You see, how can I put this, our mother was a bit thick, came from a generation when girls didn’t really leave school with much of an education, naive, thats the best word to describe her, gullible, that too, me and our Ned could tell her anything and she believed us implicitly.
Given to slight exaggeration, that too, “You’ve given me palpitations now” she’d cry out if we ever upset her by disobedience or argument and she’d clutch her heart as if it were true for she’d heard somewhere that palpitations was something to do with your heart and of course me and our Ned would stare at her and wonder what the hell she was talking about now.
Heart of gold even with palpitations, she had one of those too, our christmas and birthday lists were mighty impressive every year and yet I cannot recall ever NOT receiving EVERYTHING I had asked for even if it meant that she put herself into hock at Brian Mills catalogue for the next year or so, nothing was too good or too much for me and our Ned .
But like many people, when she got her cancer she didn’t want to talk about it to anyone, wouldn’t worry anyone with the news, told those who knew that they weren’t to tell anyone else and that she didn’t want to talk about it with them either, in case it upset them.
She didn’t want to tell me because she was diagnosed just a few months before our wedding in 1983, we’d come down to Leeds for a weekend to hand out the invitations and suchlike and on the Saturday afternoon I and my betrothed took her shopping to Asda and there in the car, in the car park she just said, “Oh by the way, I’ve got breast cancer but thats the last time I’ll mention it”, she didn’t want to tell us before the wedding but my father had told her to.
And so she had chemotherapy and then some time later was declared as in remission and all was fine and she definitely didn’t talk about it then as if talking about it would bring some bad luck genie down on her – during this period we moved back to Leeds and I started working for my father and he wouldn’t talk about it either, “Your mother says not to talk about it” is all I’d get from him and he didn’t want to talk about it to the extent that he didn’t even want to take her to the hospital for her six monthly check-ups just in case there was bad news, so I did it.
Once every six months she would ring the night before and simply say “Can you take me to Chapel Allerton tomorrow?”, no explanation, no discussion, I’d pick her up at lunchtime and drive her over there and we’d talk about anything other than her health and I’d leave her there for a couple of hours and come back later to pick her up and still she wouldn’t say anything, I don’t know anything about what those six monthly check-ups involved and if I ever asked on the way home if everything was ok she’d just say “Oh yes, fine, don’t you have to be back at work soon ?”, the fact that I was working for her husband never crossed her mind, “I don’t want to get you into trouble” she’d say on many an occasion and I’d remind her “Mother, I’m self employed, me dads not going to sack me, he can’t”
She had been told by the hospital that if she got to five years in remission then she was safe and she wouldn’t be bothered by the blight ever again but on her very last check-up, the end of the fifth year check-up they found something – but again she wouldn’t talk about it, “Its nothing” she’d say if you asked, “just some more chemotherapy that’s all and I can have it at Cookridge Hospital so you don’t even have to take me its only up the road, I can walk it”, so she did and I didn’t have to take time off work and get into trouble from my own father even when I was self employed.
She lost a lot of weight the second time around and their holidays became more frequent, that how we knew, without being told of course, that this time around the prognosis wasn’t that good and then eventually she admitted that it had “got into my bones now” but still she didn’t want to talk about it and they were spending more time in Benidorm than they were England.
One day I got a phone call from my father from Benidorm and I knew it was serious because he actually paid for this phone call, put coins int he box and everything rather than trying to pass on a brief message in the ten seconds you get while putting the coins in the meter like he usually did, “Your mothers broke her bloody leg” he said with an exasperation that almost said it was her fault.
She had an operation to plate her leg back together again, the cancer had turned her femurs to brittle chalk, she stubbed a toe exiting a lift and that was enough to snap the bone in one leg in three places, the scaffolding that the Spanish doctors screwed into her leg was impressive stuff and she was booked in for a five week stay, at which point my father consulted the insurance documents and thanked whatever his deity was that he’d declared her condition ont he insurance forms and he could stay for free in Benidorm for another five weeks before my mother was fit enough to take a private jet home, his £10 insurance policy went a long way on that visit, tens of thousands that stubbed toe cost the insurance company.
While she was incarcerated in the Clinica Benidorm she was due another chemo session and the hospital asked my father to get the details of what chemicals she was on so that they could do it for them, he rang me one night to ask her doctor for the details and they were duly faxed over to Spain at which point the Spanish doctors scoffed at the recipe for the concoction of chemicals and told my father that they had stopped using that stuff in Spain five years earlier and had a much better treatment for it now – that was when we came to understand that the Thatcher government had already fooked up the NHS as badly as my mothers leg was fooked up.
The scaffolding stayed on her leg for months and months and after it was removed she was told not to play rugby anymore, or walk around on it too much, her bones were almost too brittle to support her now and so she took to a wheelchair and my father took to pushing her around everywhere and even doing the washing up although at the same time trying to work out how he could lower the kitchen sink so she could wash up from the wheelchair, he was good to her like that.
And she continued in that way for some time, never complaining, still receiving chemotherapy which was getting more and more aggressive and achieving less and less while at the same time knocking the hell out of her but she’d disappear on those days and not be seen in public again until the hair was coiffed by her visiting hairdresser and the make up put back on, we, even her two sons, never saw her looking poorly, and indeed still not wanting to speak of her condition.
One Friday she spent a whole afternoon with her hairdresser, nattering, having her hair done, drinking dozens of cups of tea, Suzanne called in with Amanda who was just two years old at the time, they had a good afternoon, she was “right as rain” as they say in these parts.
The next morning I got a call from my father, he couldn’t wake her straight away and when he had she had been in severe pain, her doctor had called and left a prescription for morphine, I was asked to go and fetch it from the chemist and I’m bloody sure that the chemist didnt want to give me it as he stared very hard into my eyes and told me in no uncertain terms just how powerful these painkillers were and that they were not to be abused or mis-understood but for all they were the most powerful tablet that could be given on prescription they still didn’t seem to do much and on the Sunday morning when I got called around to their house to help my father carry her into the bathroom he confessed that the doctor had told him to ring Wheatfields Hospice and arrange for an admission, so he did and they promised to admit her on the Monday morning, no questions asked, just “Bring her in” its what they do, they are angels in disguise.
She never made it, at 7am on Monday morning I got a call from my father to say “You’d better come quick”, I was around there in five minutes but she’d just slipped away, not making a fuss right up to the end.
Its how she coped.