he’d ever actually visit a park again. But this time, to see him cycling, laughing and simply breathing without the shackles of cancer and Covid-19 I felt a momentary peace I’ve never experienced; something as simple as a bike ride brought me a pocket of indescribable happiness that took my breath away.

I’m not remotely ready to embrace much of what’s opening up as lockdown rules ease, I’ll continue as I have for years, to take each day as it comes.

I know more than ever what I need in my life and am thankful to be able to recognise what I don’t need or want; I’m led to believe that trauma often does that to people.

I’ll never fully heal, but I do know that no matter what happens, I’ll be forever grateful for the intense feeling that bike ride brought me however fleeting it may be.

I’m always so thankful for the little steps.

By Siobhan O’Flynn

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