Happy and sad tears

I must have been about 7 years old the first time I recall seeing an adult cry. The adult in question was my Nanny Evelyn and it was on Christmas Day at my cousin’s house. I remember asking my mum with deep concern: “Why is nanny crying?” only to be met with the frankly bonkers answer that “Nanny is crying because she’s happy.” Seeing an adult crying was baffling enough, but the concept of happy tears was well beyond me at that age. I have become well versed in it since, inheriting this strange phenomenon from my nanny, as well as my beloved auntie Eileen whose house we were visiting that December.

Poppy starting school has definitely brought out the happy tears in me. We had a lovely, relaxed and happy summer, and tried to keep the countdown to school light, even though we were secretly feeling that it was a pretty big deal to be starting school, aged 4, whilst facing childhood cancer. Part of that came from not knowing if Poppy would be well enough to attend as planned on the first day, and that’s the place the first happy tears sprung from…walking her in to the school gates and waving her off, I turned away and was hit by a huge wave of relief and happiness that we got to experience the start of school, exactly as it should be along with everyone else, without our day marked with cancer. Something that was simply unimaginable back in March 2018, and has still been hard to picture at many times since.

Over the summer, I heard of many woes from parents feeling that school would steal their children from them, that they’d hardly see them, that they were still so tiny.  All valid worries, and ones I may have felt myself before we were dealt our childhood cancer diagnosis. My overriding feeling now is that starting school is an absolute privilege. Not only to be living in a country which offers free education and to girls at that, but because our eyes have been opened to the flip side of childhood cancer. To the children who are too poorly to attend school alongside their peers. Or worse, the children no longer with us, leaving a gaping hole in their parents lives, as they come to terms with the flood of back to school photos every September, knowing their child was not one of the lucky ones. Because that’s what we are. Despite treading this tricky path, we are the lucky ones. The ones still receiving treatment and the ones still heading in the right direction towards that end of treatment bell. It’s thinking of those families not so fortunate that has stopped me writing about Poppy’s experience of starting school. Because I can’t quite fathom the gap between where I thought we would be, and where we actually are right now. And because I feel so desperately sad for all the families facing that reality in reverse.

We were so caught up in the moment of Poppy starting school that I didn’t find a chance to write. The wave of relief I felt at Poppy completing her first day, soon became disbelief when she managed the next two days in succession too. Somehow we had arrived at the weekend, which was due to be quiet and restful to counter balance the busy week, but somehow turned into learning to ride a pedal bike at Westonbirt Arboretum! As if Poppy hadn’t amazed us enough with her determination to conquer starting school, she also mastered cycling that same week with her beautiful gift from Cyclists Facing Cancer. Daisy was gifted a balance bike by them too, in a warm gesture which ensures siblings are recognised for their part in this crazy dance too.

The following week we joined the daily school run, and Poppy managed every morning alongside her classmates. Unbelievable. Slightly more believable is her spiking a temperature on Friday evening and spending the weekend in hospital. Her kidneys were struggling, which was suspected to be the change of water intake in the excitement of starting school and not drinking as much as she would at home. So began a fluid challenge, which Poppy aced and therefore overnight IV fluids were deemed unnecessary. IV antibiotics would continue and it was likely we would be allowed home on Sunday, when I was due to complete my first triathlon. Graham regularly competes in triathlons, and has been trying to get me interested for years. He managed to find one in Cheltenham with a swim in the Lido (the open water aspect of the swim has always been my stumbling block) Not only that but his trump card was that this one was raising money for LINC. I agreed. The girls handing me my medal at my first 10K earlier this year was a proud moment, and I love that they see both mummy and daddy being capable of sporting achievements.

Last year, we were privileged to be the first beneficiaries of an artisan craft charity fair, alongside another family in our town. Our worlds collided when our daughters were diagnosed with cancer within 5 days of each other. Devastatingly, that night in hospital we received the news that Eleri had passed away earlier in the day. She was 8 years old.

Any fears I had about completing the triathlon, vanished in the wake of this heartbreaking news, in addition to the hospital setting in which I heard it. My worries had been mostly logistical – about getting lost or not knowing which way to go, rather than whether I could complete the course. As it happened, I found the run harder than expected, and as I gritted my teeth to get to the finish line, I thought about how lucky I was to be alive and to be given the choice to face my fears that day. The children facing childhood cancer have anything but. They have no control, no choice, no say in the treatment they are given in the hope of saving their lives. Or rather if they do, it’s in the minor details, such as “which yucky medicine do you want to take first?”

None of us know what is around the corner. Facing a serious illness has helped us take stock of what we have, and as such, made us feel very grateful for each day. That doesn’t mean we’re happy all the time, rather that we’re learning when to embrace the sadness and when to let it go, and also how to celebrate achievements and milestones in the moment they occur.

Last weekend we were back at the craft fair, running the cake stall and raising money for two different local causes, one of which was Shine Bright Support. During Eleri’s treatment, her family set up this charity dedicated to supporting families facing childhood cancer. Their mission is simple: to provide the much needed gaps in support services required to navigate the trauma of childhood cancer by funding mental health nurses, counselling and packages of care.  They are a small charity with big plans, and they are already making waves in an area which is so desperately needed and so very close to our hearts. Earlier this year, Poppy was invited to design a T-shirt for them to help raise funds – you can buy one here or make a straightforward donation here. Your generosity is as ever, much appreciated x

The Big Feastival and another LP

After our double hospital day last week, when we travelled 2.5 hours from Carmarthen to Gloucester and eventually made it home around 9pm, we were unsurprisingly exhausted. I bathed the girls, whilst my lovely mum popped to the fish and chip shop to reward the girls with the foodie treat we had missed out on our seaside holiday. As ever, Poppy always knows how to celebrate, and I had to giggle when I heard her organising Daisy into their only pair of matching pyjamas, complete with necklaces and hair bow accessories. She even decorated the table with candles and random ornaments. I don’t know why her joie de vivre still surprises me, but her incredible ability to gauge the mood and tone of her environment is astonishing at her tender age – no-one had really spoken of it being a celebration, but yet she picked up on that in her own special way. It reminded me of her baking a cake when she was first released from Bristol Children’s Hospital, instinctively knowing that we had something to celebrate. A happy, joyful evening followed as we tucked into our late dinner and fell into our own beds. Unbelievable that a day of so many twists and turns, and grey walls should end in such joy, but that’s Poppy for you! Graham arrived home just in time to see the girls before bed and was met with delighted smiles and open arms.

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Hopeful

I wrote this in mid-July and forgot to publish it! A double post day, the next one is more current x 

Poppy has completed her settling in sessions at school and will make her next visit there for real in September! The uniform and name labels have been ordered and we’ll need to make a date to join the crowds in late August to buy the shiny school shoes that she has been coveting for the past year. Poppy has loved each session she has attended, to the point where she was disappointed to learn that the end of nursery is followed by the summer holidays rather than an immediate start at school! She even managed to attend on the final day of her steroids, which has flooded me with confidence for the start of term. They fall at the best possible time in September, giving her 3 weeks to adjust to life at school before being faced with that particular challenge. There is no way of telling how we’ll cope, and as each time can be so different and unpredictable, we’ll decide how best to manage when we get there. Poppy may be able to attend school at that time, and she may not, but as I’ve said before, what will be, will be! I feel that more than ever at the moment. The last few months have been life affirming for all of us, containing so many more adventures and healthy days than we thought possible.

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School one day, hospital the next…

Yesterday afternoon, Poppy had her first settling in session at school. She was excited about it all morning, but this gave way to nervousness as we walked up from the carpark and we stopped for a shoulders-squared “it’s okay to be scared doing new things, but I know how brave you are” pep talk before continuing. It did the trick. She spent a happy hour with her new classmates and the current reception class and came out beaming from ear to ear at collection time. So much so that several other parents commented on her beautiful smile! The sense of relief at hearing her tell me she loved it, before I even had a chance to ask was immense. I may have braved that pep talk, but inside I was as broken as she was watching her excited smile falter, whilst also knowing that she needed to take this big brave step. A braver step than most given how much she has already braved to reach those school gates.

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Whisper it…

March this year was unsettling and unnerving with so many memories of last year and the horror that unfolded before we had time to process what was happening. Scrolling through photographs on my phone, I was met with joyful photos and memories of early March 2018. Those photographs suddenly seep from home into hospital and it’s the speed at which that happens that still chokes me to this day. It was so fast. There are no photographs showing a gradual illness occurring, only heaps of laughter in the snow just a few days beforehand.

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Back to where it all began…

21st March. A year to the day that Poppy first became ill. I don’t think I’ve ever written about that day before, only from the point three days later when we arrived in hospital and didn’t go home for two weeks. Looking back on it, it was actually quite an odd day for various reasons. A strange series of first time events which stand out now that the day has become so significant.

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Are we okay?

It seems my last post has worried a few people. Murmurings of whether we’re okay and messages offering help or support have flooded in again. I’ve reread the post and perhaps I am becoming desensitised to all of this, but it seems no worse to me than any other. There’s no great reveal or change of circumstance, I suppose I’ve hinted at steroid anxiety before, but not known how to spell it out. Perhaps it’s given a better idea of what our day to day life is actually like. It’s still very hard to get that across, and whilst I try to be honest, there is so much more going on than I could ever write about. It’s an insight, but not our lives laid bare.

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Hope

They say the first 6 – 9 months are the hardest. By ‘they’, I mean the medical professionals around us and the other parents I’ve spoken to who are facing the same diagnosis with their own child. I held on to the first part of that dearly throughout those early months and was so surprised when at 6 months in, nothing at all seemed easier. Without realising it beforehand, I had expected that everything would suddenly and magically seem okay with the passing of those first intensive months of treatment. How laughable that seems now! But I now know how closely I was holding onto hope. I had to believe that we would find a way through this, and that things could and would get easier to bear one day.

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