Back in October, I gave some friends and nursery mums the link to this blog. I was terrified because I am an enormous wimp.
I’m not sure what dark and dreadful things I thought would come to pass if people I knew read my writing. But my fears were ridiculous. Nobody blanked me at preschool pickup or posted a dead mouse through the letterbox. My coat remained spit-free. I was showered only with kindness and encouraging comments.
I got all excited. The evening people read stuff, I had three strong gin and tonics to toast my immense bravery and I was buzzing with excitement and brimming with ideas. I felt like some shackles had been shed.
Then three days later something truly awful happened. My dad was diagnosed with Secondary CNS Lymphoma.
Cancer in the brain.
Before you read on, he’s still here. And that’s where I’ve been.
I’ve found it hard to think straight and even harder to sit down and write until now. Besides which, talking about it here would have felt like a vulgar bid for sympathy or attempt to exploit his illness for personal gain. Like someone going on Facebook in search of a hundred love-you-babes.
Yet how could I write about anything else?
So I didn’t.
But the thing’s been with us a while now and life is going on. I need to write and wanted to explain the weird awol thing I did: Here I am. Please look at my blog everyone. Now see you later, suckers.
They can’t get rid of my dad’s lymphoma. They’ve shrunk the mass with steroids and salvage chemo but they know it can’t be beaten.
It’s too deep for surgery. There are other treatments available, but not to him. He’s 78 and had the only likely cure a few years back after his primary lymphoma as insurance against precisely what he’s got now. It wiped him out for months and he didn’t want it again.
My dad has always been active, fit and strong – the kind of man who wears shorts from March to November and never drives if he can ride his bike (in his 1964 purple Loughborough University tracksuit). I assumed he was invincible.
Even though he’s almost 80, it’s taken me months to accept that illness can bring down someone otherwise in the rudest of health.
Since his diagnosis, medical intervention and physio have brought back his mobility, which he’d lost completely in under a month. It’s been incredible to witness.
But until recently he was on-and-off lost down a sinkhole of hallucinations and nightmares so vivid they resisted distinction from reality.
In the grip of delirium, he did some very odd things indeed. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.
He couldn’t think his thoughts through to conclusion but spent hours on end trying to.
The only ideas that made it through the mental fug were convictions that he’d brought catastrophe on the world through many and varied wrongdoings.
He couldn’t even watch his beloved cricket without pausing to foretell of the armaggedon to be unleashed when his misdemeanours came to light.
There were lucid periods but they didn’t last long.
But then a couple of months ago we were subject to a kind of miracle. Against very long odds, things started improving.
Just after Christmas, I took Maya round to my parents’ house and my dad played with her lego. He focused and laughed and had fun.
On the next visit, he took great pleasure in teasing her, hiding her talking toy ‘Fuzzywig’ behind his back and then lobbing it at someone else once she’d worked out where its little gremlin voice was coming from.
Since then, we’ve been out for coffees, meals and walks round the park. My mum and dad have been to a concert. They do a crossword together every morning.
When we’re together, he is present in the here and now.
There are little blips but he’s him again. The specialists are surprised but delighted. We are holding our collective breath and savouring what we have.
He’s back to singing silly songs and jingles from his 1950s youth in a jolly mid-century style.
He reads stories to Maya and laughs impishly at funny, childish humour. He delights her again with his vocal approval of her latest ballet recital or big-girl act of kindness.
Our relationships have sprung almost back to shape.
I find myself trying to tap the rich reserves of his sponge-like memory, his encyclopaedic knowledge of what has always seemed like everything. I kick myself that it meant so little to me for so long.
Sometimes I catch my dad looking at Maya and clearly hoping he misses as little as possible. We’re hoping the same thing.
But it is good to see what a tonic she is for him too – still able to bring out his inner naughty schoolboy, still able to pluck him from his sabotaged thoughts and command his full attention. They have a very special connection.
So here we are in limbo, enjoying the time we’ve got. It’s shocking what you can almost get used to – the emotional tightrope of hoping for the best, preparing for the worst and carrying on as normal.
For now, with a bit of peace restored, I’m going to carry on writing like before.
When things looked very bad indeed, I read loads about losing a parent. I was anxious to steel myself and my family against the cataclysmic event to come.
But as with most things, experience is a tougher coach and more scrupulous teacher than literature ever can be. I’m just hoping it waits a while longer to knock at our door.