6 February 2011 – Never the Same Again (Cancer and Me 15)
One of the things that seems true about a brush with cancer is that afterwards, even with a good outcome, you see things differently. Your whole attitude changes.
It is true in my case that my faith was strengthened. It’s also true, although I know that perhaps I can’t generalize for everyone, that there were lots of positives to come out of it. For one thing I found my love of writing, and blogging has been something that I have continued with and hopefully helped others in the process. For another, I got to spend so much time with my kids, and that is priceless. I like to think that Jake would not be the fantastic footballer he is today if it hadn’t been for the little training sessions I put on for him in the back garden whenever I felt up to it (and sometimes when I didn’t). He really did improve in that time, and I know he realizes through the experience that sometimes bad things happen for a good reason. Of course, he sees it now in purely worldly terms – there is always a silver lining to every cloud – and that has certainly been something we’ve been able to see. But the real silver lining may not be until after we die.
I also got to help with maths homework, watch school productions and go to parents evenings (after chemo finished), and we got to go on lots of ad hoc evenings/days out simply because I was around.
But I also started to realize that I had become somewhat slave to work. Our overheads were high, primarily because of our lovely big house with our lovely big garden. Ok the mortgage had been partly repaid, but there was still some left. And the house was now 40 years old, and would soon need new windows and major work to the kitchen and bathrooms. The only way I could see to adequately maintain it was to go back into a full time senior position, of the sort that I’d had trouble finding for the previous 2 years since the recession started.
I also had other things that I enjoyed doing more. Being ill made me realize that having time to do those things – the writing, the music, the football coaching with the kids – was important to me, and I simply had to make time for them. So I wanted to have a more flexible lifestyle where I didn’t have to earn so much money and work in such a stressful environment.
Cutting a long story short, that led to a search to downsize. We wanted to sell the house, have no mortgage, but not compromise too much in terms of living space. We looked at moving away from Basingstoke, even had a house-viewing weekend in Derby, because we thought it might be relatively cheaper to move up north. But that came to nothing.
Eventually, we had almost given up when I phoned an estate agent about a fairly new house in Basingstoke. It was big enough and turned out to be within negotiation reach of our budget. However, after putting in the biggest offer we could afford, we were beaten to it. Heidi was despondent, but around the corner I had seen a sales office for some new homes. I looked on the website and there was a special offer on a 4-bedroom house at a price just above our budget. I encouraged Heidi to at least come and look at it with me. Nothing to lose by going to look, even though she was pessimistic, to say the least.
Well, it just shows how things can work out. We went and looked at the house, and it was lovely. The only drawback was that the kitchen was inadequate. It wouldn’t have worked for 6 of us. So we went back to the sales office and explained that to the lady. After a few minutes of chatting she paused and said, “perhaps you should go and see the house next door to that one”. She explained it had a much bigger kitchen, and had been finished for nearly a year. When she told us that the asking price was another £30,000 – so about £40,000 more than we could afford – Heidi asked what would be the point. The sales lady just winked and said, “trust me!”
We looked at the house, loved it, and again put in the highest offer we could – £40k below the asking price. And a few hours later, the lady phoned me back to say that the builder had accepted the offer. Amazing! It turns out that we went in to the sales office at literally exactly the right time.
We moved in February 2011. The house itself has worked well, and we are now mortgage-free. We even managed to pay for a holiday abroad with some of the equity we got out of an endowment policy that we didn’t need any more. But we have missed the 0.2-acre garden – especially the kids, and especially Jake and Joe, the footballers. I don’t care that maintaining the garden here is a 10-minute-a-week job, rather than a 2-hour-a-week job. I would do anything to see them enjoying the space and being able to play freely. It’s so much more built up around here – probably why it’s so much cheaper – so there are also fewer alternatives to the garden. We do feel a little sadness, maybe occasionally regret. But on the whole we can see that it was the right thing to do at the time, and we do have a lovely house.
But the main way that things are never the same is that cancer is constantly in the background, lurking in every thought. Mainly the thought is, ‘will it come back?’ Every check up is slightly anxious, even though, when you think about it, you don’t go there to get news. You go to check ups to update the doctors and let them know how you are feeling! But every little illness, every twinge of the gut, every migraine, every back ache, whatever it is, the first thought is not to grab the paracetamol or the Gaviscon; it’s to wonder whether this is the start of a relapse.
And it would take a long time to be free of that. I’m not sure it would ever go away. So even when you’re not living with cancer, you are living with the fear of cancer.