Grief… & Other Associated Stress

There is no measure of time that it will take for a person to overcome the grief of losing someone who is directly related to them; this I have learned first hand.

It has been almost four months since my Mum passed away. Four long months since I saw her face, heard her laugh, teased her with something totally inappropriate or since she commented on something she saw on one of her favourite TV shows. This seems like forever ago, yet there is a conflicting passage of time that makes it seem like yesterday that she was at full capacity and we were shopping together, having Wednesday lunches together or that I was staying at her house most nights of the week so we could watch Masterchef together where I would live tweet her hilarious commentary.

It seems like not that long ago that I was doubled over in pain, food poisoned or suffering a severe case of gastro where she was taking care of me, loaning me money to afford a “real” (non medicare) doctor at the end of my pay cycle and shuttling me to and fro and making me food until I felt better. The normal comforts of having a mother that loves you unconditionally.

It has been almost four months since my Mum passed away and all I know is that the pain of that loss has hit me with a weight that I can’t quite aptly convey to anyone else that’s in my life. No one can ever understand the love between my Mum and I because they were not part of it. I regularly dream of her and sometimes they end in nightmares and other times I wake up feeling thankful that I’ve had the chance to see her and that she hasn’t faded from my memory. I am thankful that I haven’t yet forgotten how she smelled or how it felt to be comforted by her.

Sometimes I feel that when I talk about her, people become glazed over because they kind of expect that because it’s almost been 4 months, I should be ‘almost’ over it — or that my pain should have dulled at least.

The truth is that I don’t think I will ever feel less pain about my Mum’s passing. The guilt of what I ‘could’ have or ‘should’ have said or done will never pass (despite the fact that I did a lot and I know she would never accuse me of any different). Four months may have almost passed by quickly, but the immediacy of her passing required me to be level-headed, emotion-free and diligent in planning a funeral, taking care of bits and pieces, letting everyone know, and allying everyone else’s sadness by pretending I was totally okay with the new reality of a life, motherless.

Because of the fastness in which my Mum passed, I can see how shell-shocked we all were in hindsight — perhaps that was attributed to all the denial we faced about her condition. Nevertheless, the three weeks of work that I took off didn’t really give me the time I needed. Again, in hindsight, it might have been smart to go back to work immediately and rather take the time when I began to feel the weight of losing her — like now.

I try to recall the good memories; but they even make me sad with the reality that we will never have the chance to create anymore.

Along with the other monsters in my head, intruding upon the normal functionality of a brain, I go to sleep with this sadness every single night and wake up feeling the weight of the loss as I try to turn the music up to drown it all out as I get ready for the day. When I get in the car and in those moments that I am alone, I find myself either having to listen audio books, or else endure the tears and the stupid guilt.

As a result the silly thoughts begin and I have to try to bargain with myself with a routine or compulsion just to ease it off; like a superstition. It starts with one thing and it domino effects in to a thousand things and before I know it, I can barely get out of bed, wracked with grief, depression, intrusive thoughts and feelings that not another person will ever be able to ease save for the presence of my Mum who was really the only person I trusted to tell me the truth without getting angry or frustrated with me — even if it was sometimes cutting and blunt.

It isn’t that I don’t feel like I can’t talk to people about it, my family and my friends have been so good — but I find it hard to talk about it without being aware of their discomfort or lack of words that will make me feel better. Nothing makes it better and I don’t think it ever will.

Just this week I have felt off — unsure if it is just stress of grief or genuine sickness, I took myself off to the doctors three times and each time a different outcome ensued. Yesterday I had a blood test and had to wait for the results. After hours my doctor called me back and I missed the call by around 4 minutes so she left a muffled voice message that I couldn’t distinguish and something about coming back but also the word ‘mild’ was heard somewhere — regardless of the logic that bad news wouldn’t have been allowed to be left in a voice mail, I went in to melt down. Because it was after hours, I couldn’t call back without it going to an answering message service and I lost my shit for a good hour.

I suppose the point of this is to just acknowledge the fact that there truly is no allotted time that one must adhere to when it comes to grief and its okay to lose your friggin’ marbles for as long as it takes to feel better again.

In fact, when the funeral and the flowers and the well wishes and the shock dissipates, the gravity of the loss hits hard. As funny as it is, I feel like this quote is apt and it’s from Michael Scott so I know my Mum would approve:

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..I mean, if we were talking about trying to put it in to words and all.

The other things I’ve learned about grief and loss is that people do say some stupid shit to you. The nurse taking care of my Mum immediately after her passing told me this as she comforted me and I knew it was true in the moment but I didn’t know just how true until someone tried to tell me to stop talking about my Mum because I was torturing myself.

I’ve learned that talking does help sometimes but in my case, writing is a release too and so if you are reading this wondering why I’ve done a violent overshare of emotions, then I will tell you it is because it is good for me and at this point in time, I am taking care of myself because unfortunately despite my age, my mother isn’t here to help me do that anymore.

Also, grief sometimes doesn’t show up immediately. For me, I didn’t feel it; didn’t get it. I didn’t cry after leaving her that night. I didn’t cry at her funeral, really. I was able to smile and laugh and joke and continually tell everybody how chill I was about my Mum dying. And for a little while, I truly believed my own hype.

Until of course, the grief did hit…

Moving on from the loss of someone is actually impossible, but adjusting your life to a lifetime without an important person in it, is possible with time. The pain won’t ever pass, I don’t think. And there are days that I’m sure in 10 years time that I will take to just cry and remember her, but I am hoping that what I am going through currently will pass in its due course.

But right now, I miss my Mum so much that it is painful to think about her and thinking about her makes it literally hard for me to breathe.

(She is probably wishing she could give me “a clip ’round the earhole” as I write this).

So yeah, that’s where I am at. Now I’m off to avoid life by nose diving in to yet another book.

The Cancer Journey

I’m totally over the cancer journey.

I hate cancer.

I mean, I haven’t heard anyone who loved it, but I’m just fed up and tired of it. I hate how my life has become so desensitised toward it. I hate watching what it does to my Mum and I hate how much she has lost in her life since she had her second diagnosis in March 2015.

March 2015, that’s right — that was the second diagnosis of cancer less than three years after the first.

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On 2nd April, 2015, I wrote this in my physical journal;

“Its that short span of time between waking up and recollecting the millions of tiny thoughts inside your brain. It disrupts the peace that allows me to be ignorant of the stress and concerns that dominate me around the clock. That moment is brief and fleeting but it’s welcome and it is the only thing that gives me the ability to launch myself out of bed. Without that, I doubt I would feel as much motivation or even will to get through the day

What a world we are away from that.

Cancer has just become a daily part of my thoughts and feelings that it has been engrained in us all to feel normal; that chemotherapy is normal and the side effects and the doctors appointments, treatments, setbacks and more are just a all part and parcel.

I wake up and don’t even think about cancer for the most part, but I do check my phone to make sure no one has tried to call me or message me about my Mum in my sleep – to make sure that I haven’t missed out on any emergencies.

Oh, I definitely have the right to feel that given that my Mum had a massive seizure only a week and a half ago; so I am sometimes on edge and I am sometimes ruled from minute to minute by my anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder which is triggered by my Mum’s health and whether or not she seems ‘okay’ to me.

I am used to feeling like we can’t seem to catch a break. I am used to arguing with her about eating something and making sure she is strong. I am used to hear her telling me that she is sick of feeling sick and just over it all.

That’s something I guess I can relate to.

Metastatic breast cancer is no fucking joke. For those of you that don’t know, metastatic breast cancer is when the cancer has metastasised elsewhere in her body. In her case, it was in her lungs and then less than a year later, in her brain.

Cancer of the brain is also no fucking joke.

The hardest part about this is having to watch someone that you love and care about lose their faculties. In November last year my Mum lost the ability to type on the computer, text on her phone, walk without tripping and stumbling and it was swift and sudden and she required immediate treatment after some mini seizures.

According to her most recent appointments, she will begin a new chemotherapy on Monday and her brain MRI has been sent to Melbourne for the perusal of some other specialists to see if she will require targeted treatment (although happy with current results).

It’s just exhausting and to be honest, I’m not even her, I can’t imagine how she feels… and disease aside; it’s really pulled the curtain open on the disgusting behaviour of other people — their heartlessness, their ability to turn their back on someone while making excuses for why their life is so hard… it’s just overall, shit.

I just woke up today feeling like more emotional about the fact that I hate cancer and I hate that it’s a part of our lives and anyone else’s lives for that matter.

Book Blog and how I came to be…

I don’t always blog about books. If you go through my previous posts, you’ll see a few things about life, my family and my own internal struggles, but predominantly what you’ll read here are posts and reviews about the books that I’m reading.

If you go back on my blog a little over a year ago, you’ll find the few posts I made with my Mum’s returned cancer in her lungs. You’ll read the posts where I alluded to bad news but didn’t confirm it ’til a few posts later. It’s been a long, hard road over the past few years and more tears than I’ll ever allow anyone know.

You’ll also read my struggles with general anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. Some days those issues are triggered harder than others. And generally my OCD symptoms change dependant on what has triggered it.

Quite honestly, there’s not a lot of things that can make me feel normal for a period of time where I can forget the parts of my reality that can sometimes feel overwhelming or upsetting. Sometimes I play play station because it requires all of my undivided attention and other times I binge-watch TV shows until my butt is sore from not moving.

But the one thing that feels calms me in a failsafe way are books. It requires all of my attention to read and I can suck myself in to an alternate world where I am looking inside other people’s worlds, giving me a reprieve from my own.

This is not to take away the fantastic love and support from my family, friends and partner, but sometimes there is only so much that they can do or say to make me feel any better. If anything, the situation is just as helpless for them as it is to me. I hate bothering people with my devastation and my tears, so I focus my energy on all of the books that I enjoy reading, in reviewing them and working on this blog.

As I’ve written on this site earlier: words are so powerful and when I am not reading, I am writing. In the same essence that writing sucks me in to another world, my own fictional writings make me create a world that I wish I could be a part of or one that helps me cope with the world that I am a part of.

Books are important to me especially at this point in my life. Reality is important too, but books have always been an important escapism in my life and since I’ve always loved blogging, book blogging seems to be mutually exclusive.

I hope stories will continue to take me from my reality just enough to forget for a little while, or at least renew my hopes when I feel hopeless.

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Cancer, Chemo & Clinical Trials

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Everything feels quite inconsequential as I type this. I am sipping a mint-infused green-tea, my dog is sitting next to me on our second office chair (what I like to call, her study chair) and every now and then I lean over and scratch her behind the ears. After this blog entry, I am planning on going for a walk on the treadmill for twenty or so minutes as part of the fitness regime that I’m desperately trying to get back after the last three weeks of rubbish feelings and litany of bad news.

I guess that’s how surreal cancer is.

Please keep in mind that when I write about this experience, it is from the perspective of someone who is living with cancer by proxy. Someone who is affected by cancer as a family member — someone’s daughter. If it seems like its a little self-indulgent, you’ll need to forgive me, this is the hardest thing in my life that I’ve ever had to deal with and I’m still finding my way trying to deal as I am sure my Mum is.

Back in late March my mum was diagnosed with cancer for a second time – could we call it a relapse? Its certainly not a new cancer; but whatever we call it, she has it. And it sucks big time.

The doctors were unsure about the tumor, but felt as though it wasn’t all that serious (in the sense that it was very easily treatable) and even gave us such news, not with 100% authority, but with at least some conviction. We awaited results to find out what type of cancer and all the details with great trepidation and anxiety, but if I am going to be honest, I was quite relaxed about it. I kept thinking, “we’ve been through this before, we know what to expect, we will be alright.”

I think if the doctor had of leaned over and punched both my Mum and I with brute force for her 4ft-nothing, petite stature, I would have been much less shocked by the news that was delivered to us. Basically, it wasn’t just a localised cancer, but my Mum’s biggest fears were confirmed and the cancer has spread to her lungs with “multiple legions in both” … and I am not particularly proud of the way that I dealt with that news. I was later speaking to a friend about that reaction and said that I wasn’t expecting to react the way that I did, but upon reflection I realised that I was wrong. I reacted in a normal, human way – the same way anyone else would react when you learn of news so devastating about someone that is incredibly important to you. What I wasn’t expecting, was the news that we received.

All I’ll say was that my Mum, my neighbour, a nurse and a doctor went to fetch water, tissues, hugs, advice on breathing… lol. What a way to make it about myself! ha, sorry Mum.

We didn’t receive the finer details of any of the cancer because it was a little out of this Dr’s expertise so considering we received the news on a Friday, you can imagine how our weekend was, waiting for an oncology appointment on the Monday morning.

It’s that tiny moment when you first wake up, where you feel groggy and stuck between your dream and reality– everything is fine, and then lucid thoughts flood your mind. Its time to wake up for work, oh crap, its Friday, I hate Fridays. Guess I should eat some breakfast, oh by the way, remember your Mum has Cancer? And zoom in on that, fade out on the rest for the entirety of the day.

It’s like having a fear of heights and you’re constantly standing on the edge of a balcony overlooking the drop right down below and your stomach continuously lurches and gurgles with fear and your arms and legs turn in to spaghetti and you can’t step back or hold on to anything because we all know there are no bones in spaghetti.

I think I spent most of that weekend crying uncontrollably at random moments, having anxiety attacks and being controlled by a strong set of OCD tendencies that seem to visit me during stressful times. In saying that, I am very lucky to be surrounded by a great partner who is emotionally supportive and not to mention my best friends who understand that no words can fix this, but that listening to me cry and unload is probably the best way that they can help.

The Monday oncology appointment was something I couldn’t attend; a mix of not wanting to be a bad support after the way I had originally reacted to the news and also because I need to focus on work because I might want to take time to go with my Mum to treatment appointments later. But, walking in the door after that Monday appointment, waiting to get information was like walking a plank, fearful of more bad news (can’t help it, once bitten, twice shy). I was palpitating, dry mouth, shaking, ready to fall apart at the seams… and I did, but it was okay.

I think we’ve come to expect the worst given that we were told not to worry too much in the beginning stages.

We heard the words thrown about that we wanted to hear somewhat;

Treatable, remission, chemotherapy, tumor shrinkage, etc.

With those words though, come the cemented seriousness of what’s going on. This isn’t going to be a walk in the park, this is serious, this cancer is aggressive. Oncology promise to give her the best of care (my questions; why the eff wasn’t this picked up sooner? why wasn’t she given the best of care for the past 2 yrs? its not like she’s been skipping appointments!). They set her down for clinical trials in Melbourne if something should arise.

So much information; information overload.

Last thursday Mum went in to surgery and had a central line put in to save the chemo from ruining her veins and making her needle-phobia a bit less intense or at least less bothered by all the intravenous treatment. Chemo was to begin this Monday coming. Weekly chemo for three weeks on and one week off and then check to see if there are any changes. We went to the chemo information session, it was all good, helpful information.

And then she got a call for a clinical trial in Melbourne and all the information changed.

So as it stands, we will wait to find out whether or not she has the genetic brca gene for breast cancer; if so, she will be eligible for the treatment which will be weekly chemo from the city plus a tablet which will either be a placebo or the real thing (this is how they determine if it works or not, by testing if any changes are placebo or other) but no one, including the doctors will know which pill she will receive until later. She has decided to go this route if the test is positive but we feel like it might not be the case.

So that’s where it stands now, she will wait for the results and they will determine the next part of the road for us.

This is such a difficult time in our lives. Everyone deals with their grief different; I’ve gone back to church — a humbling part of me decided it was time. I stopped going after a burn out occurred after Mum got “better” back a year or so ago and also because the time with my partner is so limited, but now I think its time. I don’t begrudge anyone for not believing what I believe anymore, but I do feel like with anything the power of faith can sometimes be stronger than the entity of which someone is putting their faith in to. I’ve never stopped believing, but many things factored in to my not attending — all of which I do feel like I want to change.

The rest of the time I’ve been muddling through each day, feeling down, feeling up, feeling confident in my Mums treatment, to feeling down again. It’s not fair, it really sucks and I’d give anything to be encumbered by the “problems” that I see other people post about, but as sucky as it is, the world doesn’t stop moving even though we’ve jumped off the axis.

I can’t do anything, I am helpless and perhaps that’s what is the most frustrating part of it all. But I feel like cancer treatment has come leaps and bounds since even the last time my Mum had cancer, so I am putting my faith in to research and cures and so I have decided the only thing that I can do is to raise money for cancer research so my Mum, and others who have been or who are in her situation can not just get remission but who can get cured.

We resign ourselves to being positive even though all we want to do is fall apart.

We tell ourselves that we’ll be strong, even if we can’t stop the crying on some days.

We can only try. That’s all we will do.

And we’ll continue to have hope and faith, because without those things, what’s the point?

If you’d like to donate to my cancer council page, please jump to this link; Every Day Hero Cancer Council  Every donation I receive, no matter how small will receive a handmade gift as a thank you from me and my family.