I recently wrote this story for Brighter Futures, the Great Western Hospital charity that is raising funds for a new radiotherapy centre in Swindon. For more details, see Brighter Futures Web site.
By Alex Dixon
Illustrations by Connor (age 10)
My name is Jake and I am 12. I live in Swindon with my mum and annoying little sister Rosie. I love football, X-Box and sketching. Mum works in a bank or something, and Rosie’s favourite hobby is winding me up. She also loves going to school, which is proof that she’s crazy.
Yesterday Mum sat Rosie and me down. She looked serious. Mum told us that she is poorly.
“I have cancer.” She whispered.
I burst into tears. Cancer? Cancer! I can’t believe it.
Rosie went quiet for a minute and then asked
“Are you going to go bald, Mummy?”
“Yes I am going to lose my hair, darling, but it will grow back again one day. When I’m better.”
“Maybe your hair will grow back blonde, like mine.” Rosie smiled.
“That would be cool.” Replied Mum.
I didn’t say much. After a while, I went to my room. I texted Sam to ask if he wanted to meet at the park, but he was out with his parents. I climbed into my bed and tried not to think. I fell asleep and woke up feeling angry.
Why did my Mum have to get cancer? She doesn’t deserve it. Why didn’t some nasty old person who kicks puppies get it instead of her? It isn’t fair.
I need to ask Mum something, but I’m too scared.
I went downstairs and pretended that everything was ok. I needed to be strong for Mum and Rosie. I need make sure they were ok.
It was a rubbish day today. The teachers kept telling me off for staring out of the window. I made a jokey reply to Miss Simmons, my English teacher, and she gave me detention. Just what I need!
When I got home, Gran and Grandad were there with Mum. I could tell that they had all been crying, even though they put on fake smiles when they saw me.
Rosie was playing in her room.
“Why aren’t you at work, Mum?” I asked.
“I’ve been signed off work for my treatment. I’m going to start chemo soon.” She replied.
I sat down heavily on the sofa. Gran went to the kitchen to get me a drink. Grandad went to play Hungry Hippos with Rosie.
I looked at Mum. She seemed so well, so normal!
“I am going to be ill for a while, Jake. I might be sick a lot. I will be tired and might not be able to make dinner or do as much. But we’ll get through it, won’t we? And Gran and Grandad will help a lot too.”
Mum smiled but her eyes were sad.
“I can help with cooking and cleaning and stuff. I can learn how to do the washing. I’ll look after you and Rosie.” I said.
Mum started crying.
We went to a pizza place for dinner with Gran and Grandad. Mum said that she wouldn’t be able to go out so much when she was having chemo, because of the germs. When people have chemo they can pick up a bug or infection really easily, and can get sick. Sicker. We’ll have to start washing our hands all the time: as soon as we get home; before any cooking; after we sneeze or cough. It’s going to be hard.
I was knackered by the time we got home so I didn’t get to speak properly to Mum last night. I still didn’t get a chance to ask her the question that I need to ask but don’t want to.
I woke up from a nightmare and couldn’t get back to sleep for hours. I’m worried how we will cope. I’m worried that Mum is sicker than she’s telling us. I’m worried about a lot of things.
I told Sam about Mum today. He noticed that I’ve been weird. I find it hard to concentrate at school. I don’t really enjoy football anymore. He looked really sad when I told him. He didn’t know what to say. I told him that he doesn’t need to say anything, just be my mate.
My teachers all know about the cancer now. I can tell straight away which ones have been told, because they look sad and ask me how I am. Even Miss Simmons was nice to me!
Mum had her first chemo today. Grandad took her and Gran stayed at ours to cook dinner. When I got home, Mum was having a nap. I asked Grandad how it went and he said
“As well as could be expected.”
Mum woke up just in time to have dinner. She didn’t eat much and went back to bed soon after. Rosie was upset so I read her bedtime story and put her to bed. Gran and Grandad said that they were tired and went home, so I stayed up by myself for a while watching You Tube videos. The house was too quiet. I checked in on Mum before going to bed, in case she needed anything.
“Mum, are you ok?” I whispered.
“Yes, just tired darling.” She replied.
“Have you been sick?” I asked.
“No, not yet. I’m ok. Will you be ok getting Rosie to school tomorrow?” She asked.
“No problem. Night Mum.”
Mum has had her second chemo. She had to go into hospital yesterday because she has an infection. I’m really worried.
Rosie and I were allowed to visit her for a few minutes last night. She was hooked up to machines and looked rough. Rosie cried when she saw her and was a nightmare for the rest of the day.
I asked Mum when she was coming home and she said,
“As soon as I can. Although it is nice being served hand and foot by the nurses in here.”
I hope that she comes home soon. Gran and Grandad are nice but they are so old! I’m not even allowed to have my mobile at the dining room table, and they treat me like I’m five. Rosie loves it though. They let her eat as much ice cream and crisps as she likes.
Mum is out of hospital now. Rosie is being clingy with her and winding me up. She’s acting like a baby, and I have to get her breakfast and walk her to school every day.
I’m knackered. I keep having nightmares. In them, I wake up and realise that I am in a strange room, all alone. I try to find a door but there aren’t any. There are no windows either. I start to panic and then actually wake up.
People are being really nice to me at school, especially the girls, so it’s not all bad.
Some people don’t talk to me anymore though. Harry used to always invite himself to mine to play X-box but he hasn’t spoken to me in weeks. I’m not bothered because I have enough friends but still.
The school counsellor, Mrs Brown, caught up with me the other day and asked if I wanted to talk. I said no thanks. I don’t know why people want me to talk all the time now! Before they always used to tell me to shut up.
I am done with cancer now. It can just get lost! Argh.
Why did this have to happen to Mum? Why did it have to happen to me and Rosie? Mum’s never hurt anyone in her life. And now look at her! All her hair has fallen out and she looks so tired and sad. I feel about 50.
Sam keeps talking about his summer holiday this year. He’s going to Florida with his parents and brother. I can’t even think as far as next week, and we’re definitely not planning a holiday.
How can we, when Mum might not even be alive by summer? She might die. She hasn’t told me that but I know it might happen.
It sucks. 😔😢😠
I finally asked her last night, when Rosie had gone to bed and we were watching Bear Grylls on telly.
“Mum?” I asked.
“Please tell me the truth…”
“About what darling?”
She put down her coffee, paused the show and looked at me.
“About, well, I mean, are you going to… are you going to die?” I whispered.
Mum stood up, walked over to me and gave me a massive hug.
“I am not planning on going anywhere.” She said.
“No, but what if you get another infection? What if you die during your operation? What will happen to me and Rosie?” I started to cry.
“Oh sweetheart. How long have you been worrying about this? Listen, my oncologist says that I am responding very well to the chemo. As long as I am careful, I hopefully won’t get another infection. And my surgeon and the other doctors know exactly what they are doing with the operation. They’ve done it hundreds of times. I am young and should make a quick recovery.”
She sat down on the sofa next to me.
“But, what if you die anyway?”
“If I die, which I’m sure won’t happen for a very long time, then you and Rosie will be ok. Gran and Grandad can look after you. I’m so proud of you! I know that you will grow up into an amazing, kind man. I will be ok though, I can feel it.” She smiled.
“You don’t know that mum.” I replied.
“No, but I have faith. I’m going to be ok. We’re all going to be ok.”
My mum is so cool sometimes.
It’s the school holidays! Yay.
Sam is going to Florida next week, but I don’t mind so much anymore. Mum found us a last-minute holiday deal online. We are going to Cornwall with Gran and Gramps for a week. I’m going to do some surfing lessons and Mum is going to chill. She’s even going to go to the beach with us. But I told her to be really careful, and she must have a nap when she gets tired.
I’m so excited! I can’t wait. 😀 🐚 🍦🕶
Man, it’s been a tough year. Mum finished her chemo in summer and had an operation in October. Her hair is growing back now and she’s doing well.
Now she gets to have a break from cancer stuff until New Year, when she starts radiotherapy in Oxford. She’s going to have to go travel 70 miles every week day for five weeks. She’ll be really tired. One day Swindon hospital will have their own radiotherapy machines, which will make it much easier for people with cancer.
I did a 5k run the other day for the Brighter Futures charity, who are raising money to get our town some radiotherapy machines. I raised £160! Mum said that she’s really proud of me.
It’s nearly Christmas! I can’t wait. I wonder what Mum got me? I bought Rosie a My Little Pony, I hope she likes it! I drew Mum a picture of us three, Mum, Rosie and me, lying on the beach in Cornwall. I also got her a woolly hat because she still gets a cold head sometimes. 🎅👼👪
Before you go in for surgery, you have to remove most of the things that you hide behind: make-up, skin cream, deodorant, lip gloss, jewellery, nail varnish. Even most of your clothes: instead you get to wear a huge trendy NHS gown that opens at the back, and some ultra-tight green anti-DVT socks.
It’s a weird feeling because it makes you feel quite exposed; and I’m not a high-maintenance person who wears nail varnish or loads of make-up.
It makes me think of how God sees us: not as surgery patients but without all the stuff that we hide behind. We all show a certain face to other people; that may be businessperson, earth mother, geek or socialite. We may want others to see us a certain way. We show only our good sides and try to hide our faults. But God sees us for who we really are. He knows all about our past and he sees our every thought. We can’t fool him.
And that’s ok. He made us, after all. And he loves us no matter what we’ve done or who we are.
As I went into surgery yesterday, I felt completely at peace. Firstly, because I trust my surgical team; but mostly because I trust God. That doesn’t mean that I never get worried about anything, in fact I can get anxious over even small things. But I do try to remind myself that God is always in control, no matter how bleak the circumstances.
He has a good plan for my life. Events like surgery, trying to conceive and childbirth, remind me that really we have very little control over our lives. Yes we can make decisions, and there will be consequences, but actually we do not control our destiny when it comes to life and death. Sometimes our health will let us down; sometimes our friends and family will let us down; sometimes we will disappoint ourselves. Yet God is there with us, every step of the way.
My surgery went well and I feel surprisingly good. Hopefully I won’t need a major operation for a few years, although there are risks (like leakage) with implants. I am going to be discharged to go home soon. ☺ I won’t be able to vacuum or lift a laundry basket for a few weeks though, which is a shame.
Thanks to everyone for their thoughts, prayers and messages. Thanks to Mike for being the best husband, and to our parents for babysitting and all your help. And thank you to my doctors and nurses, and the caterers and cleaner too. They work so hard and are always friendly. I am so grateful to them all.
We are in the waiting room and watching rugby on the TV. Japan beat New Zealand! And soon my name is called.
“Sorry to keep you.”
I have filled in one questionnaire but there is an even longer one to complete with the nurse. Have I had other operations; what is my house like; will my husband help me when I get home, etc.
“Are you allergic to anything?”
“Yes, I responded very badly to an anti-sickness drug after my last operation. I would rather be sick than take it again.”
My poor brain struggled with that one. I knew what I wanted to say but the words wouldn’t come out. Also very dizzy, hot and cold and spaced out like an alien.
She checks my notes and they say ‘Reacted badly. Not to be used again.’
Lots more health questions. I look around the room and remember what it was like last time. But then I was sick, now I’m not. I am nearly back to normal and feel mostly healthy, besides the tiredness, headaches, occasional migraine and hormonal stuff.
“You are the first patient without complications I’ve had all day.”
It’s 6pm. I am her last patient today.
“At least you can get home soon.”
“Oh no, my paperwork will take me at least another hour and a half.”
Then we are sent back to the waiting room for the next nurse. I find a Gideon’s Bible and read some Galatians and Psalms. It doesn’t quite feel right as the font is different from my Bible at home, but it’s still good.
“Sorry for the wait.”
Measure my height and weight, take my blood pressure, take three vials of blood, do an MRSA swab.
“When will you get home tonight?”
“Probably about 8:30. I think I’ll get fish and chips. My husband works nights.”
“When did you start work today?”
“7:30 in the morning.”
Oh my goodness that’s a 13 hour shift! And she was still cheerful.
“Yes but it’s a vocation isn’t it?”
“Well yes, but still.”
Home time, to my parents’ to pick up the kids. This time next week my operation will be over.
God bless the NHS.
I had a dream last night that I have had before, years ago.
I was looking at myself, feeling disappointed in what I looked like.Then I looked into a mirror and realised that in reality, I actually looked completely different. Almost unrecognisable as the same person.
I knew that the mirror was showing the truth, who I really was. My perception of myself had been wrong. It was only when I looked into the mirror that I realised I had been seeing lies. I had believed the lies until confronted with the undeniable reality.
I believe that there is someone who will read this who has been listening to lies about themself. Maybe others have been telling you lies, or perhaps you have listened to the untruth in your own head for too long.
I just want to say that the truth will set you free. Stop listening to the fiction, and see the reality of who you are.
He said to the Jews who believed,”If you keep and obey my Word, then you are my followers for sure. You will know the truth and the truth will make you free.”
I didn’t want to get up this morning. I was tired and my brain fuzzy, in the increasingly familiar hay fever way.
As I waited for the bath to run, I read a bit from the Bible, like normal. Today it was John 10.
I am the gate; all who enter through me will be saved. They will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
(John 10: 9-10)
Instantly my head felt clear and alert. I suddenly could understand much more clearly what Jesus is saying to us; not just intellectually, but spiritually too.
Jesus’ plan for us is to have life, and life to the full. The enemy (thief) wants to steal, kill or destroy that life which God has given us. There is a battle for our hearts, minds, bodies and spirits.
If we allow illness, bad relationships, past pain or fear to rule our lives then we are allowing some victory to the enemy; who, let’s be clear, is not a cute cartoon devil who pokes people with his trident, as our culture would have us believe.
I had cancer last year. I had chemo, surgery and then radiotherapy. Thanks to God and the medical profession, it is gone. It is my past. Yes, it has changed me physically, shaped my story and its after-effects will be felt for some time; but it does not have a hold over me. I will not let cancer dictate my future.
I have come to realise that many people who have had cancer and are now better, can struggle with a terrible fear of the cancer returning. Logically, this does make sense, because sometimes cancers do return. So I sympathise with them, because it is a horrible, life-altering or destroying disease.
But for myself, there is no fear of this cancer, or any other cancer. That does not mean that I am going to take up smoking or sunbeds, because of course we should all live reasonably healthily. But, the best explanation that I can think of for this is that God has set me free from fear of cancer. I know that he does not want me to live a fearful life, one where I worry about big or small bad things happening to me. I know this because he tells us not to be anxious so many times in the Bible. And because he loves me.
Someone at church told me that the enemy tried to destroy me with cancer, but he failed. God has the victory. Yes, this makes sense. God has a plan for my life, and he wanted me to win this battle. He knew that I would. I trusted him to fight it with me.
Jesus came to give me life to the full, so I am going to enjoy it.
He never promised us an easy life, far from it. He is the good Shepherd though, and he chose to lay down his life for us. To believers he speaks freedom not just from illness, but from the fear of illness. Freedom from the past, as well as from the mental or spiritual hold that past pain can hold over us. Claim that freedom, it’s a gift.
(Note: I know that one day I will die of something. But that is also OK, because I know where I am going.)
So if the Son sets you free you, will be free indeed.