Yesterday we were given the news that we knew would come one day soon, but that we’d all been dreading, Pete’s cancer has spread and is “misbehaving” (maybe it needs a hub or a Tsar?) it’s looking less likely that it will respond to further treatment, and at the moment Pete is too ill to undergo any.
Even though we knew it was coming, even though we expected it months ago, way back in July we were told Pete had a matter of weeks left, it still hits you like a punch in the stomach. Obviously, it’s very upsetting, and telling family and close friends is very hard. But Pete is incredibly philosophical about it, back in July we didn’t think he would be here in September, and yet here we are, it’s nearly May and we’ve had so much precious extra time.
There were lots of tears yesterday but there was also laughter, and the opportunity to sit quietly together and just be. The team at Weston Park were wonderful and couldn’t have been more supportive and kind, and the palliative care team are working hard to make sure he’s comfortable, We hope that he will be able to come home to be with the people he loves.
Pete and I have been overwhelmed by the support and kindness we’ve been shown. Yesterday we spent a lot of time talking and reflecting. I woke up this morning in the early hours thinking about everything that has happened in the last 24 hours, the last week, month, and over the last year. It struck me that what we were given back in June 2021 was a gift. It’s a gift no one wants to receive but it was a gift all the same.
The gift of time to say all the things you need to say to the people that matter most to you and the gift to take stock together over a life well-lived. To look back and reminisce, to share thoughts hopes, and dreams that might not happen the way you would have wanted them to, but that might still happen in a different way for those left behind.
It’s a gift to have the time to be able to tell each other how proud you are of each other, although in that way we’ve been lucky because we’ve always done that. But we got the gift of hearing from so many other people what a difference Pete has made to their lives, whether as an artist, a teacher, a colleague, a family member, or a friend. We got the gift of realising the impact one life can have on many. A bit of a “George Bailey” moment.
We got the gift of friendship and love. When the chips were down so many wonderful people showed us the true meaning of friendship with their actions. Illness and impending death are hard to be around and the rollercoaster of treatment, of seeming to get better then deteriorating, almost in a loop, is exhausting. But they’ve come along for the ride and haven’t complained that they are too busy or too tired or too upset themselves.
If I had a choice I wouldn’t have taken the gift, I would have carried on the way we were because life was bloody good and we were loving it and living it. But there wasn’t a choice.
The only choice we had was to accept what was on offer and spend however long we had left railing against the unfairness of it all or getting on with the business of living while we can.
Our mantra from the moment we found out Pete was a candidate for palliative chemotherapy has been “as comfortable as possible for as long as possible” and that’s what we’ve tried to do, to make the most of whatever time we’ve been given.
We’re extremely fortunate that as a family we have always taken great pleasure in small things and we’ve made a point of enjoying all these things as much as we can during the last 10 months. The pleasure of making a meal together, or playing a game, of opening tacky Christmas presents, going to the supermarket or just sitting on the sofa together.
It hasn’t been easy. There have been a lot of tears, of course we feel robbed of our future together. We’d hoped to drive highway one and visit Japan together and I had this mad idea that once the girls had finished school we’d buy a camper van and Pete and I would combine some of my work with touring the uk, that won’t happen now. But like Pete has said, “it’s just a different chapter in the book”.
We’ve been very lucky indeed. Not everyone gets 33 happy years together and gets the chance to tell the people they love most that they feel closer now than they’ve ever felt to them. We’ve spent so much time together, since diagnosis and in the previous year due to the pandemic. We got to spend all our time together for months on end and know that we still love each other’s company and can still make each other laugh until we cry.
The biggest gift is knowing how precious life is. It’s too precious to spend it doing things that make you unhappy. Sometimes you have to be brave and try something new. The worst that could happen is it won’t work, you can always do something else instead. Nothing is insurmountable. But life is too precious to spend it doing things that ultimately make you miserable. I’m glad we were able to work and live in a way that matches our values. I’m glad we got to model that for our own children.
Life is precious. It’s too precious to waste on bitterness, anger, regret, grudges, vitriol. That stuff will only eat you up and spoil your time, no one else’s. Far better to take any anger you have and turn it into a positive, do something with it, and help to be a part of the change. To seek out like-minded people and try to do things with them that make a positive difference no matter how small. Because you never know what a big difference that small thing can make, we’ve been given the gift of finding that out.