We used to joke in the office about the oft-uttered phrase “there’s nothing worse than a paper cut”.
I think we established over time that there probably were one or two things in life that just about pipped a sliced finger on a scale of things you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.
There’s a similar phrase I’ve found myself using around my cancer diagnosis/treatment/prognosis:
“The hardest thing is…”.
Is it considering my own mortality? Is it the fact that this thing will, not may, kill me in the end? Is it the slog of what seems like a never-ending process of tests and treatment? Is it the impact on my wife and children, now and when I’m gone?
In truth, it’s all of these and 101 other things.
But the one that I probably struggle with most is the impact on the kids. And I don’t think I’m handling it too well.
It’s really hard to reconcile the ‘keep things as normal as possible’ with the desire to be as open and honest as possible with the young ones.
It’s not normal that dad’s at home all the time. It’s far from normal that I’m disappearing to hospital on a regular basis. And it goes against the grain that I’m often dozing on the couch when I should be playing with the wee ones.
Kids are intuitive. They can sense stress, anxiety, upset, no matter how much you try to shield it.
On Saturday, Maggie’s Centre in Edinburgh held one of their special ‘Kids’ Days’ which are aimed at children aged 6/7 to 10/11 and aim to demystify cancer treatment, answer their questions, and help them understand and cope with what’s happening to a loved one in a well-structured and fun environment.
Olivia (6) and Millie (9) went along whilst we took Finlay – only 4 – round the nearby Botanic Gardens.
The kids had been to Maggie’s before, for a very helpful chat with the Centre Manager Andy and another time just to visit me in a welcoming environment – so welcoming Millie volunteered to go to a quiet corner to do her homework.
It’s fair to say that the kids – Olivia in particular – had been looking forward to their Maggie’s Day for some time, which was a real positive in our eyes.
They got to do amazing things on their 4 hour visit with around a dozen other kids. Visit the radiography suite and take x-rays of teddies. See how the CT scanner works. ‘Play’ with equipment worth several millions of pounds. See how chemo drips work. Get attached to a proper cannula (without the needle!).
Basically see and experience all the things that their mums, dads or grandparents are going through when they are getting treatment to gain a better understanding of what’s going on.
The kids loved it, and I think benefitted from being with other children in similar situations.
They also got lunch and an hour of arts and crafts, whilst the parents met with a psychologist to discuss the children’s reactions and how best to deal with their emotional needs through treatment phase and beyond.
The good news was that we seem to be following best practice, but with the caveat that every child and every family will have different needs.
We’ve been very open and honest with the kids throughout, and encouraged them to ask questions. If they don’t want to ask us, they know they can ask the staff at Maggie’s, which is a great comfort.
Sure, some of the questions are difficult. Some stop you dead in your tracks.
Millie wants to know if I’ll be around to see her own children grow up.
The honest answer is almost certainly no. We’ve told her that. But we’ve also told her that the treatment I am getting is intended to make sure I’m around for as long as possible and that we need to make the most of that time, especially when I’m ‘fit’.
All of this is why I’ve made my first fundraiser in aid of Maggie’s.
They’re helping me and my family. They’re helping hundreds more families like mine.
And I, for one, am very grateful.
In four days (FOUR DAYS!!!) time I’ll do my 5km run/walk round the Meadows in Edinburgh. My initial target was £300 but thanks to the amazing generosity of so many I’m now at almost 10 times that total. Utterly amazing and humbling.
If you’d like to contribute to a wonderful cause, my sponsorship page is here: www.virginmoneygiving.com/AndrewSlorance
Thanks for reading.
PS – one quick anecdote from the visit. On the way home Millie said the staff had been talking about hair loss and how difficult it was, especially for women. Millie then told the group that her daddy had no hair on his head to begin with but had suffered hair loss in an embarrassing part of his anatomy… No wonder I got funny looks at the end of the day!!