The creation of a charity, from the very beginning.
For the next seven days Mum remained in hospital. Visiting hours were 12pm till 2pm and 6pm till 8pm. My routine was simple. Wake up at 11.30am, go to the hospital for two hours, return home, sleep till 5.30pm, go back to the hospital for two hours, return home, sleep. I didn’t eat for four days. I genuinely forgot to. It was only when I woke up on the floor in the middle of Ward 7, with three concerned nurses staring down at me, that I realized my body was completely depleted of energy.
As an advocate of the welfare state, I have always been a huge fan of the NHS, warts and all, but I have to admit that I was not confident in the care my Mum was receiving. The nurses were incredibly lovely and very patient but there were just so few of them. Those that were available were over-worked and visibly stressed.
I walked in on the afternoon of the second day to find my Mum sitting up in a chair, her hospital robe barely covering her, sweating profusely and unable to speak. Every time I asked her what was wrong she could do little more than groan and slowly rock backwards and forwards. I desperately looked around for help but there was no one available. I was at a complete loss. I fanned her face and stroked her hair until a nurse appeared on the ward around ten minutes later. Finally she was given some medication and regained full consciousness. Leaving her after that was near impossible.
After the fifth day, the surgeon came to my Mum’s bed and informed us that the operation had gone well. They had fully removed the tumour and no radiotherapy or chemotherapy was needed. It felt like a miracle. In two days, Mum would be able to come home and we could resume our life together- cancer free.
Mum finally returned home and, as we had been warned, she took several weeks to recover. She couldn’t be out of bed for more than two or three hours a day and even when she was, she could do little more than sit in front of the television. I spent those weeks cooking, cleaning, shopping and generally caring for her. I had so much to be grateful for- and I knew it- but I began to feel a heavy strain from the responsibility.
When you are growing up, you are prepared for a lot of things in life. You know that you will most likely fall in and out of love; that you will have bills, a mortgage and mountains of debt; that people you love will inevitably die. But, for most people, the thing you are never really warned about is that one day, there is a chance that the relationship with your parents will be completely turned on it’s head. One day you may have to physically care for the two people who have always cared for you. It’s not something that is really talked about with children and teenagers because you always hope that it will never happen. I certainly wasn’t prepared for it.
I began becoming very frustrated with Mum for not being able to do anything. Of course I wanted to care for her and there was no way that I would have let anyone else do it. But ultimately, I was so angry that she had to be cared for at all. You want your parent to always be your parent, never the child.
Over those weeks the combination of anger at the injustice of the situation, sadness and exhaustion took a heavy toll on me. There was nothing left for me to worry about and Mum was set to recover. But it was then that things began to unravel. I began to unravel.
One ordinary morning I headed upstairs to get an item- I can’t remember what. As I reached the bottom of the stairs, my whole body was overcome with emotional pain. The weight of the fear and anxiety I had been carrying for three months suddenly crippled me. I crouched to the floor, clinging on to the bannister, desperately trying to catch my breath.
After a few seconds the sharp pain had gone but with it so had my last drop of energy. “Get up”, I told myself. “Get up.” I repeated again and again until after about a minute, I finally stood up. It took all the strength I’d amassed over my 23 years to make that stand. My mind simply couldn’t cope any more.
To be continued…