Loss & Grief

Finding gift through my family’s cancer journey & bereavement – Last Part

My father’s fight

[…] Despite the anxiety my mother and I felt each and every morning wondering whether my father would still be alive, would wake up, we were actually happy in this different life. It looked the same as before but quite disparate too. We felt we were lucky my father was still alive with us and that was all that mattered.

An endless support sparking an endless fight generating an endless disease . Yes, we were not hoping for a cure anymore but we did believe in an undeadly disease if not a remission

Five years later, after many ups and downs, new habits very much ingrained in our lifestyle, my father woke up in the middle of the night, opened the bedroom door, went to the loo and back to bed. He coughed several times as usual. He slept and… never woke up. The next morning would become the worst ever in my whole life. I died, my mother died, our dog died. In a blink of an eye, we turned into ghosts for quite a long time.

Once again, really?!

My wedding was planned for mid-October, I was busy organising absolutely everything in a very short time since my soon-to-be-husband and I were about to move to New-York. I was happily living in London and not fully ready to leave a country and city I was so fond of but felt I should support my fiancé’s promotion. It was such an ecstatic time. I couldn’t wait to mix all the cultures and traditions I had been lucky to experience on my wedding day!

As D-Day was fast approaching, a very close relative of mine based in Paris had just told me she was not sure she could make it due to her broken ribs. Very hard to explain what crossed my mind then, but something quite indecipherable was telling me this was cancer, knocking at my door again.

She indeed did not make it since she had been hospitalised and the prognosis was again unbelievable: terminally-ill, a month life expectancy. I convinced her to undergo radiation therapy to reduce the tumour size and thus the pain. She understandably did not want to go through the chemotherapy protocol since the bone cancer could not lead to a positive outcome anyway.

Although the pain was excruciating — the shouts she uttered at night were so devastating to me -, and her body weight could barely support her, she would still wake up every morning, do her makeup, and walk with a stick as long as she could. The dignity she conveyed was then and still is, for me, fascinating and remarkable.

Three months later, I left her home telling her I would come back in two weeks’ time as usual. I got on the Eurostar back to London knowing fully that I would never see her again.

Am I being turned into a cancer survivor ‘by proxy’?

In the meantime, my mother and I lost many family friends and relatives to cancer, about one per year for quite a long time. My mother undertook a cholecystectomy, i.e. a gall bladder removal. Luckily, the surgeons found out she also had colon cancer in an early stage and were able to remove the malignant polyps. But I had not expected the following unusual case…

Back from Paris, right after saying goodbye to the relative I have just told you about, I again sensed something quite indecipherable was going on with my beloved cat. He would move around in a frantic way, and could hardly jump on the sofa. There was something wrong!

I immediately went to the vet but she thought the erratic behaviour was due to his broken teeth. Muesli endured surgery that he luckily survived — that is the right term -, and he was given specific medication right after. Gosh, the pills drove him mad! A few seconds later he had a seizure. I was appalled, extremely mad at the vet, and I cannot say why but I immediately thought of a brain tumour.

After telling my vet my brilliant diagnosis, she nearly laughed at me and told me that if it was the case, nothing could be done to help him anyway. Clearly, that turned me into an insane pet owner!

I came back home to compile his files, remove his medical records from the current vet practice — compulsory in London to ask for another vet’s advice – and spoke my mind to a highly skilled and wonderful vet I highly recommend in Notting Hill, Peter Culpin.

He saved my cat’s life, literally. I told him the diagnosis that had crossed my mind, he took it seriously and the next day I had an appointment at the Queen’s Veterinary Hospital in Cambridge, specialized in oncology. Unfortunately, I was right and again the prognosis was awfully poor: three month-life expectancy. This is going to sound quite strange and prophetic in a way — Muesli beat the statistics the same way my father had beat them thanks to my vet and the oncologist’s considered and thoughtful advice.

Five years later, after having overcome the side-effects and lived pretty well — I should state that I am against any coercive therapeutic excesses -, Muesli asked me to let him go, which I did so painfully.

Muesli came into my life a month before my father’s death and he died 15 years later. So many emotions, travels, cities and countries we had experienced together… His last demand felt like torture to me but I knew it was the right thing to do for him.

From Tragedy to Humanity

Depicting these tragedies I have been through brought tears to my eyes. It took a lot out of me to share these traumas with you but by doing so, I do hope you will see that there is always hope however bad the situation may seem. We all can learn from hardship to become a more helpful, caring, and empathetic person.

This brings me to the last theme I want to write about: caring. The loved ones I lost all taught me two crucial qualities: dignity and care. With dignity and care of others and yourself, you are equipped to live a life full of positive energy, understanding, and exploration.

Cancer had become such a huge part of my life that I started a psychodynamic course in London, first at WPF Therapy and then at a Jungian Institute. As a trainee in psychoanalysis, you must be analysed yourself. I met a wonderfully talented therapist who is and will always be part of my life! Psychoanalytic training is very long, and there are tough components in it.

Volunteering in related activities is one of them and I decided to use my experiences and broaden my knowledge by helping terminally-ill patients in the comfort of their homes via Marie Curie Cancer Care, offering dignity, psychological support and pieces of advice on administrative documents. Clearly not an easy task but extremely rewarding! I asked to join a psychological support group at the NHS as well where I shared my vision of patients’ pain and desires, explained the improvement the oncology department needed at the time, and the main requests cancer-stricken patients had.

Where I am now

I have sensed death, I have smelt it, I am not oblivious to it. Death has offered me this amazing gift, life. My therapist helped me a great deal on this journey of discovering. She unlocked so many deep-seated emotions I was completely unaware of, of course. She helped me get a life that is truly mine, understand interactions I used to have, uncover the wrong patterns I had developed.

All of these experiences — relatives and people I loved and lost, pets I loved and lost, homes I loved and lost, my divorce, loss of my adoptive country I deeply love, etc -, are part of who I am now. It’s up to me to turn them all into something valuable for everyone, including myself, showing dignity and care in all endeavours I engage in.

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