Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Breast cancer awareness month: What right do I have to feel this way

Author: Deborah

"What right do I have to feel this way?"

There's something that feels almost indulgent and self-centred about writing this post. Why should I be given a platform on which to express myself? Shouldn't I just be a big girl and get on with life? But I am sad...very, very sad.

My beautiful, caring and clever sister in law passed away only three months ago and not a day goes by when she's not in my thoughts.

The day Rosie found out that she had breast cancer changed her life forever. It changed all of our lives. I wished with all my heart that I could have switched places with Rosie, that I could let her live and watch her babies grow up. Impossible. I meant it though and not in a woe is me type way, my legacy is yet to be made. However, Rosie faced the illness head on and quietly vowed to do battle with the 'enemy.'

Lump two was the game changer and I spent many long evenings awaiting news of scan results. I did my best caged tiger impression and I often wonder had there been carpet in the hallway if I would have worn a hole in it. There were times when the scan results gave 'good' news. It was hard to know if you were coming or going and peoples readiness to celebrate the latest results was difficult. Did they not understand that yes, on this occasion, the cancer had not spread but all it actually meant was another round in the 'white chair' for Rosie. But you smile a
nd you do your best to not look like you are doing your best Scrooge impression.

The impact that breast cancer had on the whole family was immense. Whilst Rosie and my brother worked hard front of house to keep business as usual, we worked just as hard backstage. Operation 'keep things as normal as possible' was well and truly laid down by the highest ranking general. We were all being tested to our limits but still the show must go on.

It was tough watching someone you love go through an uphill struggle. The disease was wicked, not in an Ali G way more like the Witch from the Wizard of Oz way. Yet Rosie didn't complain, her aim was to stay alive by hook or by crook. Her fight was, dare I said it 'inspiring.' This made it even harder to outwardly show my emotions or even let myself acknowledge them. How could I moan when I knew what Rosie was going through and furthermore what did I actually have to moan about? I felt selfish and no amount of reassuring that I was entitled to feel this way made me feel better for my self pitying.

I promised myself and Rosie that I would do everything and anything I could to support them all. This was no hardship, you do whatever you can do for the people you love. I was thanked and apologised to on numerous occasions but I was the one that was grateful. It's an honour to be allowed to support someone who you have looked up to for years. I always felt better when I was with Rosie, Elliot and the kids. That way I knew first hand how things were and where Rosie's head was. You don't get that information from a text. The priority for me was to support in any way I could. This generally meant being with the kids. I adored taking the kids out to various places and loved accompanying Elliot and Rosie on day trips.

As long as I saw Rosie then I was ok. "You feel better when you're with me" Rosie once said "because you know that way I'm not dead!" I baulked at this but maybe she was right. Any Rosie was better than no Rosie. I can certainly vouch for that now. I was told many times by many different people to ensure that I 'had a life. ' It was too hard to explain to these people without getting cross that I was living my life. I challenge anyone else in my position not to do the same. And anyway I lived in hope that I wouldn't be required to support to the same extent in the long term because Rosie was going to be one of those success stories. I'm not a naturally positive person but the alternative was too bleak to imagine even for a cynic like me. I tried to have a sense of perspective and adopted the 80's phrase 'don't sweat the small stuff.' Trying to live life by the aforementioned saying is interesting to say the least. Knowing that your sister in law has stage 4 cancer can be taken in your stride but a badly mismanaged work situation can nearly tip you over the edge! Life eh!

There was a period of time when life returned to 'normal.' We just inserted the word 'new' now as a prefix. Of course it was the hope that each stretch of time would be eked out for longer and longer and that the 'good' results would become the expected and not the exception. As Rosie continued to work there seemed little reason for me not to focus on the job that I loved. In fact, I was by buoyed on by Rosie to take the leap of faith that I had been talking about for years. With my new found zest for life I got a job that a few months earlier I would not have felt capable of. I am eternally grateful that I didn't procrastinate any longer and that Rosie knew that I had accepted the job offer. I think it it fair to say that there was a small window of calm. I still felt guilty that I was able to look to my future with such clarity I also knew that I couldn't put my life on hold on for Rosie.

Despite Rosie needing to go on a chemo break the future looked brighter as she was a candidate for other treatments. We all went on a well deserved holiday but unfortunately it was not the rest that any of us were hoping for. Rosie was not at all well but we all knew that the 'show' had to go on for the sake of the children. It's hard to know that the conversations that I had with Rosie on that holiday were amongst some of the last. The two weeks that followed the holiday were the worst that I have ever encountered. They consisted of long hospital visits and even a viewing of a hospice. The emotions that I experienced were overwhelming but again I felt guilty as I was not the one suffering. The fortnight of hospital/hospice visiting was filled with many conversations some sad, some funny and some downright inappropriate. All were necessary and welcomed. It's odd to feel lonely when you're surrounded by people but that's how I felt. We were all locked inside our own bubbles floating towards the same destination. Yes our paths crossed and we all stood at the same crossroads but it never felt right for me to really express my feelings at this juncture. The offers of support from my many friends were overwhelming but still loneliness prevailed. I just needed someone to be at home when I returned from a long shift to make me a cup of tea and to hug me. Guilt. Isn't that what my brother wanted too? Luckily I have enough instinctive friends who were able to if not in person but through modern day technology were able to reach out to me. Again I felt selfish even thinking that my needs had a necessity to be met. I told myself to get a grip and 'man up.'

The days and weeks that have followed since the passing of Rosie have been as surreal as the rest of the journey. I know that I want to be strong for my brother and the children. Some days are better than others. I have not gone without support myself. My wonderful friends have wined and dined me and have generally reached out in any way possible. I'm not the easiest of people to be there for. I massively appreciate the care and attention that I've been given. It's just hard to accept when you want to get back to life whatever that now means.
Both sides of the family have been an incredible support to each other. We no longer balance equally as there is always a missing block in the tower but we are doing our best to steady ourselves. I continue to feel guilty whenever I'm doing things that I know Rosie should have been doing. I would do anything to change the situation but all I can do is work hard to try to make life a little easier for Elliot and the kids.

Grief is a very personal entity and not one of us is experiencing it in the same way. How do I know what I'd feels like for the parent who has lost their child, for the man who has lost his wife, for the child that has lost its mother or for the brother who has lost his sister? So I finish as I began 'what right do I have to feel this way?'

1 comment:

  1. You have every right. You feel the desperate pain of loss of someone close to you and my heart goes out to you. Thank you for sharing your beautiful post with us. I 'knew' Rosie only through the Young Breast Cancer Network and through following her blog. I can't claim to have known her well, but well enough to understand why so many people are grieving so badly.