Until recently I thought that the worst thing that could possibly occur would be for something to happen to Rory. I can't even bring myself to say the words, but you know what I mean: The Unthinkable. For a parent to lose a child...well, the thought just crushes me. You know what those thoughts are like: You can't help yourself from briefly imagining the worst, and then you're rubbing at your eyes, crushing at your head with your hands trying to physically remove the thought to convince yourself that it could never happen.
But several months ago, I realized that there was worse: What if something happened to me? Oh, I know that sounds selfish, and on the surface, how can that be as bad as the first scenario? But when I think about it - really think - what destroys me is the thought of my son hurting and grieving and desperately wanting me, and the knowledge that I wouldn't be there to comfort him. He's my baby and I'm his mum, and while he's a child., I should be there holding his hand and reassuring him, I should be cuddling him when his heart is breaking and wiping his tears away and helping him to find acceptance where understanding is impossible. The thought of not being there to do that and the unbearable grief that he would feel without me floors me. Perhaps this is what people spoke about when I was pregnant - how it feels like to love your child so much that their happiness and welfare comes before yours - before anything - every time. I voice this thought to my husband. "It's bloody morbid, that's what it is," he says, with a long suffering sigh. He's right. It is.
But my friend Claire had to live with the this thought every day for two years, because at the age of 36, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and right from the start, it was made clear to her that this was it: There was no way to fight against it, no second chances, no possibility that she'd pull though. It was terminal and aggressive, and it was going to take her away from her husband and two young children, and there was not a damn thing that anybody could do about it.
Claire was one of a very special group of ladies that I am a part of. We met online many years ago (which conjures up images of internet geeks playing Dungeons and Dragons. We don't) and happened to have babies at similar times. This led to a close-knit community of around 50 of us who chat most days about our lives, our children - everything. We've been there for each other for sleepless nights, post natal depression, divorce, domestic violence, and a lot of laughs...life really. When she first discovered the lump in her breast, we all encouraged her to see a doctor, reassuring her that it was probably just a cyst. When she told us it was cancer, we supported her and told her to have hope - that so much can be done these days that she was likely to be fit and well in a couple of years. When she found out that it was terminal, none of us knew what to say, but we said it anyway, and we tried to be there, keeping things normal and holding her up while she was falling apart. When she finally died in April after facing life with cancer with admirable humour and bravery, she left a gaping hole in our group. She was right there until the end, chatting away, making us laugh and with a gift for saying exactly what needed to be said in exactly the right words, especially when one of us was being a complete tool and needed to be told. We couldn't believe she'd really gone. Still can't. And the most painful thing of all for me is not that I've lost my friend, but that she had to live for two years, knowing that she'd never see her children grow up or be there to make sure that they read that book she loved when they were old enough, or to check that they'd cleaned their teeth properly before school, and knowing all the time how devastated and lost they were going to feel when she finally went. Because no matter how many times a counsellor tells a child that mummy's sick and never getting better and that one day she'll die, how can you really prepare a child for something like that?
On 19th October, some of our group are doing the Race For Life in Claire's home town in her memory. We want your money. We want to contribute to the research and treatment of this frightful disease in the hopes that one day no child will have to lose a parent to it when they're so young, nobody will have to die this painful, drawn out death, no circle of friends will be incomplete because cancer stole one of them away far too young.
Our Just Giving page is here: https://www.raceforlifesponsorme.org/lllers/ if you can't donate, please share this blog post - tweet it, email it, share it on Facebook - do whatever you can do to make it go viral, because the more money we can raise, the more work can be done to prevent and cure cancer. Thank you.