I remember it all so clearly, when I got told my nan had Non Hodgkins Lymphoma. She had a large swelling on her face for a while and the hospital had tried different things to get rid of it including draining, and we was under the impression it was working. Then my sister and I went on holiday to Lanzarote in April 2016. We got some calls from mum and nan while we were away. For example, my nan getting upset on the phone, and transferring us more money for excursions etc (she always treats us well and gives us money for holidays and she had already given us some before we left). Then nan came with mum to the airport to collect us, and it was weird then. The atmosphere was off and nan was upset again.
When we got home, I knew for sure something was off as mum, dad, and nan sat us down in the living room all serious. Thats when we found out nan had cancer. I have never in my life been so upset as hearing that. My heart sank and crushed and I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have any of the information around cancer that I do now so it was so foreign to me. My nan is my favourite person and I couldn’t believe it.
She lives alone, so she moved into our house for nearly a year. As I was mostly away at uni she had my room and I had a camp bed in the dinning room when I was home for summer. That was hard, not having privacy and having to effectively sleep in a busy living room. But it was so worth it as I would not have her anywhere else.
I can’t quite remember when or why, but in the same month she got admitted to hospital. I remember going with her and mum to A&E and waiting nearly a day for her to get admitted. That was hard as I hated leaving her, and for me it was very hard as she was in hospital for my birthday and I could not imagine celebrating without her. So I took cake to her and spent the day in hospital with here, and I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.
At first after the holiday it was Easter break at uni, but as the time to go back to Coventry got closer I just could not leave her. I stayed in Essex a lot longer, through to May I think and completed uni work from home, as luckily my lecturers and friends were supportive. The year overall was intense, and I had previously been referred to the university’s counselling team, which really helped me get through being away.
It was hard to see nan go downhill with her health. Comparing our experiences, she had longer but “less intense” chemo, while mine was in a shorter space and a bit more intense. She also had radiotherapy. I went with her to one chemo session when I was home for summer and it was strange, my first experience being in that environment. It is what shaped my perception of treatment facilities. For example, there was a lot of older people. But I was fortunate enough to get transferred to Teenage Cancer Trust unit in Cambridge, which was nicer being around people my age.
She was sick a lot, as a side effect and struggled eating occasionally. Was tired a lot and lost mobility and needed a wheelchair (that eventually got passed to me!), but she was determined to get her mobility and independence back! So, when I was home for summer we had “weekend trips” to her house. It is strange feeling helpless and not being able to do much to help, and for me, I found it harder when nan had cancer rather than when I did. In my eyes, I would rather struggle through than anyone I love have to go through it all.
It got harder, as at the end of summer I was going away to The Netherlands to study, and nan was still going through treatment and I would be even further away. But nan and the rest of the family told me I had to go for it still, and while I hated leaving her, I am glad I took the opportunity. I was still in contact with her all the time, face timing, calling etc. to check up on her. By Christmas time when I came home, she was a lot better and living at her house again. Having completed chemo and radiotherapy, she was in remission and going from strength to strength.
While she got better, treatment and cancer was a turning point for her health. She slowed down, and was ill in general a lot more. Still to this day it seems like health-wise that period was like flicking a switch. Although, that was all in 2016. It is now 2020, and overall she is amazing, and a total boss. Somewhat to my annoyance (as she needs to slow down!) she is very independent still, if anything overdoing things and doing more than me some days. She worked very hard to get out and walking again, then Covid hit so she has been shielding but very determined to get back out and over the shops on her own.
I am sharing my experience as I know a lot of family members are not sure what to do/how to feel etc. when a loved one is diagnosed. I have been on both ends of this, and can say that there is no right and wrong way to navigate this. No special formula or secrets to share. It is tough on everyone. All I can say is be there for them, and take note of what they want. If they want independence, if they need help. Remember who they are, they are not just a diagnosis. Also, it can be hard emotionally for you, I get it, I was there. But, try not to lean on them too much. Make them feel safe and comfortable taking up necessary space. Take time and space for yourself too. It can seem like an overwhelming balancing act, but if you just listen to their needs and be there for them however they need (everyone is different) and to the best of your ability, that’s all anyone can ask.