At some point, when I wasn’t paying attention, what was happening in our lives stopped being a crisis and became our new normality. Because, however surreal and awful things are, life creeps in. There are trips to the supermarket and potty-training disasters and playdates. Everyone has to be fed and have their teeth cleaned and their clothes washed. And having cancer and visiting your seriously ill sister in hospital just starts to sit alongside that, like it’s no big deal.
When the day of my third chemo treatment rolled around, we decided that Paul should look after Joseph and Elodie, since my mum was out of action with a bad cold. This left my dad as the obvious chemo companion. I wondered whether the nurses would notice that I had yet to take the same person with me twice.
My blood was taken and, while we waited for the results and the go-ahead for the chemo, we read our books and ordered some food. Dad’s book was by the philosopher A J Ayer, and during a break, he regaled me with a story about how Ayer once got into an argument with Mike Tyson about Naomi Campbell at a New York party. I’m pretty sure it’s the closest my dad has ever come to indulging in celebrity gossip, and I appreciated it.
I’m not sure why, but when the cold cap was fitted, it felt much worse than it had in previous sessions. It gets more difficult as your hair thins, apparently, but I really hadn’t lost any hair to speak of. And yet, during that third session, the brain freeze headache lasted a really long time and I felt faintly sick throughout the infusion. Dad kept me entertained, but I was really glad when it was over.
We decided we’d visit Rachel on the way home. She’d been moved from a hospital in Nottingham to one in Leicester, and it was a five-minute drive from the hospital where I had my chemo. So although I was shattered, it seemed crazy to drive home without calling in, when we were so close. It was a difficult visit, though. We didn’t get much of a response. Perhaps she was just too tired. I know I was.
I felt more nauseous than I had after previous chemos, so I decided to take my back-up anti-sickness medication. But for the next couple of days, I felt exhausted, spaced out and not really myself. I didn’t feel in control when I was looking after the children, which was scary. Whenever one of my parents came over, I went straight to bed for a nap, leaving them to babysit. By the end of the second day, I’d had enough. I stopped taking the medication, deciding that the side effects were worse than the nausea.
After that, it was smooth sailing. I didn’t have a single trip to the hospital before the next chemo. I had lovely visits from a few of Rachel’s friends, and my friend Jo came to help me out for three days with her three-year-old daughter, Molly. I had naps and got the washing done and did bits and pieces of admin. And then Paul’s parents took Joseph to stay with them for a few days, and Paul and I took the opportunity to sleep in every morning.
Every day, Elodie was getting bigger and becoming more alert. Her appetite was growing. She started smiling. I dressed her up in all the beautiful outfits she’d been given. I made faces at her. I let her sleep on my chest, sitting still in a quiet room, listening to her snuffles and smelling the top of her head. And I realised that, even though her early weeks had been the worst of our lives, that hadn’t interfered with the way I felt about her. While I was busy surviving, life had crept in, and so had love.
I’d been dealt a tough hand, but I’d been given so much, too. A son. A daughter. A tumour that was small. A sister who was getting better, despite tough odds. A family who were incredible. Friends who showered me with love. For the first time in a long time, I felt lucky.