Losing Kath

Love lost, read and found

The calm before the storm

If there is a storm brewing somewhere on our unseen horizon we must I guess acknowledge, that at some point in our lives we must be sat in its calm just as it is commonly felt before its impact when the air sits still and clear and in ominous quiet anticipation.

If it’s true that there is a calm before every storm, then I have to wonder which phase of my family’s encounter with adversity, cancer, bereavement and loss would count as ‘the storm’ and which part would count as ‘the calm’?

Just like wild animals, I think instinctively we know and feel these moments we would call the calm but unlike the animals we are not able to respond accordingly. Despite an overwhelming dread and feeling in your gut telling you to get up and run, all we can do is stare almost frozenly like a rabbit caught in headlights of the oncoming car.

Even when an earthquake or a triggered tsunami is coming there are signs before we even know it. Instinctively the animals all run for the hills and the sea waters recede for miles out of sight and everyone senses something big and full of dread is coming, but despite this anticipation we don’t know what to do but just wait and watch what happens.

I think for ease sake I will classify the moments from my wife feeling ill up to being told she had terminal cancer to be ‘the calm’, and the moments after she was told of this terrible news and her subsequent battle to be ‘the storm’!

But I do then have to wonder, what would I be able to call the rest of our lives together, living as might say; blissfully in the moments before ‘this calm’?

The following captures some of the moments deep in the calm prior to April 2012 and the bombshell of her diagnosis and subsequent prognosis too:

Katherine and I were sat here in a place wondering how it was that life had brought us here, how it threatened so much of what we knew, and might come to change much of all that had gone before. Instead of splashing around gleefully dipping our feet in life’s sunny day’s paddling pool, it felt all of a sudden that water was starting to raise alarmingly up our ankles like an approaching flood that from where we sat waiting, showed no signs of wanting to abate.

Easter was just about on us and instead of looking forward to time off with our daughters and fun family days out, we were facing a barrage of hospital appointments and tests and how we would have liked if all of this could have happened if indeed it had to, after the kids had gone back to school, not when they were about to break up and wanted so many things from their time off together. By this time two years ago in April Easter was already over, the kids were back at school and that would have been preferable when you just need time to think. But instead the girls were going to be around us and notice our distracted state, our troubled demeanours and less than enthusiastic participants in things that all families on holidays thrive on.

Instead we were sat here in this foreboding place waiting and wondering how her last hospital test might have gone and what if anything the test might have found.

Already so much had happened in just the previous two weeks that most people might agree would have done for a lifetime, but as much as we had felt that enough was enough, here we were waiting at The Royal Marsden Hospital in Sutton, waiting for her to have yet another test before we had had the results of any others. This time the procedure was to be a biopsy in the x-ray department on the recently enlarged vein in Katherine’s neck.

We were sat there waiting and by this stage, we were of course still reeling from the developments of the last two weeks and the dreaded deflating news that they had founds two tumours in Kath’s bowels. They had told us that they were stage 2 Cancer and possibly even stage 3, and here now we were about to undergo tests that might confirm so. I say we, because it felt impossible to separate myself from everything that was being hurled at Katherine especially when they threatened everything that made up our ‘we’.

The day before this, Katherine had had a blood test and all of this information was being gathered and analysed by a panel of doctors and it would be only the following week on the Wednesday, that we would finally know, what it was exactly, that we were about to face.

The trouble was that in that same short time span, Katherine had been experiencing more and more pain, whereas before up until then she had only faced occasional aches. Things all of a sudden were starting to show themselves at home long before they did in the results of any tests.

After the wait was over and we left our seats to start the test, the experience turned out to be like an unwanted glimpse of what was coming in the on-rushing tide, like a bitter vision from the ‘ghost of Christmas yet to come’ but with little opportunity to somehow change our ways to avoid such gloomy fate.

This next biopsy test was almost as difficult for me to watch my wife as it obviously was for Kath to endure. The huge needle needed to collect the biopsy was not aimed being aimed at the lump in her neck, but rather at the lymph nodes deep in her neck under her collarbone. They numbed the area a bit, but Katherine was in huge pain and struggled to keep still even under explicit instructions not to move. The target area was deep and far from reach and after two failed attempts they said they might have to give up or consider alternatives. Another doctor came in to try and have a go, and despite Katherine’s protestations he convinced her to let him have one more go. Katherine had never squeezed my hand so hard or for so long ever before and at times I feel like I can still feel the crush from her grip. I hated everything that was happening to her, and would have wished it all on me just to spare her. That was the hardest thing of all, despite all that was still to come, I could do nothing to help her or take her place, but be there and support her, even though most of the times it felt like everything was cutting into me.

On the way home she told me that was the worst thing she had ever gone through, but the sitting at home to wait, was not very far behind it.

Once again my sister came and took Imogen to nursery as she had done the day before and later Katherine’s brother picked up the girls from school just to help us out how they could. That afternoon one of our lovely neighbours brought us around a Lasagne that we just had to stick in the oven for dinner that night and Kath was spending a lot of time on the sofa on in bed and things at home were turning surreal. Before we had news of any results, a phone call from the hospital asked me to come in and collect a prescription of Morphine medication for Kath and that she should start taking right away.

How many things does it take before a sinking feeling changes into a whirlpool?

Well these two weeks in our lives were a maelstrom of emotions and blows to the morale that were swallowing us up and as I struggled to swim to keep my head above water, I was being someone for Katherine and someone else for our girls. I was being someone else to everyone else and all I could do was present a galvanised hard exterior to hide the fragile me that was crumbling inside. I don’t know why it is that we do that, put on a brave face and push well-wishers away, pretend that you are handling the situation or not tell people the full truth, but I am sure it is out of  self-protection. The weight and burden of expectation and sympathy is more than you can bear, when you haven’t got to grips with your own.

There were many other people affected with Kath’s predicament but I didn’t have time or the resolve to think of anyone else but myself and my wife and of course protecting my daughters from worry. I wish I could have been more supportive of Katherine’s two brothers and even her mother, well even quite a few others more, but I could not bring myself to open up to any one of them. Before long Kath’s mum was talking in Spanish not caring who heard and in front of the girls and words like ‘chemo’ and ‘Cancer’ in Spanish are no different from English so I would nervously look over at my girls and see if they had heard, and them usher them into another room with the lure of TV or a treat. When you feel like everything is falling apart, anyone who unintentionally adds to those feelings, is someone from who you find you retreat.

Lots of people were affected by the news of Kath’s plight, but selfishly I felt none more than me. So when anyone would ask what was going on, what had been said, what comes next, I just wanted everyone to leave me alone. But in actual fact, despite all of the fuss, everyone was on their own.

Katherine was on her own, dying internally but not yet knowing it but just pondering the threat to her family. I was on my own worried senseless and beside myself that this was happening to Kath and that I couldn’t tell our daughters so soon after Granddad had just died from Cancer too. Kath’s mum was on her own having lost her husband and now the daughter on whom she depended on for so much was so obviously ill leaving her feeling even more alone than ever before. Kath’s brothers I’m sure dealt with their feelings internally and feeling all alone.

We always think we have the equipment to keep our heads above water or that in our lives when all bumpy waves come, we can face them with our loved ones, but when the time comes, that would be like being able to walk on water without skis.

Cancer divides and isolates everyone and it doesn’t matter how many people rally together and show their support. There are some things and moments in life that highlight what we fear most, and that is that in life’s sickness and death we are truly alone, but luckily most of the time we just never realise it.

This is how we coped in the heat of the calm before the storm.

The next day Katherine’s brother flew in from Spain. Just another person I did not know what I could say to. I still didn’t know anything concrete myself. Next Wednesday we would see the consultant and then we would know. All I could do was wait and hope that petrol was not thrown onto the fire by the news of those results. Whether then, I would be more able to open up to others was still to be seen, but at least for the time being, I could tell everyone, I didn’t know much more than they did and find room to breathe. But a whirlpool is designed to suck you down in the long run, and being able to breathe is not its concern.

If I thought I was being suffocated by others, it was nothing like the feeling of drowning I felt in seeing Katherine burn.

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