The first few weeks of interim maintenance were really hard going and it left me wondering if this journey would ever get easier. The unplanned admissions and culmination of side effects made for an exhausting 24/7 round of care, which left us all feeling drained, most of all Poppy. I felt like I’d had this period in my sights since the beginning, gently working towards it each day but on arrival it was disappointing and seemingly no easier than the two phases of treatment prior to this one.
Last week’s holiday couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m sure we’ve all had those busy weeks when we feel we need a break, but I hadn’t even realised it myself until the car was packed and my shoulders relaxed in anticipation of the week ahead. Being away from home for a change of scenery was exactly what we needed. The usual reminders of our everyday lives were tucked away out of sight for the week – the bag we keep packed for hospital admissions, alongside the bag of essentials for day visits. The drawer full of medicine and the “big bag of cancer” as it’s come to be known in our house…the red folder detailing Poppy’s diagnosis and all essential information relating to her care, alongside the many leaflets and brochures offering help, advice and support. The only reminders of Leukaemia on our holiday were the daily evening dose of oral chemotherapy and the fluffy tufts of Poppy’s newly shorn hair.
Seeing Poppy and Daisy giggle and bond over the simplest of things was the highlight of our week. Smiling as they perched next to each other on the breakfast bar and delighting in a game of peekaboo under the covers, I realised that it’s been a long time since they’ve spent five consecutive days in each other’s company. The long hospital days often mean Daisy stays with her grandparents overnight at those times, and during spells of side effects Poppy is too drained to interact much more than necessary to acquire her basic needs. Five days, yet it feels like we’ve been away for weeks, having packed so much into our time there. The choice of location has been well thought out, with all local amenities on the doorstep. Poppy’s often uncomfortable in the car for too long, so it was nice to be able to have everything we needed to hand. Driving through the New Forest, we saw several fields of ponies, but it was difficult to explain to Poppy that they were wild and roaming freely, until we drove past the New Forest Inn to find a family of horses queuing for a pint! Another tick on our list and a well-timed photo opportunity to cherish.
The furthest we travelled was 15 minutes away to Mudeford Quay on our penultimate day. Fish and chips, ice-cream and a boat trip were still to be ticked off our holiday checklist and this looked the perfect place to achieve all three. As it happened, we nearly fell at the first hurdle, pulling up to Alexander’s fish and chip shop just as the owner was locking the door. Seeing our disappointed faces from the car as he walked off, he called out and asked what we were after, before opening the door again and taking our order, chatting happily to my mum about our day whilst we waited in the car. Upon hearing about our holiday and the reason behind it, I heard the emotion in his voice as he spoke: “I’m so glad I let you in!” I am too, not least because those fish and chips were delicious, made all the more tasty by the act of kindness poured into them.
Lunch taken care of, our next stop was the ferry across to the sand and many beach huts lining the shore. A 6 minute journey at most, but a boat trip all the same and it was long enough to satisfy our two little sailors. Upon disembarking from the boardwalk, Poppy walked maybe two or three steps before settling herself into the sand and beginning the important task of building a sandcastle! As Daisy moved to join her, we did manage to entice them a further couple of metres to a more welcome position in front of the sea. The sound of the water lapping at the shore and the sweet giggles as they played was the perfect backdrop to another wonderful holiday day.
Being back in the New Forest was a delight. So often our chosen venue for days out during the eight years we spent living in nearby Southampton prior to having the girls, it was the first real chance we’ve had to return and spend any quality time here. It was a lovely reminder of a beautiful part of the country, which feels fond and familiar to us. We spent our last day searching for fairy doors at Furzey Gardens, another place we’ve visited in the past that I’ve often thought the girls would enjoy, so it was lovely to witness the excitement on their faces as they searched for more signs of fairy life amongst the beautiful flowers.
Returning home, I feel reset, recharged and ready to go again. I found the two weeks prior to our time away really tough and it’s only now, from a distance, that I can recognise those feelings and reflect on that time. This journey of ours is a marathon not a sprint, and we’ll need to pace ourselves and look after each other to find the much needed energy to continue. I feel more relaxed than I have in a long time, having taken the time to recoup and collect my thoughts. The all consuming nature of Poppy’s Leukaemia remains, but after some deep breaths of restorative sea air we all feel able to take our next steps together x