Thursday, 13 December: Our World Began to Change
As I lay there in my father in law’s palliative room, asleep in his recliner, I could hear the sound of death approaching. The breathing less frequent, deeper, loud raspa, then quiet, then “the” gasp. We knew the end was near and whilst we had been through it twice before with our mothers, the privilege of being there at their end, like they were at our beginning, that last gasp is still a shock and it hurts. He was the last of our four parents to gain his wings.
My in-laws were amazing, kind, humble humans, I truly believe my father in law made way for us to focus on what was to come. This was the selfless man he was.
Tuesday, 18 December, 2018: A Diagnosis to change our lives
Funeral plans for my father in law were well and truly underway with family meetings, funeral director appointments, eulogy reviews, slideshow photo selections, emails back and forth. Two days out from the funeral, the family met to discuss all these details with final approval of the proceedings.
That evening, my doctor friend (Dr CP), who had run my last blood tests the previous week, had called to give his condolences but as Europeans do, he wanted to pop over to do so. We didn’t think much of it – the last thing I wanted to do was overshadow my Father In Law’s celebration of life with my ailments so I didn’t bother asking for my results. I did mention to Dr CP that we wouldn’t be home till late as we were at my sister in law’s (SIL) finalising funeral arrangements. He said he was happy to wait and that we’d meet at my place at 9.30pm. For a passing moment, I thought this was strange as I did invite him to give his condolences at my SIL’s especially as, traditionally, condolences were given at the older siblings’ home.
By 9.30pm, Dr CP was waiting for us as we drove into our driveway. My suspicions were growing at his “enthusiasm” to give his condolences, although he did say he couldn’t make the funeral so it was the only chance he had to see us.
As we all shuffled into the house, kids off to bed after a big few days, we went to the dining room towards the back of the house. Dr CP closed the corridor door behind him ensuring the kids were in their rooms.
My husband, Danny, asked what was going on. Dr CP asked if we wanted the good news or bad news. We sat there stunned and then out of nowhere I blurted out, “Do I have Leukemia?” to which Dr CP responded, “how the fuck did you know that?”. I mentioned it was something my grandmother and great aunt had and was strangely always at the back of my mind.
“Well, you don’t have leukaemia but you do have a blood cancer called Myeloma”.
Say what? Ok. “Whatever” were my thoughts because the next words out of my mouth were, “Ok, so what are we going to do about it?”
At this stage, Dr CP backtracked to describe what Myeloma was. All I could hear and focus on was that I had a “type of cancer” and I had to get rid of it.
My poor husband just sat there stunned however, did manage to ask, “So. What is the good news?”
The good news was that one of the best Hematologist, Professor Miles Prince, was going to look after me. Dr CP had managed to secure an appointment with him on Friday, the day after the funeral, with Chemotherapy commencing Monday. Good I thought. My friend did not let me down. Everything is organised. Let’s get on with it because, I announced, “My children were not going to lose another mother” or another loss in their sweet young lives. “Let’s do this”!
“I have another bit of bad news”. Deep breathe. Worse than having cancer? What could be worse?
“You can’t travel to New York as planned in 10 days time.”
“Buuuull- Shit!!!”. I could cope with being told I had cancer because as far as I knew there were two options. Eliminating it or die. The latter was not on my radar. Cancelling our long awaited trip – no way!! Sorry but I’ve survived over nine months without any conclusive test results, my diagnosis can now wait till I get back from my cousin’s wedding.
Dr CP went on to explain the inadequate and expensive healthcare system for foreigners in the USA. Most of all, he explained how the inside of the plane was an incubator of germs and a high risk of getting sick especially given we are going into winter over there and “my cancer” was immune compromising. None of this made sense to me. Immune compromising, what did that mean? Blood cancer, we’ll get rid of it. Blah blah blah was all I could here. I was going on this trip and nothing, not even cancer, was going to stop us.
Wednesday, 19 December 2018: Silence
It was a weird feeling. Danny and I didn’t say much the previous evening other than reassuring each other that we would fight this together. I woke up feeling the same as any other day but this time, I had cancer in my body. Everything felt surreal. We got up and went about our daily business. We went to work, kids went to school, normal day or at least now, walking into a new normal, unbeknown to us.
I was at a client’s office and Dr CP called to see how I was. I was feeling no different. Maybe I was in denial and to be honest, I didn’t really know how deadly Myeloma was. Danny and I had decided not to use Dr Google until we spoke to the Hematologist in a few days. We also decided not to tell anyone until after the funeral. So you could say, we kind of parked it.
During the phone call, Dr CP asked if I had cancelled our flights. Nope. “I told you last night, I don’t feel any different to the last few months and as I have survived till now, I’ll survive another three weeks”.
“I don’t think you heard me last night. You cannot get on that plane or you will come back in a box! Let me take off my doctor’s hat and be your dear friend. YOU ARE NOT GOING on that fucking plane”. I had seen my dear friend angry once or twice in the years I’d known him, but not like this and to be honest, he stunned me with this reaction. He was serious. This is serious. I have cancer and I could die?
“Ok, I’ll chat to Danny tonight”.
Stunned and motionless, I didn’t wait till the evening as I called Danny immediately. “Yep, he’s already called me and gave me the same advice. I’ve cancelled the trip. Qantas were fantastic. Everything is done. No penalties given our circumstances. No insurance to go through.” How pragmatic of everyone. It was the first time I cried. Our circumstances? What does all this mean? What is happening? Cancer IS NOT going to take control of my life!! My life. My beautiful life……
Thursday, 20 December 2018: Death At A Funeral
It was the day of the funeral and my primary focus was my husband loosing his father; my kids loosing another grandparent.
Danny is generally a sensitive and emotional man. This day, he was more than emotional. His grief was inconsolable. The eulogy he gave was far too emotional for anyone to handle. I knew what those tears were about. Danny was grieving more than his father. I couldn’t comfort him. I had to be strong for all of us. We were going to get through this. I could not let anyone down.
After the service, we proceeded to the Wake at the back of the church. There was not a minute to breathe. There was no time to regroup as a couple or a family to console each other. We went straight into overdrive.
It was a beautiful Wake. Prosecco was flowing; food was in typical Italian abundance. Stories told and laughter remembering a wonderful man. I spent my time floating around the room but little time with any one person . I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t talk. Suddenly you’re diagnosed with a life threatening disease and a funeral is now about your own mortality.
I needed to hold this together. I was strong and I did feel pretty stoic. We’ll get through today, together, as a team. Only me and my man. So I thought……
In Memory of my Father In Law Giuseppe Camerotto. Thank you.