I’ve heard from lots of people who are worried about not finding the right words or indeed somehow saying the wrong thing. I understand that feeling completely. When I’ve heard from others having a rough time, I’ve so desperately wanted to find the right words to comfort, reassure and give hope. Ultimately though, it’s actually very hard to say the wrong thing. In fact, of all the things to say, I’ve found the worst thing is to say nothing. Searching too long for the right words just ends in silence, however well meant the original intention.
In those early moments as we discussed who to tell and how, our concern was for the loved ones around us, of protecting them from this explosion and attempting a soft, billowing landing. The truth is just that though – the truth. There’s no hiding from it. Poppy has Leukaemia and the quicker we claim that word and stand up to it, the more proactive we can be in how to tackle it. Even the professionals have been surprised at how early we’ve been able to say the words Leukaemia and Cancer aloud. We are told some parents never bring themselves to use those words and tiptoe gently around them throughout the entire course of treatment.
I’ll be honest, when Leukaemia was first mentioned as a possibility before diagnosis, I too winced at the sound of it and couldn’t even contemplate the thought of it becoming a reality at that stage. However, part of this grief is acceptance and with thanks to the incredible support around us, we both feel that tackling this head on is the right approach for us.
Poppy also prefers to know the truth. No distraction techniques for this plucky 3 year old. When someone enters our hospital room, she wants to know who they are and what they’re doing. We’re so proud of her for asking questions and challenging the grown-ups looking after her to provide answers. If someone came into our house and didn’t introduce themselves, but asked me to hold out my finger and look the other way, I think I would be asking questions too! We are all learning new things daily, including the important debate of which medicines are yucky and which ones are yummy.
I’ve absorbed so much from all of the messages we’ve received from people near and far. Some are similar, but on occasion the subtle differences in choice of language have spoken to me louder than others. So because the words around us can make such a difference, we feel it’s important to note at this stage that we’re not “fighting” cancer. Not right now anyway. We’ve taught our children not to fight. Not unless it’s fighting for what they believe in which is something else entirely. I’m talking about the hitting/kicking/biting type of fighting which is ugly and hateful and not kind, whether it’s children or adults doing it.
We’re taking this moment by moment, and at the moment we’re not “fighting” cancer. That suggests that this is a battle to be won or lost. That we are somehow in control of this, rather than the way it’s gripped hold of our life, given it a firm shake and scattered it in all directions. So rather than fighting cancer, we’re facing it. We’re digging deep and being bold. We’re got our brave faces on and our Happy Beans army behind us. We’re brandishing our tambourines, singing extra loudly and shaking extra strongly. We’re approaching this with love, light and energy – we’re talking, learning, crying, sharing, worrying and hugging.
And if that fierce, protective tigress that is Poppy and Daisy’s mummy needs to come out, then Leukaemia: you have been warned. I once sent a Marine home from a party in tears when I told him off for unfairly criticising Graham. And that was before the extra strength that going through labour twice gave me!