The whole world is gone mad clapping one another. Be it whole cities standing in sincere appreciation of all front-line workers, front-line medical workers proudly cheering coronavirus survivors out of ICU, and neighbours welcoming precious survivors home. I genuinely applaud the applauding so to speak, but I can’t help feeling the overwhelming desire to slow-clap that viral infection for what it has done to my mother, and say a sardonic “well done”.
I want to stand there with the best teenage-era sneer on my face because I am angry. So angry that most of the time I can’t acknowledge it. “Well done, a thorough job there you sir, she was on track to lose it all but by God you’ve really taken the fight to her,” is what I want to say.
At the end of January, my mother received a diagnosis of a rapidly growing malignant and incurable glioblastoma, located on her brain stem. It came into existence as a grade 4 tumour, sweeping away all hope and possibility of survival. It would be fast. It would be severe. It might be peaceful.
She bore this devastating news with grace but never full acceptance, not even today. She regularly tells us the good news that she can walk again, her eyesight is behaving, her hand is ready to return to duty – miracle of miracles she has regained control over her body and is ready to head out there to reconquer the world.
Her grip on reality is slipping as the disease progresses, and she loses more and more. A small mercy maybe.
Back in January, she stood and looked into a vacuum where she imagined treatment should be. Surely there was something to be done. Nay not so, not if you fall into the wrong category, the untouchables of the oncological world; too old, too severely affected, symptoms progressing too rapidly.
Nothing for it but to fall into a gentle rhythm back at home, visits from family, friends and neighbours, short day trips to local cafes, curtain shopping (of all things), breezy walks on the prom in Tramore.
More importantly, for someone like Mom who cannot access any treatment other than daily steroids, we availed of the amazing complementary therapies supplied by Waterford’s cancer support resource at the Solas Centre. Situated a short drive from home, she and my father both received counselling, reiki and reflexology in the gentlest of surroundings. All gone now of course.
The Waterford Hospice nurses still check in by phone, but the wonderful acupuncturist can no longer visit. Thankfully Mom's return to the home environment was facilitated by the social workers and cancer nurses in Beaumont, and by the most amazing local HSE occupational therapy services. They ensured she has everything she needs to live as comfortably as possible while cocooned.
What couldn’t cancer and the virus take from her? Quite a lot actually. Video calls keep her sons in daily contact, messages pour in from well-wishers, cards and letters delivered by our lovely postman. My family and I are cocooning with her and Dad. She has the joy of a large garden, chickens clucking gently and the sun shining on her lovely face. Our public health nurse arrives to rescue us from our minor medical crises, our GP is available for calls.
No treatment, it turns out, means no complications until they arise from her condition, and that is uncharted territory. As she previously said herself, there really is nothing wrong with Mom, only what ails her. Unless isolation is a medical condition.
It is hard to explain to her that she must now give up the little treats which we relied on so heavily before mid-March. Stoic is an adjective I think she deserves.
The lifeblood of our little family unit and the people I think of with the most gratitude are our agency care workers. They arrive twice daily, unfailingly. They are cheerful and caring. There is no question too trivial to discuss, no potential situation too uncertain to consider. She is their priority. They take all in their stride, dispensing words of comfort and sympathy like soothing cups of tea.
They are colourful additions to a world that for my mother leaches its vibrancy day by day, and there are not enough words to express how grateful we are to them.
It is not possible to clap loud or long enough for these wonderful women.