This is our third post for March Theme Week, coming from guest author, Rebecca Field. Rebecca lives in Derbyshire and juggles trying to find time to write with caring for two young children and working in healthcare. Her blog can be found at:
David took hold of his Mother’s elbow and manoeuvred her out of the automatic door as they left the Genetics clinic.
“Shall we go and get a coffee Mum?”
“Coffee? I could do with something stronger after that news. It’s just our luck, it really is.”
“Come on, it’s not that bad.”
They crossed the rain-swept carpark and passed through another set of automatic doors, entering the main hospital building. David found a clear table in the far corner of the large canteen and settled his Mum there while he went off to get the drinks. It was mid-afternoon; the lunchtime rush was over and there were just a few odd couples sitting here and there. A solitary patient with a drip stand stared at her phone; her tatty dressing gown and slippers somehow not out of place in the tired surroundings. The smell of overcooked broccoli lingered in the air.
David joined the small queue to order the drinks and was glad of a few moments alone to gather his thoughts. He was a little shaken himself; but really, he reflected, it was better to know than not know. That way, there were things that could be done; choices that could be made. Communicating the information to the rest of the family might be a challenge. But not one that he would shy away from, he decided. He took a long breath inwards; glad the appointment was over with.
Returning to the table with coffee and cakes, his mother still had a look on her face like someone had just run over her favourite cat. “I wish you’d never been for that test David. Haven’t you had enough to deal with already without this?” She sighed and looked down at her coffee cup.
“Mum. It’s fine. I decided to have the test, and I’m glad to know, really I am.”
“But what about Lucy? Poor Lucy!” She shook her head sadly and sighed again.
“Look Mum, it’s like the lady said: Lucy might not have inherited it from me anyway, and if she has, there are things that can be done about it. Extra breast screening, she can be more aware. Really, it’s a fantastic opportunity that I’ve been able to have the testing at all if you think about it.”
“Fantastic! I wouldn’t call it that. I just can’t believe how unlucky you’ve been. First the cancer, then Sandra leaving you, and now this.” She took out a crumpled tissue from her pocket and dabbed at her eyes.
David wondered why on earth he had agreed to bring his Mother along to the appointment. She always insisted on coming along, thinking she was there to ‘support’ him, and he would end up comforting her each time.
“Mum. I’m not unlucky at all.”
“Not unlucky!” She interrupted. “Getting breast cancer?! Come on, I mean what were the chances of that? You’re a man and you’re only fifty-two now! I didn’t even know that men could get breast cancer before all this.”
“Well actually, it’s about a 1 in 1000 chance for men, but seeing as how I’ve got that gene, probably my chances were higher. And I think I’ve been pretty lucky considering; they got it all out and I’m still here aren’t I?”
“But why did it have to be you? It’s so unfair. You never even smoked.” She threw up her hands in despair.
“Why not me? It can happen to anyone Mum.” He took hold of her forearm across the table. “If that’s all that cancer can throw at me, I think I’ve got away quite lightly.” He smiled what he hoped was a smile to dispel all doubts. The rigours of chemotherapy had been pretty tough at times, but he wasn’t about to admit that. Sometimes he found himself being overly optimistic just to counter the gloom his Mum seemed intent on casting over everything.
“Hmmm.” She was silent for a minute or two. “Well, what about Sandra, you must admit that was pretty unlucky, her bumping into that old flame in the supermarket of all places and leaving you high and dry. And then losing your job on top of that! You have had a pretty bad run of things.”
“No, I think I’m better off without her. She couldn’t handle it Mum, and if she thinks she’s better off with that guy, then so be it. Let her try and come crawling back. I’m happy Mum, honestly. And my job was too stressful anyway, I’m glad I don’t have to go back there. Besides, we managed to get the car parked straight away today didn’t we? That never happens. So maybe I am lucky after all.”
“That’s true,” she conceded, “I’d forgotten that.” She smiled weakly and sipped her cappuccino. “And actually, this Eccles cake is surprisingly good. You chose well there.”
A few weeks later and they were back at the hospital again. This time it was Mum’s glaucoma check. I really ought to get a season ticket for this place, David thought to himself. The amount of time I’ve spent here over the last couple of years.
This time they weren’t so lucky with the parking. They drove past the entrance of the oncology clinic searching for a space. A feeling of nausea passed over David as he remembered how ill he had felt on the chemo. The thought of ever having to go through that again, much less his daughter, scared him to the core. He knew better than to share this thought with his mother however.
Lucy had taken the news about his test result surprisingly well, just as he’d hoped. She was sensible and not given to panicking. He hadn’t dared mention it to Mum again and she had been strangely silent on the matter.
After the hospital, they stopped by the garden centre to get some plants for Mum’s hanging baskets. It had been his suggestion; he knew she loved looking at plants and hoped it would lighten her mood.
“Mum, I can’t take you to your meeting on Tuesday after all. Can you get a lift with someone else?”
“Oh? Why not?” She stopped by a display of multi-coloured heathers and picked them up one by one, examining them to see how pot-bound they were.
“Well, there’s a meeting I wanted to go to myself actually.”
“What sort of meeting?” Clearly, she needed to be given the full details; he had expected this and the reaction that would follow.
“It’s a support group meeting for patients with breast cancer, and with those, you know, genes.”
She frowned. “What do you want to go to something like that for? I bet there won’t be any other men going. You’ll be surrounded by women talking about their breast operations.”
“Hmmm, well maybe I wouldn’t mind being surrounded by women talking about breasts!” He chuckled. “No, seriously Mum, they want more men to come along; I won’t be the only one. I thought it might be interesting. Come along if you like.”
“No thanks. You go ahead. I’ll ask Linda to take me.” She strode ahead to the potted lavenders. That went better than expected, David thought.
The next time he saw his Mum was the weekend following the meeting. He often came over on a Sunday with some sort of contribution for lunch; otherwise they would both be lunching alone, in all likelihood.
He set down his shop-bought apple pie and tin of custard on the kitchen counter-top and busied himself with changing the light bulbs in the lounge, as directed. Much as he loved that he had so much more free time to pop over and do such jobs for his Mum now that he wasn’t working, David was itching to get back to more meaningful employment. He decided to keep his news to himself for the time being.
Over lunch she finally cracked. “How was your meeting?”
“Meeting? Oh that meeting. Yes it was very useful actually.” He carried on cutting his chop, determined to savour his enjoyment in giving her the details bit by bit.
“Oh?” She paused, expectantly, her fork poised mid-air.
“Well there were lots of women there as you said, a couple of nurses, and a surgeon talking about breast reconstruction. But there were a few men there too, and partners of course. It was all quite informal; there was tea and cake…”
“So what did you find useful about it? It doesn’t sound that relevant to me.”
“It was useful in learning more about the issues for women, so I can talk to Lucy about it. I might ask her if she wants to come next time, they have the meetings every month. You could come too if you like? You might find it informative.” He liked having a little fun at his mother’s expense; there was no way she would agree to come along.
“But it doesn’t affect me David; it isn’t from my side of the family. It all sounds a bit morbid if you ask me, sitting around, talking about cancer.” As if her views had been validated, she resumed the business of consuming her lunch.
“Well the thing I found most interesting was talking to the others, hearing their stories. It made me realise that luck has nothing to do with it Mum. They were all perfectly normal, everyday people just like you or I. They didn’t do anything to deserve getting cancer either. This cancer, it’s just something that has happened to me, and now I’m moving on and getting on with my life, just as I was before.”
“But that’s just it David, you can’t get on with your life can you? It might come back. And you can’t work…”
“Mum, that’s where you’re wrong; I got talking to a woman there. She’s a head-teacher at a primary school and she’s had breast cancer too. She didn’t even have a whole school year off. When I told her I used to be a teacher, she was really helpful and enthusiastic. I’m meeting her for a chat next week with a view to possibly doing a voluntary placement there. I think this could be just what I need. I have to get back to work Mum.”
Mum looked aghast. David continued on regardless. “I can’t just sit around Mum, waiting for something to happen. You make your own luck in this world. What if I hadn’t gone to that meeting? I would never have met her. It’s like it was meant to be.”
It was late on a Friday evening. David let himself into the house, tossed his bag down in the hallway and loosened his tie. He put on the kettle and went up to the bathroom to start a bath running, adding some Epsom salts. His muscles were aching and he was exhausted, but happy.
His colleagues had insisted he come out for a drink to celebrate his 60th birthday and he hadn’t had the heart to refuse. Looking around at the smiling faces in the bar, accepting the congratulations and heartfelt wishes, he couldn’t believe his good fortune. To be standing there among people who appreciated him and his contribution to the school, he had felt a part of something wonderful.
As he lay down in the bath, David closed his eyes and smiled, letting the warmth of the water slowly permeate every inch of his body. He reached for the sponge and began to wash himself. When he found the lump in his armpit, he sighed, and carried on smiling.