Cancer: An Organised Person’s Worst Nightmare

It’s that time of year again when everyone seems to be planning something. Plans for summer, post-graduation, jobs and housing… plans of moving away, plans of coming back; talk about travel to far-flung and interesting places. Everyone is beginning to look towards the future, planning what they want to do, what’s achievable and in many cases, what they can afford. People are signing new rent contracts, starting new jobs or internships, and there’s a general buzz of change in the air.

Ever since Mum’s diagnosis, we have tried to keep life as normal as possible and on the whole, I think we’re doing a pretty good job. One thing that we constantly struggle with though, is planning. Despite what books and movies say, cancer is not linear or predictable, and Mum’s has often proven even less predictable than most. You can’t plot it on a graph, and doctors can’t tell you exactly how long you have left to live – at least that’s our experience of it. One week Mum can show no warning signs at all; the next week her immune system, weakened by chemo, might fail to stop a common cold resulting in a hospital admission for a week being pumped full of antibiotics.

A few weeks ago, Dad was trying to give our extended family numbers of how many of us would be able to attend the family holiday in late August. I’m easy – I have an almost full time summer job and it’s over the university resit period (I’m taking one of my exams then as I couldn’t catch up all the work in time after missing lectures when Mum was in hospital), so I can’t go. My youngest brother and Dad are going. My other brother has prioritised Christian camp over family, apparently. As for Mum… we don’t know whether she will be with us then. We don’t know if she will be fit to travel then (if she’s not then Dad won’t go either, nor will my brother). She might be absolutely fine and happy to join them all at that point. So there we go, anywhere between 0 and 3 of us might attend that week. Imagine how hard that is for financing and planning the holiday!

For me, the lack of ability to plan is one of the hardest things with this cancer situation. I’m someone who likes things to be organised and planned. I live by my diary, own a ‘to do’ list book and print timetables to plan other things. I have friends who are doing internships and travelling this summer and every week the careers people email me with #YouNeedWorkExperience stuff. I love my job and wouldn’t change it for the world, but I didn’t feel I had the option to get an internship this summer for fear that Mum would go into hospital and I’d have to let them down. I don’t feel able to book a trip away for a week in case Mum deteriorates and I’m not there. Everything that I’m planning has to have a back-up plan for if I have to head home.

My last year of university is coming up and people are beginning to think about jobs, masters degrees, grad schemes, you name it. I’m looking at the next year and thinking that I hope Mum doesn’t deteriorate around an important deadline. I hope I can get through third year without mitigating circumstances and that I can graduate at the same time as my friends. I’m thinking that once I have (hopefully) graduated, I need to get a job (or further study) somewhere around here because this is where my support system is and Mum’s either likely to be very poorly or not with us this time next year, so I’m going to need those people around me.

The worst bit of all of this is that I find myself wishing that it was all over. That I could just get back to ‘normal’ life and be able to move on. But then I remember that this only ends one way: Mum dies.

As hard as this is, at least Mum is still here. At least I can still ask her for advice when I’m stuck and give her a hug when I’m struggling. At least, for now, she’s still at the end of a phone or an email. At least my Mum is still here to help me through it.