Before and After

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Monday 4th June 2012, an entirely forgettable day. The country was in the grip of Golden Jubilee fever but I was at work and ridiculously busy. I don’t remember what I wore, what I ate, if I did anything after work. It was just Monday.

Why am I fixated on this date? Because it was the Day Before. The day before life changed forever. On Tuesday 5th June my mum was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. Within 10 days we would find out the cancer was terminal.

What do I remember about 5th June? Everything. I remember the perfume I was wearing, the songs I heard on the radio at work, the facial expression of the consultant when he asked to speak to my mum after her endoscopy, I remember the kind of sandwich my dad was eating in the waiting room while my mum heard the news. It’s almost like until that day I was in darkness and on that Tuesday morning someone switched the light on. I could see everything with the most amazing clarity.

Despite being an eternal pessimist I never expected the news to be that bad. I had the advantage (or disadvantage) of working in the unit my mum had her diagnostic test in. I knew the statistics, there was a huge chance she had a harmless stomach ulcer or just inflammation. She was barely symptomatic. The consultant carrying out the test had put my mind at ease the week prior, other members of staff who’d had the investigation had all given me positive outcome stories. Somewhere in my mind I was prepared for the worst but as an unashamed lover of the NHS I imagined that even if there was some kind of tumour it could be treated or removed and everything would be Fine.

The only reason my mum was having the test is she was desperate to book a family holiday and needed to have all the investigations out of the way before she could get travel insurance. She wanted to take the family to Disney World in Florida. Of course that didn’t happen. The week we were originally planning to go away my mum was having her sixth cycle of chemo. She spent a full day every three weeks sitting in a glass filled room looking at the seasons change outside of the window. Previous plans were scored out of the diary and replaced with blood tests, scans and clinic appointments.

I think a lot about what I would do differently if I had to live the time Before again. In the lead up to my mum’s diagnosis I was obsessed with work, often working 50+ hours a week. I was in the office at weekends, missed family birthdays and barely had a social life. I had recently been promoted and was trying hard to prove myself. My work colleagues became close friends, more through our proximity to each than actual common interests. We spent so much time in each other’s company it made sense that we all get along. I became distant from friends outside of work and after declining one too many invitations I stopped getting invited out at all.

I’m not going into the minutiae of what happened After. There were good days, weeks, and months. These were followed by the worst days, weeks and months anyone in my family had experienced. I wouldn’t have wished the last few days of my mum’s life on my worst enemy.

It’s taken three years to get back to any kind of semblance of normality. I changed jobs to a role with less responsibility, on the advice of occupational health. I lost touch with my previous colleagues and friends but gained new ones. I reconnected with people I had previously pushed away. I stuck to my contracted hours and stopped feeling guilty about leaving on time every evening.

Do I wish it was 4th June 2012 again? Fuck yes. I would tell my mum that no matter what happened the following day I would be there for her. I would tell my boss to stop taking advantage of my enthusiasm by working me into the ground. I would tell my friends that I loved them and even though I wasn’t around much I still needed them. I would take pictures so I could look back and remember everything about life Before.

If I could offer any wisdom it would be this. Enjoy today. Because you never know what tomorrow brings.

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