Islandmomma

Exploring the Stories of the Islands and the Freedoms of Third Age


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When That Other Shoe Drops: My Personal Journey Volume 3

I rarely panic, well, not when I’m on dry land anyway. I have been known to flail about a bit in the ocean.

“Don’t forget to take your phone, Daddy,” I blurt out, as he informs me that the ambulance is outside. (See previous 2 posts to see what brought us to this point)

My default reaction is exactly the same as it was when I received the phone call from the hospital in August. Sit down and figure out what to do. My sons to inform, flights to book. Be grateful that the radiotherapy hasn’t begun. Trixy to kennels. It’s weekend and low season so getting a flight won’t be a problem, but I need to book return, because there is a hospital appointment Wednesday to get the results of that test. I am grateful there is enough in my account to pay for this, there are times when there isn’t.

What if ?……. Don’t go there. Deal with that if it happens.

It’s appropriately wet and grey when we touch down in Manchester.

Guy has come up from London, and meets me at the station in Lancaster. It’s a long weekend. Beyond his age, there is a mystery as to what exactly ails my dad. We wait all weekend, hoping for a diagnosis. Rachael comes up from London. She’s the one who makes my dad smile. The 3 of us get soaked to the skin, walking to the nearest pub for food and a break from the sterility of the hospital. I explain to the nurse in charge that I have to get back to the Canary Islands on Tuesday, and why, and that my dad doesn’t know about my cancer. I hate that they might think I am leaving him when he is so ill and so old.

When I leave on Tuesday there is still no diagnosis. Austin is on his way. My return trip turns out to be a waste of money because the test results are delayed. On my way back from the hospital, I do something I haven’t done for years. I call into a church and light a candle.  I don’t practice any religion, but I do believe in prayer.

I am researching flights when Austin calls. His granddad is weakening, and I should get back asap. Frustrated with internet searches I go to the airport to ask. It’s the middle of the night, but they confirm there are no direct flights to Manchester for a couple of days. I book to London and a train to get me back to Lancaster.

An hour out of London, I get a message from Austin to say he will meet me in Preston, where I should be changing trains. This doesn’t make sense.

Here he is on the platform. He carries my bag to the car, slams the boot, and turns to tell me what I already know. There is no way that he would have left his granddad in the circumstances. In the rain, in the car park we hold each other. I don’t know who is comforting who.

Emigration comes at a price, and that is the guilt you feel for those you leave behind.

daddyThese were the last two photos I took of my dad. I was on my way back from Florida in May of 2015 and we went out for lunch in Kendal. My dad was slow to smile, but he actually looks very happy here.

 


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My Personal Journey: Part Deux

 

me sanibel

2015 began well, with frosty English mornings, and segued into a warm welcome home from Trixy, and those marvelous crystal clear days of a Canarian winter.

For a time, problems were forgotten, but little did I know that more were waiting in the wings, as I concentrated on finding what I had decided was to be a reasonably long term rental. My knee was mended, but Trixy’s traveling days were clearly over.

As I packed to leave the temporary apartment, I was also packing my bags for a new journey. I only had time to dump boxes in the new one before it was time to set off for a Florida road trip. Because of what happened next, I only ever managed to publish one post about that, but for me it was a huge one. Crossing something off your bucket list is a big thing, and there was lots of beach time too, as you can see above.

Life assumed a very pleasant pattern, wanderlust quenched for a while, some very happy memories of Florida, Trixy stabilized, happily pottering around the new apartment unpacking the stuff I hadn’t unpacked in the temporary one (reuniting with my books – yay!), some gentle walking to make sure the knee was up for more. Yes, life, I could say, was good, until the phone rang one day in early August.

“Linda, this is the hospital. We noticed something on the mammogram we did a couple of weeks ago, and we’d like you to come back for more tests.”

You could say it was the call I’d been dreading since my mom died from breast cancer 40 years before. Maybe that’s why I felt no panic, or maybe, you know, that’s just the way I am. I did sit for about an hour or so and decide what to do. This call was by no means conclusive, but chances were that what they had spotted was cancer. I decided that it was best to tell no-one until it was confirmed. What on earth was the point in worrying family and friends without cause? I went into my default mode when faced with a problem. This is a problem, so what am I going to do about it?

Logic said if it was cancer it was early stage, because I’d never missed a mammogram. Ironically, the previous year, I had stepped off the ferry from La Palma and gone straight to my mail box, where I’d found notification of my annual appointment that very day. I’d gone straight to the hospital from the post office. I cannot help but wonder at the mysterious intuition I had felt that had brought me back to Tenerife on that particular date…..

That summer was marked by hospital visits, pokings, a biopsy and finally confirmation that it was a small, cancerous tumor. This was the point at which I had to tell my sons of course, but there was no question that I was going to burden my 93 year old father with this information, since I’d seen him in May en route home from Florida, that didn’t seem like an enormous problem. My greatest fear was that he might become ill during my treatment……

Remember what I said in my last post? I hate fuss. I hate being ill. I hate to appear to solicit sympathy. Besides, there were folk far, far worse off than I. I followed a fellow travel blogger who had been diagnosed just weeks earlier, and her cancer was much more advanced than mine, yet she wrote about it with humour and style, making my story far less important. I was offered a one-off copy-writing job, something I hadn’t really done before. There was a lot to learn. It stretched my mind, and left me little time for angsting.

My sons were amazing in their support. Flowers and regular encouraging calls and messages came from Guy and Rachael, and Austin took compassionate leave from his job at sea. Thus he was able to be with me when I woke from the operation to remove the tumour in early September. This was all I needed. Within 48 hours I was stopping on my way home to shop in Decathalon for new bras….something I hadn’t given thought to! My boob was still there, but a tad on the sore side.

I was one of the lucky ones. It was confirmed to be early stage, and no chemo was necessary. Here is where I cannot stress enough, girls …..GET REGULAR CHECK UPS! DO THE SELF EXAMINATIONS! and, guys, that goes for you vis a vis prostate cancer!! If you are not persuaded by the horrible stories of people who haven’t, then be persuaded by how easy my op was, honestly, I’ve had dental work which was more painful.

Like ripples in a pond, I widened the circle of people I told, save my father. I’d even spoken to him from my hospital bed without giving him a clue …. thank the lord for mobile phones! I was still concerned, because although chemotherapy had been ruled out, radiotherapy was on the cards, and once started that had to be continuous for four or five weeks.

What happened next was another of those “someone is watching over me” events. A visit to the oncologist, and she mentions that there is a new test available to determine how aggressive the cancer was.

Would I like to have it done?

Of course I would, why would I not?

The test meant sending the tumour off abroad somewheres for testing, as it isn’t done on the island, but I still had a big enough window to do the radiotherapy. So off went my cancer on its travels.

I think I hate telephones, well, phone calls at least. What with all our electronic communication these days, it means that phone calls are reserved for the serious stuff.

So I jumped when my phone rang one morning in mid-November. When I recognised the voice, even before he said much, my heart sank. It was my father. We spoke every other day, and always in the evening. My father was a man of habit.

Calmly he explained that he wasn’t feeling “too well,” and he’d called an ambulance.

 

 


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A Personal Journey and The Lessons Learned: 2014

home at last

The longer you dawdle over something, the harder it is to pick up the pieces again, and that’s the way it has gone with this blog post. I began to write it soon after the last one, which is now all of 9 months ago …… and counting. One day, I will write about procrastination……..

Procrastination is one excuse. Another is that much of what I feel the need to say goes against the way I am. I hate fuss. I am independent. I hate being ill. I hate to appear to be looking for sympathy, approval or compliments. So I deleted it for being too maudlin; another time I savaged it for sounding as if I made mountains out of mole hills; and another because it seemed to disrespect the way others feel about a similar experience…..yet, I feel that I have something to say, and what I want to say comes from life lessons learned over the last two or three years.

In addition, I am rarely happy with what I write, and yet it’s an addiction, with all that implies. During a difficult period in my life, some years ago I came across Martha Beck’s “Finding Your Own North Star.”  Beck was a high achieving academic with a busy life when she gave birth to her son, who had Down’s Syndrome. Struggling to make a deadline, as she coped with the demands of an already full life and the new challenges. She decided to take just 15 minutes a day to write, which was all she could spare at first. Needless to say, it was written. That lesson struck a deep chord with me. Paso a paso, as the Spanish say. Just put one foot in front of the other.

I haven’t explored the world as much as I would have liked over the past 3 years, but I have been on a profound personal journey. I learned a lot from it, and that’s what I think is worth sharing. Maybe it’s been a struggle because I was trying to spew it all out at once, so I am going to break it down. So here’s chunk one:

2014 was dominated by three events, but I didn’t realize that they were stages on a journey which was to last longer. I touched on them in a previous post, but they took on more significance as time passed.

The First Event

In May of 2014 my Aunty Dot died, peacefully, at 92 years. For some reason I still don’t understand, I heard myself offering to give the eulogy; me, who never raised my hand in class, who dried up doing a couple of tv interviews a while back, and who once refused to go to receive an award in case I had to say something . As we followed the coffin into the tiny chapel, the lump in my throat tightened, and tears I couldn’t shed scalded my eyes, but here was the minister saying that, “Now Dot’s niece would like to say a few words.” I wobbled to the front of the chapel, pushed my broken reading glasses into place, and launched.

Emigration comes at a price, and that is the guilt you feel for those you leave behind. I poured all of that into the words I mumbled. Glancing round as I walked back to my seat, I realized that I was the only person there who remembered a younger Dot, the young mother, the dreamer, the one who jollied everyone at time of family crisis, the encourager of dreams and my personal cheerleader. That was the portrait I had tried to paint, and it was bitter sweet to be told I succeeded. Apparently my struggle with the broken specs caused suppressed smiles too – I told them they should have laughed – she would have loved that.

Dot had always encouraged my imaginings and understood my need to write, and here I had instant feedback that what I had written had done the job I hoped it would. Despite the sad occasion, that day I found whatever it is inside of me that I needed to stand up and speak in public. It gave me a type of confidence I’d never had before. That might have been Aunty Dot’s parting gift to me, and some months later it was to stand me in good stead.

The Second Event

Sometimes we have instinctive feelings, that embarrass us, and we make up logical reasons to defend our resulting actions. We shouldn’t, we should trust our gut, and that is what I now take away from the decision to return to Tenerife.

Coming back to El Médano in July of 2014 was like that. I couldn’t settle on the island of La Palma, and my decision was guided purely by instinct. Instincts which were so spot on I shiver trying to understand. Some would not be obvious for some months.

trix la palma

The Third Event

After the stress of Aunty Dot’s death, returning to Tenerife at the most stupid time of year, getting my stuff out of storage, Trixy having five tumors removed from various parts of her body, and the struggle to sort out my knee problem, I was looking forward to Christmas in England with my sons and my father, the first time the four of us had spent Christmas together in quite a while. But 2014 had a final punch in store. A silly slip in a bathroom, and a burst cyst, lead to septicemia, and a trip to the ER, followed by a warning that I might not make it to UK for those Christmas festivities, in fact, I should just be thankful that I made it.

That news became a turning point. I determined to do everything I could to make sure that I could go. I began to eat as ridiculously healthily as I knew how, and to exercise more to boost my recovery. By the time I stepped onto the plane 3 weeks later, I was maybe as fit as I had ever been, and I felt it. Christmas was memorable and full of love, and within months I was going to be incredibly grateful for those warm memories.

I can’t say that I stayed 100% that healthy, but I learned a lot about health. I’ve been a yo-yo dieter kind of person all my life, but this was not about losing weight, but about being fit to be able to do what I wanted to do……have a family Christmas. Focusing on that made it easy. Focusing is not easy in these modern times. We have a trillion distractions every day, but with focus, mindfulness if you like, we can move mountains. I will leave you with a quotation from Pearl S Buck, which has long been a favourite of mine, and I find to be invariably true:

“Once the what is decided, the how always follows. We must not make the how an excuse for not facing and accepting the what.”