“It is not the load that breaks you down. It’s the way you carry it.”
Nothing can prepare you for the load the word cancer brings, but over the last few months, I’ve had to learn how to carry the weight and find positivity in the small things, even when that has felt impossible.
In January my Dad was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. My family and I immediately dropped everything to spend time and help care for my dad. I packed up my bike and a backpack full of clothes and left London for Canada. I had been planning on attempting to break a world record this year, as well as competing in the Transcontinental. Suddenly all these events that I was totally preoccupied with seemed trivial.
I’ve always been the kind of person who thrives off having a million and one things to do. I’m self-employed, the kind of person who is rarely home and constantly planning new adventures. I thrive off being in a fast paced environment and admittedly suffer from FOMO.
So in January when I found myself standing in the brain tumour clinic at Princess Margaret hospital in Toronto, and hitting the stop button to put my whole life on hold, it did not come naturally to me. In all honesty it still doesn’t, however, it is situations like this that force you to evaluate priorities, and look at what really matters. For me, that meant being home to support my dad and my family.
Over Christmas, we had been told my Dad had cancer, but they filled us with hope and reassured us things would be okay… medicine and science have come so far over the last few years we were told. They had discharged my Dad on Christmas eve and we spent the holidays watching movies together and even went for a new year’s day walk. My dad seemed to be doing okay and was at home binge watching How I Met your Mother with my brother, so I decided to return back to London.
Two weeks later I received a call from my brother saying my dad had been deteriorating and he thought I should come home. I booked a flight, packed up my bike and headed home. The next morning my dad woke up completely paralysed on his right side and barely able to communicate. The next week was total hell. Sleepless nights on the ICU floor, wondering what was happening to my dad.
As we gathered around the computer screen, the oncologists showed us just how much cancer had taken over my dad. In a matter of weeks, my dad had gone from seeming totally fine to having cancer in 2/3s of his brain. They told us there was nothing that could be done.
I heard the words terminal, weeks maybe months, come out of the doctor’s mouth, but it felt like everything had stopped. I looked around the room and saw the looks of sorrow and pity on the staff’s faces, as they ushered us off into a room with tissues and sofas.
I remember looking out the window over the city skyline, able to spot my dad’s old office at the top of the red coloured skyscraper, and just feeling so much pain that I felt numb. Nothing can prepare you for a moment like that.
My dad was miserable being in the hospital, so we began the process to bring him home and to begin palliative care.
When we brought my dad home, we did everything to make him comfortable. My mum went above and beyond researching every possible thing that might make things better for my dad, from food to neuro-physio, she even bought him a lazy boy chair so he could rest comfortably in the heart of our home. We joked he was like Martin Crane from one of his favourite shows, Frazier.
Once settled back at home, he turned a corner and start to get stronger. We had six weeks in which my dad was doing really well. He had regained some movement back in his right side and was able to communicate a bit better again. Well, those weeks were by no means easy, they were such a gift. It was a second chance for us to have some quality time with my dad.
A few days before my dad had gone into ICU he had called me in London. I had been sick, it was 10:30 pm and I was in a bad mood. He had wanted to chat but I just complained about my cold and told him I would call him back. The whole time my dad was in the ICU unable to communicate, I was haunted by the fact that the last conversation I might ever get to have with him, was me complaining about not wanting to talk because of my cold.
The six weeks in which he rallied and regained some communication were such a gift, as it meant I had the opportunity to talk to my dad again and build some good final memories.
The whole time though, cancer continued to grow and one night over dinner he started having seizures. We called 911 and rushed back to the hospital. From that point, my dad has continued to decline. At the moment he struggles to communicate and relies predominantly on hand signals to try and show us what he wants.
There are good and bad days helping my dad as he battles this horrible disease. In the depths of grief, I haven’t always been able to find a way to describe or even understand what I was feeling, but cycling and writing has provided me with a practical outlet for processing my grief.
It is a reminder to live in the present, to find joy in the simple things and to reconnect to the world. It is a reminder to make the most of the time my family has with my dad.
My dad has now outlived the Dr’s original prognosis and despite everything, still, tries to find ways to make us laugh each day.