There's No Such Thing as Just an Ordinary Day (IP)
I remember that earth-shattering day like it was yesterday. November 1st, 1999. I was baby-sitting at Juliet’s house – my youngest daughter, who lived, and still does, only minutes away from me. It was 5.00 p.m.; she’d not long come home from the secondary school where she taught Psychology. We were sitting round her kitchen table, ‘pedalling away’, as we did, when her phone rang. I’d just gone to the hall to get my coat. I yelled goodbye to the grandkids, and mouthed I would see myself out. She frantically beckoned me back, and handed me the phone.
It was my son-in-law – her sister’s husband of eight months, who’d tried her number when he couldn’t get a reply from mine. Pitch black outside, but Juliet’s house was warm and cosy – loads and loads of lamps; she’d inherited my ‘fascinated with lamps gene’ that’s for sure. As had my eldest daughter, Andrea.
“It’s Richard,” he said, and I sensed from the timbre of his tone that something was very wrong. Call it a mother’s intuition, if you will.
Inherently being of an ‘ostrich’ mentality, I tried to reply with a hint of nonchalance in my voice...that second noticing a new lamp which particularly caught my eye.
“It’s fucking come back, Tina; Andrea’s cancer. We’re gutted...Sitting on a bench in Hyde Park...Literally only just left The Royal Marsden. I’ll tell you everything later...Can we stop the night with you, please?”
But he didn’t ‘leave everything till later’, and the life-changing details of what the surgery would entail, he blurted out...As if he couldn’t bear to keep it all locked up inside...as if, having said it once, he wouldn’t have to think about it again, or worse still, actually explain to me, up close and personal, the need for ‘drastic facial surgery’... Not only disfiguring surgery, but surgery that would leave the right side of her face totally paralysed, with all the associated implications.
It was her only option...the only way of extending her life. How long, the doctor’s couldn’t be sure. Seven years, as it transpired...just six months short of her 40th birthday. Hers was such a rare form of cancer...usually affecting older people. Not someone like her, who had been in her late teens when it was first diagnosed, and she’d had the initial tumour removed. All that was left, then, was a tiny scar behind her ear.
“I’d die, rather than have them cut into my face,” she’d said, then...after the operation, even though they had told her the cancer would return...one day. And so, for the next ten years she put it out of her mind...until today when the terrible truth dawned. Secondaries had been detected in her lungs and her spine, and the initial tumour had grown back with a vengeance, and was wrapped right around her facial nerve.
We sat down and wept together, Juliet and me, and then I recall her asking if I was OK to drive home. Why not leave my car here, and let her John drop mine round tomorrow? But I did drive myself home...needed some time alone, except the journey is a blank. All I remember thinking on the way, was how, in heaven’s name, to break it to my husband, who, like me, had dreaded this day that we knew would inevitably come...sooner or later. And, somehow, summon up the strength to be supportive of both Andrea and Richard later that evening, and, of course, for however long it took. That night was the longest of my life.
By some cruel stroke of fate, exactly one year on, on November 1st, 2000, her father, himself, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. That was the day I made the decision not to keep a diary anymore. God knows how many times over the years I’d written, ‘Just an ordinary day...’ ‘Just did boring stuff; this, that, and the other’... Just the way you do.