It’s been a year since my last blog post. In ‘The Tunnel’ I wrote about the death of Chester Bennington; I also briefly mentioned that my Dad was dying.
Seven weeks after writing ‘The Tunnel’ my Dad passed away. I haven’t wanted to write since.
In April 2017 my Dad called me at my new job, just before 5pm, to tell me that his cancer was back but he didn’t know much else about it. I was confused and devastated, not just the thought that my Dad would have to go through his third cancer in four years, but that the doctors had told him two weeks before this call that he was still all clear of cancer.
In February 2014, the day I came back from travelling, my Dad found out he had his first cancer. Bowel Cancer. He fought it with high spirits and good humour, despite a quick round of chemotherapy after the operation and all the waiting and checkups by Christmas that year the cancer was gone. We enjoyed Christmas more than ever before that year.
2015 happened without a health glitch. Then 2016 hit us all hard when Dad was told he had his second cancer. This time the more worrying, Liver Cancer. We were terrified. I hadn’t googled Bowel Cancer during Dad illness because I mostly didn’t trust the internet not to freak me out and also just wanted my Dad to tell me he was going to be fine.
I googled Liver Cancer. I didn’t like anything I read and I managed to terrify myself when reading that around 12% of people diagnosed with Liver Cancer live a further 5 years after diagnosis. Twelve percent. Five years.
My Dad had the operation to remove part of his liver and we thought it would be the same as with his bowel cancer; he would have the operation, then the chemo, and after a while of feeling weak he would get better. With this operation on his liver he developed complications that led to delirium. We had no clue what delirium was and we hadn’t been told it could be a complication so we weren’t prepared when we found out.
During a phone call from my sister while I was at work she told me the doctors had asked her what Dad was like before the operation and if he was independent and could take care of himself, as they had seen in his medical record that he had been living with a head injury from when he was a child. My sister told them that he was completely fine and if you didn’t know about his injury you wouldn’t think he had anything wrong with him. They told her he wasn’t like this now. The words travelled through my body like ice. I had no idea what they meant so I left work and travelled up to the north of England to the hospital to see my Dad. He was in the critical care unit and I didn’t know what that meant either.
Before we went to see him the nurse spoke to my sister and I and told us he had delirium; we asked what it was and they said he’s confused. She told us he believed he had been kidnapped and that he was being held captive. She asked us if he had been in the army and we told her that he had been in the Paras and the SAS.
When we saw our Dad he was different. He was angry and yelling at us to get him out of there. He told us that they were gassing him and that we needed to get him out. My sister and I were terrified. We tried to explain to him that he was in the hospital and that he had just had his liver operation and that he had gotten an infection from the operation and they were trying to get him better. He wouldn’t hear us. He just kept screaming at us to get him out of there and telling us there was a plot to kill him and we were helping them by not getting him out.
We spoke to the nurses again and our Dad screamed at us for talking to them. He said they were part of the plot and we were on their side. The nurses told us that he had been fighting them in the night and that he would scream at them and hit them if they tried to give him medicine. We asked why he thought they were gassing him and they told us that the infection was affecting his breathing so they had to give him more oxygen but he kept taking his oxygen mask off so they had to put what looked like a hazmat suit helmet on him to get the oxygen into his lungs without him taking it off.
When we saw it we freaked out. We had no questions about why our Dad thought they were gassing him; he was confused from the infection and on the drugs he was on they held him down and forced him to wear a helmet that looked like it had come out of a nuclear disaster movie.
We questioned why his hands were in what looked like white boxing gloves, and the nurses told us they had to restrain him as he was hurting staff and was pulling the needles out of his arms and had even pulled his catheter out before.
When we got back to our Dad he was telling us to take his gloves off, and we told him we weren’t allowed to because he keeps hurting himself; he screamed at us for assisting them in trying to kill him. He would then try to reason with us to help him get out, and when we refused he would scream at us. At one point he fell asleep for a few minutes and my sister and I stared at each other trying to hold back our tears, then he woke up and immediately tried to get out of the bed saying he had a wedding he had to get to and asking where they had put his suit – we had to think quick and told him the wedding was NEXT weekend, not this weekend. He looked at us with complete blank confusion and then said “oh right, yes it is” and got back in bed. This wasn’t our Dad, we didn’t know what the hell we were doing but we desperately wanted him to be OK.
We decided we had to try to play along with his delirium in order to stop him from screaming at us and to try to keep him calm.
It would last for a few minutes and then it would start all over again.
Over the next few weeks we would take it in shifts for one of us to sit with our Dad while the other would take care of my sister’s baby who wasn’t allowed in the critical care unit, and we were quite thankful for it. We didn’t want the baby to get upset seeing his Grandad this way, not knowing what was going on.
One of us would sit in the waiting room with the baby, playing with his few toys we had brought to the hospital and trying to keep him entertained while the other one of us would be with Dad trying to stop him hurting himself and the nurses while trying to keep him calm by playing along with the delirium and saying we were trying to get him out but we couldn’t do it that day. We had to be on our toes to quickly try to defuse whatever situation would arise every few minutes and wherever his mind took him we had to be on that page with him.
When he was finally allowed to go home, after a few weeks in the critical care unit and then a week on the ward, we were terrified. My sister lived the closest and the hospital asked her to live with him while he was recovering; she had a one year old baby and was pregnant with her second child, and having watched our Dad scream and punch the nurses we were scared that he might still be in his delirium and lash out at my sister without realising.
Luckily he seemed to be out of the delirium and was just slightly confused when he went home. We didn’t tell him about what he had been saying or how he was during his weeks in the critical care unit. He only remembered a few things and we didn’t think it would help him at all to know the truth.
I felt like I had aged ten years in those two months. It was the first time we had seen what it might be like to have to take care of our parents and the role reversal wasn’t something we looked forward to.
Over the next few months our Dad got a lot better, and by Christmas he was himself again.
I didn’t spend that Christmas at home. The year had drained me and I spent that Christmas with my eldest sister at her house near Winchester. Had I known it would be my last Christmas with my Dad here I would have been there in a heartbeat. But I didn’t know, and I was so tired from the year that I just wanted a break.
April 2017 came and I got the phone call from my Dad. I left work, went home and cried. Selfishly, I couldn’t go through that again. I wasn’t thinking too far ahead because we didn’t know what was happening yet, but I was dreading the thought of reliving that year. I’d just started a new job and was hating my new firm so was trying to get a job back at my old firm; I couldn’t afford to travel up north all the time again while starting a new job.
A few weeks after my Dad’s initial call where he’d said they were going to do more tests he told me he’d had an appointment with the doctors and they told him that his cancer was back, it had spread, and was now terminal.
I couldn’t breathe. This wasn’t happening; Dad got cancer and he got complications but he got better. He always got better, he wasn’t going to die.
About a week after this call my Dad called me again and we chatted like normal and I asked what the latest was with the cancer; he told me he didn’t have cancer and asked why I thought he had. I was confused and furious; what the hell was happening he told me it was back! I yelled at him for lying about his health to me and told him he couldn’t do this to his daughters, this wasn’t fair on us! I hung up and didn’t speak to him for a week.
In that time my Mum came down to visit me for the weekend and I told her about the call. By this time my sister and I weren’t speaking due to a falling out a few months before, but my Mum told me she needed to tell my sister that our Dad doesn’t have cancer because she believed that he did.
A week later my Dad called me and told me he was updating his Will and asked what I wanted. I was angry at him for carrying this on when he’d told me he didn’t have cancer. He was confused again and told me that he does have cancer and didn’t know why I thought he didn’t. I had no clue what was going on but I didn’t want any part in it. He told me he was dying and I told him he wasn’t and hung up. A few minutes later I sent him a text with the things I had told him years ago I wanted in his Will (his watch, his record player and his record collection) together the addition of his car – as I was the only daughter that had never been given a car by our family and am the only daughter that can’t drive. I was angry. In hindsight I wouldn’t have sent the text, but I did and he was hurt by it.
My sister texted me a few weeks later to say that she was angry at me for how I was treating our Dad and that she couldn’t believe I hadn’t been up to visit him knowing he was dying. I replied that he told me he didn’t have cancer and no-one aside from him had told me any different so I didn’t know what was going on and had assumed it was part of the delirium coming back, as it had a few times over that year. My sister told me his cancer was back, it had spread, and that it was terminal. She also told me that Dad had been in hospital with an infection when he’d called me to say that he didn’t have cancer and that during that time his delirium had come back a little which was a horrible and scary time for her by herself. I apologised to her but told her I had no clue about any of this as no-one was talking to me up there.
I spoke to my Dad and apologised, and asked him what was going on. I then begged my Mum to keep me updated on how he was as I couldn’t trust what he was telling me all the time.
In July 2017 my Dad came down to visit me in London for the final time. He needed a wheelchair as he couldn’t walk far, he was the thinnest I’ve ever seen him, he was tired easily but he was cheery and happy. He was my Poppy, as I have called him for years.
My eldest sister joined us for the first day my Dad was here; she wheeled him around London and I carried his bag. My eldest sister lightened the mood by trying to hit people’s ankles with Dad’s wheelchair while Dad was jokingly embarrassed and begging her to stop, and we all laughed about it.
I took my Dad and my sister to visit my tarot reader who I have been going to for years, Alexa, as my Dad had said he wanted to come down to London to see me and to visit Alexa “one last time” before he “went“. Alexa and Dad had met a few years before and they both adored each others company, so I was excited to take him to see her again, and to try to convince my eldest sister to have a reading.
Alexa did my sister’s reading first, and then asked to see me before seeing my Dad. She told me she wanted to do my sister and my readings before she did my Dad’s as she knew she wouldn’t be able to see us after giving my Dad his reading. My first card was the death card and I burst into tears. She told me it didn’t always mean what it looks like, but that in this case it did. She told me I knew my Dad would be watching over me when he goes, but the reading was hard to hear, even when it came to the good parts of my life, I still didn’t really want to hear it. Then she saw my Dad.
About six months ago I bumped into Alexa near my work and told her that I had wanted to text her but didn’t know how to say that my Dad had passed. She told me that she talks about my Dad to people she meets all the time and that she never charged him for his readings because she always felt honoured that he went to see her; she then told me about his reading.
After my reading Alexa had told me that before seeing my Dad she knew that he would be asking her difficult questions and that normally she wouldn’t answer them, but that she would for my Dad. When I bumped into her that day she told me that my Dad hadn’t wanted to know how long he had left, he had asked about how we would do after he passes and if we would be OK. She said all he wanted to know was that we would be OK and to ask if it would be painful when he went. She told him that it wouldn’t, and it wasn’t. He fell asleep two days after his 70th birthday and then he didn’t wake up again. It was peaceful.
She told him it would be painful up to a point, but that then there would be no more pain. And he did have pain, a lot of pain, a lot of discomfort and confusion, but in the days before and when it happened my sister was with him and told me it was peaceful. He took a long breath and then exhaled, and he went.
It’s hard for me to write this, and I’m crying as I type so I won’t be able to write more for now, but over the last few years I’ve seen the horrific faces of cancer, and in the year since my last post I’ve seen the worst of it.
I lost my Dad a month after my 30th birthday and two days after his 70th birthday.
I lost more than my Dad that day, I lost my best friend and the person that knows me the most. I lost the person that called me all the time and now my phone is on silent all the time. I lost the person I turn to when I have great news and when I have a shitty day. I lost the person that knows the exact right thing to say in any moment and every situation. I lost the person that can make me laugh while I’m having an angry moment.
I didn’t think he would die, even when they told me it was terminal, I really didn’t think he would die. Even when I saw how much weight he had lost and we both cried at seeing it, I still thought he would get better. Because he always had.
To anyone going through cancer right now, or having gone through it ever before, you are amazing and you are doing so well. I’ve seen what cancer does to people and their families and how hard every day is, even when treatment has stopped the battle continues and you are doing AMAZING. You really are.
Everyone going through the battle of cancer is doing the best they can and please don’t ever feel like it’s not good enough because even if it’s a horrific day you weren’t expecting, you have done your best.
And to the nurses, paramedics, doctors and cancer support workers, you are heroes. You never stop and you do so much and go through so much to help all of us, there is no thank you big enough for how incredible you are.
To the staff that helped my Poppy throughout all three of his cancers, you are my heroes and you were his heroes. He was so thankful to have the NHS supporting him and for every person that took care of him. He didn’t know everything he’d done during that time but we saw what the staff did and you were amazing. Thank you from all of us.
All my love to all of those around cancer, now and in the past.