Thinking that a move would give us more family time and offer a less stressful lifestyle, we left London behind and travelled half way around the planet to New Zealand, where most of my family still live today. I had been away for many years and hadn’t expected to return, however now that I was back, everything looked and felt familiar and it wasn’t long before we had moved into a house in the city and I had found a full-time job.
Initially we spent time staying at my parent’s home on the sheep farm they had lived for twenty years. It was wonderful to be there with Allia, for her to spend time around her grandparents and for them to get to know and love her.
Being a long way from the nearest town and a very windy road to get in and out, the forced isolation was a little more difficult for my husband to endure, but he was fascinated by the workings of the farm and in particular the shearing shed when it was in full working motion. Not so for me, years of spending school holidays working in that intense, stinking, hot and competitive environment (shearers get paid per sheep shorn, not by the hour) sweeping away wool, dags (sheep shit) and the occasional maggot were something I felt no nostalgia for at all.
It seemed to be good timing to have returned at this time as my mother was unwell, so I was able to go with her to her appointments and provide support. Good timing was an under-statement; she had lost a lot of weight and was having problems with her balance. She was only 59-years-old but seemed to have entered what looked like old age in an awful hurry.
Of course it wasn’t old age. By the time it was understood that it also wasn’t asthma or some diet related weight loss and she had been for a follow-up MRI scan, we found ourselves sitting in an office, opposite an oncologist who mumbled something that sounded like “three weeks”.
“Excuse me”, what did you say? I blurted out.
“The cancer is in the lungs, but it has spread to the kidneys and other organs and those lumps in the neck and brain are tumours. In the state that your mother is in now, I would say that three weeks is being optimistic.”
“But isn’t there anything we can do?”
“Yes, we can start chemotherapy to try to slow down the rapid advance of the cancer and the radiation treatment should be able to remove those tumours so you should actually start feeling better and get your balance back” he said looking at my mother.
We were both stunned. I wanted to protest and say hey that’s not fair, you can’t wait all this time knowing something isn’t quite right, you know it was more than three weeks that we have been worrying about this and we survived that, only to hand out a three-week life card as if you are prescribing community service. This is an unfair sentence being handed out for absolutely no crime!
Completely and utterly helpless, we sat and listened to what would happen in the next few days. I don’t recall much of what he said, but I remember my mother turning to me with that familiar, uncompromising look in her eye and saying, “I’m going to fight this.”
Yes, she would fight death as she had fought life; like every other great challenge that had faced her, she never gave up without a fight. But I looked at the thin frame of a woman she had become and knew that this was a fight she was not going to win. Not this time.
Next Up: in A Silent Education: Our Quiet Challenge in Provence
Episode 11: Adapting to a New Rhythm and Creating Lasting Memories