The Cancer Waiting Game

Why am I writing something so personal about my mum? Maybe I am one of the bloggers you hate who should really know how to keep their private matters to themselves. Possibly.

However, writing is therapy for me and I have found that when I share of life’s crappiness, it can help others too. I make no claims to be some kind of life coach. I’m just muddling through the best I can.

I need to write. I feel like it might just see me through somehow. This post comes to you earlier than usual because cancer is no respecter of routine or time.

The End Stage

Last week we were told that my mum has little time left. There are no treatment options available. This bastard cancer has latched on and then some. It’s all about palliative care and waiting now. This is a place that none of us want to be.

Cancer waiting game - waitingWhen you’re told that your loved one has terminal cancer you are shocked. That day you panic and think that will mean that they will die imminently. For some that does happen. For many, they live on for a while.

My mum has managed eight months so far. I think we all got complacent in the interim. We knew she’d die but no one likes to think about that.

Last week, after months of doing life as normally as possible, we have had to try to shift our minds into a different gear. I’m not sure my brain has caught up yet. I’m not convinced that it ever will.

Cancer has a way of reminding us all though. With each symptom clearly seen, we are reminded that time is running out.

A Cruel Form of Waiting

I’m not the most patient person in the world. If there’s an event coming up, I want it to happen right now. I’ve learnt how to be more patient but now I find that challenged.

A slow death is torture on the soul and minds of the afflicted and their loved ones. You find yourself wishing that your relative has all the time left in the world. Then your mind skips to hoping it will come soon because you cannot bear to see someone you care about be in such pain.

You feel so much guilt for wishing their life away when all you want is them to continue to be here forever. It’s hard to reconcile with that part of you that wishes for the end.

Death brings guilt before it even happens. The immense shame I have felt at wishing this could all be over has crippled me. I don’t want my mum to go. I do want all this pain, fear, upset and uncertainty to disappear though, but that means her death. How shitty do I feel then for thinking that?

My husband tells me that’s normal. He should know, being a geriatrician and seeing this on a daily basis. Yet the guilt still eats me up inside.

Where You Never Thought You Would Be

Cancer waiting game - grief stagesI guess I should have learnt after my brother died by suicide that life can throw up the most unexpected things. For a while after his death I thought I was more alert and vigilant to life’s unexpected trials but we all get complacent.

My life has never been a charmed one but like many others I have ambled along and been shocked by the nasty surprises that have leapt out of the shadows.

Nothing prepared me for my mum’s final diagnosis until the day that we heard it. Call it intuition, hoodoo, ookie spookiness, whatever. I knew that day that we would be told that this was it. Just as I knew last week that she would be told that we are now nearing the end. I’m still not sure whether I’d rather have the knowing or not. The end result is still the same.

Since then my family and I are in a place in which we thought we would never be. How do you do this? What do you do? What makes it easier? How are we making it harder?

No one seems to be able to answer these questions.

I often feel like I’m getting it wrong. I watch my words carefully. I don’t want to cause any pain. Questions need to be asked about a funeral, effects, wishes etc. It’s so incredibly awkward to have to ask. I don’t want to be in the position where I have to, and yet…

Regrets and Intentions

I have many regrets coming back to bite me on the arse. I wish I’d been better as a daughter in some ways.

I wish we were a family that were more demonstrative in our love but I accept that many families aren’t always hugging and professing their love openly.

I show her my love with my actions as much as I can. I give her my time. I’m currently back in my family home and trying to be useful. I’m not sure if I’m achieving that but I think my mum appreciates my presence here.

Regrets will always try to take us down. I don’t have time for them right now. They will probably fell me later but for now it’s all about intentions.

I intend to be here for her and my family as much as I can.

I intend to be as helpful as I can.

I intend to hold on even harder to the relationship I have with my husband. We may be 100 miles apart right now but there’s a ring on my finger and a knowing to remind me every day of our bond and his steadfastness.


Cancer waiting game - waiting darkWhen will the final goodbye come? No one knows but it will be soon.

The cruellest part of this whole process is not knowing when the end will come. I know none of us do but when you’re told that death is coming, you find yourself waiting for its appearance whilst simultaneously hoping it won’t show up.

Do I say goodnight or goodbye each time she goes to sleep at night? Do I tell her I love her as she goes to sleep just in case that’s the last time I will ever get the chance to say it?

Will I miss the chance to say goodbye? Do I actually want to be there to say it or would I rather remember her as a living, vibrant being?

So many questions appear in this cancer waiting game and I don’t expect any solid answers. This is no way to live, or for someone you love, to die. All we can do, as ever, is wait and take each minute as it comes.

I know people will say that we should not look to the end but rather embrace every moment we have left. We try but there is always a shadow lurking over us.

Perhaps I need to be a more sunshiny person but I’m not buying into this focusing on the present moment and forgetting what’s to come. I need to be prepared as much as I can.

In the meantime hearts are breaking, strength is sapping, and sorrow is strong, for us all. Cancer, you are the most evil bitch I have ever known.


About Lisa Sell

Lisa Sell is a fiction writer. When she's not wrestling with words she can be found showing the love for chocolate, cheese, coffee, books, the cats, and the husband. Perhaps not in that order.

19 comments on “The Cancer Waiting Game

  1. Oh Lisa what to say. My heart goes out to you all at this difficult time. Just be there to make a few more memories and try amd stop the shit hitting the until another day. Be kind to yourself and stop beating yourself doing ‘it’ (whatever it is) right!! Just be xxx

  2. I can understand the therapeutic qualities of writing, Lisa. I’m sorry for your ordeal with this terrible disease… I can’t even imagine what it must be like.

  3. I’m so sorry you are going through this, Lisa. I think knowing would be harder than not knowing. The shock of a sudden death is swift and painful yet I would imagine the death vigil to be much worse. A month before my twelveth birthday my mother had a heart attack and was taken to the hospital which was over an hour’s drive away. After a couple of days, she was about to come home. Then she developed a blood clot to the heart and her death was quick. I’m sure today they would have some treatment unavailable back then. My father died the same year, 9 months later. I found his body one morning. They were unexpected but what you are going through is worse. I would just suggest making the best of every day that you are given and making sure that she knows you are there for her. I used to work in a nursing home as a CNA many years ago. The love and support is the best thing for her and when it is time, she will be at peace. My heart goes out to you at this time. My prayers and healing thoughts go out to you. God bless.

  4. I feel so sad that you and your family are going through this. My thoughts are with you. Be kind to yourself xx

  5. I’m so sorry that you’re going through this. Cancer is a terrible disease and it strikes young and old. I think you can just do your best in this situation. Thinking of you and wishing you well

  6. Such sad news – sending you love. Just make sure you look after yourself as well, although I doubt that feels so important right now. xx

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