Let’s Talk About … Losing Someone To Cancer

Good Afternoon Munchkins!

Today I will be talking to about Losing Someone To Cancer. This is something that I’ve wanted to write for a while now because it has happened, very sadly, to me a few times, and the chances are it will happen to everybody at some point in their lives. Obviously this is a fact I want to refuse to believe wholeheartedly, but it’s something we physically can’t escape. Anyway, I’ll just be talking you through my experiences and how to ease the pain a little bit, though it is one of the hardest things to go through, other than having going through it yourself I’m guessing.

My first encounter with cancer was 11 years ago when I was 5 years old. My granddad, after a while of back pain, was diagnosed with bone cancer and died 3 weeks later. He was a chronic alcoholic and smoked like a chimney, so I guess it wasn’t much of a shock, especially with his consistent complaining of back pain. Because of this I never really knew him and don’t remember him much, if at all, but this is what I’ve been told. The thing that upset me about this is that I constantly question the ‘what ifs’ and it’s little things like I’ll never know the sound of his voice: he was born on the Isle of Man but he grew up in London, so I could guess what it was like but it wouldn’t be anywhere near accurate. I don’t remember being told he had cancer or that he’d died, I just remember a time ‘before’ and ‘after’, which I suppose is a positive, but I think the timings were so close they just merged together anyway. Sometimes my Dad will tell me little things about him, but he isn’t on my mind constantly because I didn’t really know him. When he was alive, he spent most of his time in the pub. That doesn’t mean I’m not sad when I think about him, but I do wonder if he would’ve been the exact same as he was 12 years ago, before the cancer, as what he would be if he was still alive now. I think it was so far along he didn’t even have any treatment, or have the time to think about it, but it has led to me being very aware of cancer being this death sentence-like illness. I feel more sorry for my cousins who were around 10 and 12 at the time, as they obviously knew him a lot more than what I did.

A similar thing happened to my great uncle a couple of years ago; he was diagnosed with cancer and died a week later. This was the first funeral I actually cried at, because it was so unexpected and it was my Nan’s younger brother so it wasn’t in the ‘correct order’, if you like. It was a massive shock and he died a couple of days after my parents split up, so all these emotions were just mixed together. It’s so sad, but he wasn’t expected to live past 21 due to some issues he had, yet he survived 3 times that, so he did have a good life and I did know him. However, it was distant family so in some respects it didn’t effect me as much.

The most recent thing that has happened to me is the passing of my grandmother, and this is what I will go into most detail about. Even though it’s still raw and I literally think I’m going to cry as I write this sentence, it’s still something I feel should be spoken about. In May of last year my grandmother starting getting back pain, but at first she thought it was just her not being able to get comfortable in a seat or whatever, and wouldn’t tell anyone (not even my granddad). In July-ish time she started getting tested and the week after her brother’s funeral (how timely) she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, with secondary in the liver. I’m going to be completely honest, we weren’t shocked as both of her younger siblings had died from cancer (her sister died of the exact same type of cancer as her when I was 6 months old). I never really thought that she’d definitely get cancer because of her chances, but it didn’t surprise me too much. Obviously it upset me, but it just didn’t overly shock me.

At first we were told it was ‘inoperable’, and that it would just be controlled and shrunk with chemotherapy. Being the positive person I am, I kind of took this as ‘she’s getting help’, ‘aren’t we so lucky to have such amazing healthcare’ etc. but quite quickly things didn’t seem right. My mum, my brother, her ex and some other’s went on holiday for a week in the summer and when we came back, she had lost so much weight that it was crazy and I just couldn’t believe it. When you hugged her, you could feel her spine and suddenly her usual pink lipstick was no longer complimenting her tanned skin; it just made her look paler. When I stayed with her that summer just before she was diagnosed, we were joking around with her wedding dress because I’d never seen it before, but it wouldn’t do up because she was something ridiculous like a size 8 when she got married (!) but very quickly she managed to phone up and tell me she could now fit in her dress where she’d lost so much weight. The original memory is one that I will honestly treasure, but it’s still dimmed with that line she said to me. I had never seen my granddad so stressed, trying his hardest to give her all the medication he could, and that’s when he turned back to alcohol (this isn’t the one that died 11 years ago, if that wasn’t before obvious!).

She was struggling with the chemo and it made her really constipated, meaning the only way things could leave her body was by throwing it all back up. I bet she’s looking down at me wishing I hadn’t written that, but I want to just fully document this! This meant she lost her appetite very quickly and lost weight even more. She was then sent to the Royal Marsden Hospital in Sutton, Surrey (I’m not from there which is why I’m quite happy to share that with you), which is a specialist cancer hospital. I know I’m not exactly an expert on cancer hospitals, but as far as general hospitals go, it was really nice. She shared a ward with three other women, some of whom were discharged to go into hospices and others who were at the end of their treatment and getting better. I can’t imagine what that must’ve been like, basically looking at your future, but she was still so happy when we went to visit her. She was in there for around a month and was sometimes allowed out on special visits with us or when she went to visit my granddad before he died (unlike everyone else, he didn’t die of cancer!).

She was released just under a week after my granddad died and received a live-in carer who was one of the kindest women I’ve ever met. Very suddenly she’d seemed to have lost even more weight in hospital and would sometimes update me or my mum what her weight was (her lowest weight was 6 stone something, but she was 5 foot 3, so it’s not exactly rocket science to know that wasn’t healthy). Most of the time we could chat fine, and we’d speak about things like college and my up-coming prom, neither of us realising she won’t be there to see it. She was over the moon to find out I was accepted for A Levels, though! This kind of life gradually progressed, and a lot of my October/November was spent visiting her and caring for her on weekends when her carer couldn’t due to family arrangements. She became a lot more emotional (well, wouldn’t we all) and she was put on some anti-depressants just to mellow her out a bit, which would work to the point where we could leave the house and have a really nice time. Something I noticed quite significantly was how tired she became. I guess I never realised it until it was forced into my system, but we’d go out for the morning/early afternoon, then go home so she’d nap and she’d only come down when we’d made dinner. I remember one weekend we went to the garden centre, and even though she’d been reduced to a wheelchair, we were still looking at the Christmas displays and talking about the different colours and themes we would make with all the stock they had. It was a very nice garden centre, I will admit! It felt as if I had her back, even if it was for a few hours.

All of this did feel like a dream and I did put on such a brave face for her, though before, after and during I would cry  before I went to sleep just so I had some release, but wouldn’t upset anyone else. I felt as if I’d already lost her before she did physically pass because my fun-loving, kitchen-queen grandmother was now this skinny, pale woman who had to washed, fed and sat in her armchair all day until someone came to visit her. Seeing someone change so dramatically is so much harder than the actual loss. I never really got used to that version of my grandmother, because I did know it was only temporary and wouldn’t take up the majority of my memories with her.

At the end of November, her cancer was diagnosed as terminal and she was given 6 months to live. Two weeks later she died. She’d started having these falls, which I still believe was just due to her becoming much weaker and more fragile and not being able to hold her weight. Anyway, there came a morning where she woke up and had such terrible pain she just went to bathroom. Her carer (who wasn’t her usual carer, it was a temporary one) didn’t know what to do, but my grandmother fell to the floor in pain and asked for an ambulance. The paramedics had to carry her downstairs to where her shower was and wash her down as she sat on floor. I’ve been in that bathroom and the toilet faces the shower so I have sometimes sat there envisioning what happened, though I know I shouldn’t.

This was when the hospital bed was moved in. She hadn’t really had time to decide whether she wanted to go to a hospice or not, but she wasn’t keen on the one we’d viewed as a family, so we let her die at home as she would’ve wanted could she verbally say. My mum and her girlfriend went up to her’s that day and apparently she slept in her hospital bed in the living room all day, only waking up to watch a little bit of Strictly. People went in to visit her, not that she knew. She died at 1 in the morning in her original carer’s arms. She had formed such an unlikely friendship with her carer that when we told Rose she was dying, she knew she had to be there. The only reason she wasn’t there was because her own mum had died the week before. And then the usual funeral plans were arranged, and two and a half months after my granddad’s death, they were reunited once more.

The last time I saw her it was her birthday, 8 days before she died. It was a good day. If any of you have experienced losing someone to cancer, you will know that a good day means they ate all their chips on their plate and only had to top-up their morphine a couple of times. We went out for a meal, and despite being the smallest I’d seen her, ate a small main course and a desert – better than I did, anyway! The waitresses there were lovely and took care of her needs, ushering us to the nearest table so we didn’t have to walk so far and offering us free extra water so she could take her pills with us. She loved it, we all did. I just hate the fact I left earlier than I could’ve because I had a party to go to. I know she wanted me to go out and have fun, but I’m going to go to however many parties in my lifetime. I’ll never hear her voice again. I remember she loved Dexter that day though!

So in terms of tips and such, just allow yourself to cry. I still haven’t properly because I’ve been so busy with school, but just let yourself do that. I still haven’t really got over my granddad yet, and that was in October. Just don’t do what I did/am doing, because I know once my exams are done it’s going to hit me really hard.

Also, don’t be afraid to talk about it. If someone asks how you’re doing, don’t say the generic ‘yeah’, because we all know it’s not true. Just pull your closest friend aside and be like ‘I’m going to talk to you, you don’t have to respond, I just need to have another human hear my words’. It’s worked for me many a time!

And finally, live your life as they would’ve wanted you to. Stuff happens, but it is how you overcome it that determines where you end up. My grandmother died of cancer, that doesn’t mean I’m going to give up my passions (i.e. blogging and media) and that certainly doesn’t mean I’m going to limit myself. Chances are I’m going to get cancer, so I’m going to do all those things I want to and give anyone who wants to argue with that a good talking to because it’s my life! But don’t go as revolutionary as I am!

And there we have it. I’m not going to hope you have enjoyed this blog post – I’m going to hope that you have taken something from this and have been inspired to share your own story surrounding cancer. We still act as if it’s a massive taboo, but it happens and there’s no stopping that. I really want you to share your story because I do kind of feel like there’s a weight off my shoulders after saying all that, so it may be the same for you.

So, thank you for reading and I’ll see you Tuesday,

Rachel xx

4 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About … Losing Someone To Cancer”

  1. You’re so brave for sharing this Rachel. I have no doubt that your grandmother is incredibly proud of you. Sending big hugs xxx

    1. Thank you so much. As I say, it’s not an easy story to tell but it’s not something that can just be brushed under the carpet and talking things through (or writing things down!) is something that really benefits me in terms of healing, so I just thought, ‘why not?’. I really hope she is – I just hate that I never told her about this blog, even when we knew she didn’t have long left! Again, thank you. Rachel xx

      1. Sharing your story will help so many other people who might come across it! It’s such a brave move to open up about it, as I said, and you should always do whatever makes YOU feel better in terms of healing. You don’t have to heal in the ‘stereotypical’ way; if it makes you feel happier, don’t think twice about it. I think you’re amazing for sharing Rachel, and I know that she is immensely proud of you! Xxx

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