Saturday, December 30, 2017

Endings and beginnings

I like the symbolism of the ritual of New Year's Eve.  Not the whole big party vibe which for a 46 year old non drinker like me, is a literal non event.  I like to reflect on my year past both the lovely and the not so lovely and focus on the new year going forward.

So many people say their year was the worst one ever and they think in a day things will magically change and the next year will be full of sunshine and roses.  While I remain hope junkie and will never be cynical, I know better than to expect a tra lah lah year or one with 12 months of easy peasy bliss and calm.  2017 was a painful year for me.  On this day last year Natey drowned.  I was away in the mountains with no cellphone reception so had no idea the devastation that had just occurred.  I woke up on the 1st of January to a brilliant hot day and snuck off for a trail run before we started the big pack-up after camping.  I was so damn happy and grateful that 2016 had been relatively good.  The first year after 6 hard ones characterized by loss and hard times.  It was a really good light year and even the cancer diagnosis of my father on the 27th of August although devastating, was put in denial as he was so positive and handling the chemo like a boss so I hoped and denied with him somehow thinking he could be that 1% that survived the 5 year mark. 

I ran hot and sweaty and then cooled off in my bra and panties in the coke coloured river and lay on my back and gazed at the brilliant blue sky and thanked God for all that beauty and my year of lightness I had experienced.   I would journal later and write all my resolutions for the year, my goals, my bucket list.  And then as we got down the pass I got cell phone reception and my sister phoned.  I heard the wobble in her voice and she told me she had sad news but it wasn't Dad.  Natey drowned.  Natey??  Not Natey.  That is simply not possible because he is the most beautiful adored little boy and we love his story and his family and he is this little celeb in our lives who we follow every day watching him grow up.  But it was true and it broke all our hearts and life changed for everyone who knew and loved his parents and him.  The ripple of grief spread far and wide.

It has defined my whole year.  I have not had a day when my heart doesn't ache for his parents and his brothers.  He pops into my head several times a day.  The words spoken by his daddy at his service have made me a better person, a better mother.  Nothing can make up for a loss like that but by living long days and being more present and kind and aware I feel I honour his memory and legacy.  I have had many good happy days in the year.  Its a patchwork of different experiences all making up my life.  My studies were incredibly demanding and my community work involved hundreds of interviews and observations and 30 long reports.  I wrote interesting assignments and despite the pressure, enjoyed my last year of studies.  The boys from Bright Lights made me laugh and made me cry.  I have not been around there much and when I popped in 2 days ago I felt so guilty when they were so happy to see me and had thought I was gone forever.  I gave the staff some money to take them swimming which I know is the easy way out but I don't have the capacity at present.

I am not going to write too much about my dad other than to say he has been really really sick the last 4 months and the waiting is very hard.  I am proud to be his daughter, what a fight he has put on.  I have also walked alongside my close friend as she lost her mother to cancer exactly 2 months ago.  We get it, we get each other and the impossible journey we have both had to travel and travel still.  Cancer, Natey, my studies, family, my incredible solo Zanzibar trip, triathlon, friends, camping...all rolled into one year.  Some very happy times and others full of heavy sorrow with lots of ho-hum normal every day life in between.  And that's life I guess.  Hard and easy and beautiful and ugly and happy and sad with everyday chugging along in between.  That will be my 2018 and all the years to follow.  I will stay grateful for my life and the people in it.  I will continue to live long days, to fight good fights and surrender in pointless ones.  I will challenge myself and grow and learn and love and lose and win and be.  I will stay present, mindful and grateful and figure out what and where I am gong next.  Just not right now.  Now I take some time out and be.   

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The cancer journey, losing my dad

We are at the find stage of a very long 15 month cancer journey.  Unfortunately 9 years ago I walked a cancer journey with my mother too but thank God early detection meant we could put vile toxic chemo into her body and kill the cancer and keep the Mama. 

Chemo is brutal.  When my father-in-law got cancer in his late seventies I was convinced the chemo would kill him before the cancer did but old Basil managed to survive both and is now 82 and just fine.  His girlfriend (do you have a girlfriend when you are 82?) lost her husband to cancer too.  Basil lost his wife, Gary's mom to cancer over 20 years ago.  And we lost our Bee too who was only in her forties.  My list can go on and on.

How is it possible we can facetime each other across the world?   We have all this incredible technology most of which is beyond my understanding but someone gets cancer and they die??  When Pops was diagnosed on the 27th of August last year I did what we all do when faced with news like this: google.  Google everything I possibly could about pancreatic cancer (PC) and the news out there was pretty bleak.  Its the cancer with the highest mortality rate due to the late detection and very few cases where surgery is an option.  Most people die within 3-6 months.   The 5 year survival rate for stage 4 is given at 1%.  I suspect its zero but they have to put a tiny glimmer of hope in there.   My dad at age 67 being a stroke survivor with stage 4 PC and mets to the lungs with his old patched up heart of 2 triple bypasses and numerous heart attacks was not given the best odds.  They just sent him home to die and we did not think he would make last Christmas. 

His response was a big fat f*ck you to his death sentence and he decided he was going to beat this monster.  He would throw whatever he could at his cancer because he had a whole lot of life to live and places to go.  We used the same sweet kind oncologist who saved my mom our beloved Dr Loots.   Life became about tumour markers and blood tests and numerous visits.  Bouts of grief and then mad hope junkie moments as I would get swept up in his cycle of hope.  Maybe?  Just maybe he could beat the odds.  My dad is the Man van Staal.  He is one stubborn bugger who loves a good fight like his grandson.  He should have died many times in his life. 

When the first chemo stopped working we hit the second type of chemo but this one was horrendous and left him exhausted and feeling horrendous.  And then he got an embolism which could have easily killed him too but he caught that one in time.  Unfortunately it left him too weak and we had to stop the chemo and were unable to get the port placed.

And so began his real decline and the loss of irrational hope.  Pops finally had a battle he could not win.  He became smaller and smaller and weaker and weaker.   He used to be over a 100kg, he is now 60kg.  Once again the frantic googling began of signs of death.  The not knowing when he will pass is very hard.  Every time I read a symptom and get an idea of time my dad does not follow the rules and defies the odds as always and stays the exception.  He will die at home.  I am grateful to my mom who has given him that gift, an incredibly hard gift to give.  I am also grateful they have brilliant medical aid that pay for the hospital bed and the nursing staff.

This end is very drawn out.  2 months ago he ate a few mouthfuls a day.  4 weeks ago he stopped eating completely.  Like zero food for 28 days??   He cannot even sit up he is so weak.  But still he stays?   We wait every day expecting it to be the day.  I have days when I am so very sad, I have days when I feel like I can't stand one more day of this slow suffering.  My exhausted mother cannot continue like this day after day.  Their are good parts of course.  The closeness of my family.  The humour we all share which is mostly inappropriate but keeps us going.  The sweet gentle side of my dad I never knew existed.  He is so polite and nice.  He could be a real arsehole when he was well.  And we were not close growing up with little physical affection or I love you's.

Now, now I get to rub his bony back and massage his hip and legs which aches.  I rub his arms and skinny little legs and kiss his face and old head.  Every time I leave I say 'I love you Dad' and he says 'I love you my girl.'   I want to know that is the last thing he said to me.  So we wait in limbo unable to plan anything like Christmas carefully watching my mom who has to dig so deep to care for her husband of 49 long years.  He gets very confused and talks the weirdest stuff and we stay infinitely patient with him just going along with what he says.  I love this sweet kind gentle man who I finally have access to after feeling on the outside forever.  The price to pay for that closeness is way too high and I would rather have him alive and well but I will take beauty from ashes.

My sister and brother arrive the end of December so perhaps on some unconscious level he is waiting to have all his kids around him.  I have been glad they have been spared the sight of him so incredibly thin and frail although I know how hard it is for them to be away.  I am so fortunate to have the family I have.  So grateful for my father's close friends and brother who have been incredible with him and my mom.   My Uncle Brian who keeps us all laughing.  My brave, stubborn, fighting dad who I love.  We call him Laz after Lazarus because he keeps rising from the dead.  Mom is Florrie (Florence Nightingale) as she cares for him.  Florrie & Laz, what a team.  Mimi & Pops.  Okie & Dokie.  I can't imagine the one without the other but its the end of the line now.   We salute and release our Pops and give him our blessing to step off the battlefield and sleep forever.  My Dad, what a legend.