I reckon it’s fair to say that 2020 has not been the year that any of us dreamed of.
One day into learning from home, when DorkySon and I were both in tears at our complete inability to communicate, I thought that would be the hardest thing we’d have to deal with this year.
A month or two later, sitting at my desk and reflecting on all the lost documents on my crashed hard drive, I thought that would be the hardest thing we’d have to deal with this year.
But then… then. Then came July 29th, when DorkyDad was diagnosed with cancer. And every other hassle and stress of the year faded into insignificance. This was not just hard by 2020 standards; this was hard full stop.
Here is the strangest thing about a cancer diagnosis. In an instant, it changes everything and nothing. I had never understood what it meant when I read about people receiving bad news and feeling like all the air had been suddenly sucked out of the room. Now, having sat beside DorkyDad and held his hand while our kind, wonderful GP talked us through the results that were in front of her, I get it completely. Time really does stand still.
But when the telling is over, you still have to stand up and walk out of the surgery. Still give a cheery wave to the receptionist. Still head to the car and unlock it, and remember to indicate, to stop at junctions, to do all the normal things you do until you’re home and you can park in the garage and try to make it inside the house before you can cry and hug each other and cry some more.
DorkyDad has always hated the word ‘journey’. When colleagues or friends claim to have been on a journey of personal development, he has always rolled his eyes so far back in his head that I worried they were in danger of falling out.
But that was the word the GP used. “It’s shit news,” she said. “Completely shit. I’m so sorry. But now you start the process. Now you embark on the journey, and hopefully when you reach the end, you’ll be cancer-free.”
We are three weeks into this journey, and it is the right word. There has already been an overwhelming number of scans and appointments and phone calls. It has been an exhausting, terrible rollercoaster where every piece of news brings either despair or relief, and then you are left worrying, waiting again, for the next step of the process. You cannot help your mind from wandering to the very worst places, even when you’ve been told those places are unlikely stops on your particular journey.
There has been laughter, because with us there is always laughter – much of it inappropriate.
There has been love and support and kindness from people we know. The kindness is the worst. It sets us both off every time. Stop being so bloody nice, and we’ll be fine. It is a new and challenging thing to be vulnerable, to let people show how much they care.
There have been a lot of tears.
And there has been incredible courage from DorkyDad. I have never been prouder. I have never loved him more. He has approached this with grace, with good humour, with strength. Never once has he asked ‘why me?’ or ‘why now?’
We know that fighting cancer is not just about mindset. It is about being lucky enough to live in a place where there are effective, skilled, knowledgeable doctors. So far, the news from those doctors has been as positive as it can be. He is going to get through this. He is going to survive, and there are so many exceptional people who are going to help that happen.
But if determination does count for anything, I know no-one who is better placed to deal with what’s ahead.
There are likely difficult days to come. If I could go through this in place of him I would. If I could wave a magic wand I would. This is going to be a learning experience for all three of us – how to support each other, to let each other feel different emotions from one day to the next, to pick each other up… and to always keep in our minds a vision of what life will be like on the other side.
Maybe by Christmas. That is what we are hoping for. Maybe as the chook roasts in the oven for Christmas lunch, we will sit outside in the sun, sip champagne and breathe a long, slow exhalation of relief that things are looking better.
But in the meantime, we are focusing on one day at a time. That has always been our approach to life, and it has never been more important. We are prioritising the things that remind us how good it is to be alive. Warm pastries for breakfast on Sunday mornings. Long walks by the water. Fierce domino battles in front of the woodfire in the evening. And that magical moment just before sleep comes each night, when we tuck up tight together and almost, almost let ourselves forget.