Sunday, October 28, 2007

Cancer and relationships

No - not mine, before everyone starts to panic - my father's. He's been having real difficulties swallowing again, but (as with his last scare over Christmas) has been declared cancer free in that part of his body.

However, the cancer is still in his body. This past week he showed up at our house with large, deep red patches on his face. They looked like really bad mosquito bites, and since 'tis the season for them here in the southern hemispheres, I thought nothing of it. That was, until he told me they were cancerous.

Apparently, there's this new whiz cream on the market. You apply it to your skin and wait. If the skin turns dark red, it's cancerous. If not, it isn't. He has two patches on his face, one on each cheek. This cream also destroys cancerous (or maybe it's pre-cancerous) cells, which is what causes the colour change. In a few weeks, those cells should be completely dead, and should just flake off, looking like really bad eczema.

At first, it didn't freak me out. I guess the biologist in me was too fascinated by the workings of the cream to register the implications. But yesterday, at lunch with my dad, step-mom and several of the grandchildren, he said something that really brought it home to me.

My dad has cancer. Being in remission doesn't mean you have no cancer. It means that the cancer isn't growing. It's still there, lurking n the depths of your genes somewhere. It can jump out and bite you at any stage. I always thought that when you got to 5 years of being 'cancer free', you were in the clear. But, my dad told me, this is not the case. So he will continue to have check-ups every 6 months to a year, for the rest of his life.

Because, as has been proven by these patches on his skin, the cancer can re-appear at any time. I guess the truth is that he's living on borrowed time. All of which only makes days like yesterday even more special...

... while I was making lunch for all of us, he took the time to sit on the ground and play with the grandchildren, Nellie included. I haven't heard him laugh like that in ages. He adores the kids, but is so busy and is often so tired/ sore that he doesn't really have the time and energy to play with them. This is the reason we came home - so that Nellie has the opportunity to get to know and enjoy her Oupa, and for him to enjoy her, both of which are blessings I never had as 3 of my grandparents died before I knew them.

Following our grief counselling session, I was thinking that, in hindsight, coming home so soon after Zoe's death was the wrong thing to do. We should have remained in the midst of our community, both for them to support us, and so that our grief would be held in context. But after yesterday's lunch I can only say that the sacrifice of having to grieve in isolation is worth it all for moments like that. I got such joy from listening to my dad and the grandkids playing together, and I know they did too.

While we were out playing croquet this afternoon (tell you more about that some other time) one of the other women there commented that Nellie was very independent, and seemed to go off and do her own thing a lot of the time, rather than playing with the other kids. My heart broke when she said that, because what I heard was that Nellie doesn't know how to make friends or play with others. This is yet another reason we have come home.

Where we were, Nellie didn't have many friends. She had the 2 other kids in her childminder group, but that was all, really. She didn't have a ready-made play group of cousins or siblings, and I want that for her. I know what it is to grow up alone. My brothers were out of the house before I was even in high school. My cousins were (on the whole) also so much older than me that I didn't have friends amongst them either. It sucks to be an only child (which is why I've always wanted a brood).

I want her to learn how to be amongst a big group of people and find her feet. I want her to be a confident, outgoing child (and adult) who knows her own worth so well that she has the wherewithal to reach out and befriend others. Instead, I see a shy, insecure child, afraid of big gatherings and strange people - very much like both her parents, if truth be told.

(Despite what people may think, I do actually prefer my own company and solitude to being with people, and I do get incredibly overwhelmed by large groups of people. Meeting new people stresses me out, especially if I have to be the one to make the first move. I think the difference is that I can hide my fears a lot of the time.)

My hope is that by being around her cousins (and there are a lot of them! although less now that 4 of them have emigrated to the UK this past week) she will develop confidence to just be herself, and hold her own. She's already getting better at it, and I know that this exposure will be good for her. While I value the fact that she can entertain herself for a measure of time, I don't want that to be because she's too scared to interact with strangers her own age.

So, all in all, coming home was the right thing to do - even if it's made my grieving a whole lot harder.
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