Leith letters: number 1

Three good things:

  • East coast sunshine
  • Tune swapping with your new flatmate 
  • The satisfying burn of tired muscles after walking far

There’s only three things you can do when you find out your mum has got cancer.
1, have an emotional breakdown (which I considered), 2, pretend everything is 100% grand (my natural and automatic reaction, which may lead to point 1), or 3, find a middle ground somewhere between the two, start button bashing on your blog again to try and make sense of the sudden madness of your life, and write down three good things about each day to remind yourself there’s still positivity in the world.

Let’s start with the shit bit. My mum – my strong, clever, fierce, inspirational, beautiful mum – had a throat infection for weeks that wouldn’t clear away. Starting in October and lasting all over Christmas, any number of antibiotics wouldn’t shift it. She knew it wasn’t normal and pushed to see a specialist who they identified throat cancer and I wanted to rip my own throat out and give it to her instead. How could it be that my mum, never smoked a cigarette in her whole life, could be chosen for such a shit thing?

Now for the good bit: the doctors have told her that after weeks of chemo and radiotherapy, she will make a full recovery, which is the most incredible, money-can’t-buy news I’ve ever had. It’s important to hold onto this when I think about the situation; so many people would kill for this news and I feel so blessed that we’ve been lucky enough to hear it. But no matter how well things have turned out, and no matter much I say we are lucky over and over again in my head, it doesn’t make it any easier in the moment.

Take the moment of Monday 6 March. The day my mum began her treatment and started as an in-patient at Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital.  I hate hospitals, one of my only deep and irrational fears, so even approaching felt terrible, let alone feeling the weight on my shoulders of knowing I’d have to keep a brave face on things. My family is only three people big – my mum, my grandad and me – and coming from a single parent only child family, with my poor grandad alone in the borders and panicking about the welfare of mum, the responsibility is down to me to be brave. I needed to be strong and put my big-girl pants on and show my mum that I was there to look after her, without question or hesitation. And being around for my mum was organised so easily –my work have been fantastic in letting me work in the Edinburgh office, and my best friend and I have flat-swapped so I can stay in Edinburgh whilst mum’s treatment is ongoing. I’d just had a painless first night in my ‘new flat’ with my roomie, one of my best buddies Kyle, and I’d walked a sunshine-filled 40 minutes from Leith to work in the morning to take on a successful day in my new office in town before walking round to the Western post-work. So surely taking on the hospital would be okay, with all these good vibes around?

I had every faith I would be able to be brave – until I got to the ward. I saw the immense pain mum was in from a rogue tooth, still sore after the hospital dentist had wrenched several out of her mouth to ensure they cause as little hassle as possible whilst her treatment begins, and how much she was hating the insufferable heat of the hospital. Although she was her happy self as much as she could be, I still felt I had to be strong as I came into the ward and lovely women were quietly but undeniably unwell due to the chemo pumping through them. And I even held it together when, halfway through visiting hours, I looked into the corridor and saw a poor lady shuffling down, frail and thin, hooked up to all sorts of machines, bald from her treatment and in a state.  I might not have been totally cheery – bright and silly and smiley – but seeing all this, I didn’t cry, I filled her with as much chat and cuddles and love as I could and that felt like a fucking enormous victory.

Yet that victory still didn’t seem like enough to me. I hated that my brave face was just a brave face; that I didn’t really feel it inside, when I know I need to step up to the fore more than ever before and support my mum like she’s supported me, so many times I’ve lost count.  She’d not even properly started her treatment yet and already I felt shit – how the fuck would I cope the worse it gets? And how selfish is that thought in itself; thinking about how *I* will cope when it’s her that is going through it all? She’s being pumped full of poision and I’m sad about putting my radio shows, circus training, and daily relationships on hiatus for a while. What an arse.

Until I started walking back to Leith, I felt horrendous. And then I checked my phone: it was absolutely inundated with messages from my colleagues and my friends, my own little close-knit family of nutters, wishing my mum and I so much luck and love and care that I thought I was going to burst. They were telling me it’s okay to be sad; they were telling me no matter how shit is is, they’ve got my back.

And then I got this lovely sensation that life isn’t about the shit things that are thrown your way and how you deal with them, whether you manage to convince yourself not to crack under the pressure of shit circumstances. Life is about the love that pours out of your genuine and real relationships; the laugh mum and I still managed to have despite it being a scary first day on the ward; the constant phone calls from my grandad to see how mum is doing; the best friend who agrees to flat swap without question or hesitation; your best bitch that let you rant it all out, nods and groans in the right places and keeps your glass of wine overflowing; the beautiful wise girl that lets you drink Prosecco straight out the bottle and opens it for you when your hands are shaking with anger; the platonic soulmate that lets you rage and rage and rage about the injustices of life even when his own circumstances are ultimately more painful; the work colleague that texts you every single day to offer a lunchtime moan session and giggles galore; the wonderful man that drives miles and miles to see you after working ridiculous, intense hours, just to make you smile.

Life’s about waking up and smiling when you see that the spring sunshine has hit the East Coast (even if it’s still fucking freezing), it’s about getting back to your temporary digs and having a mini-skank with one of your oldest pals as you boogie about to some new dub tunes, and it’s about the good kinda pain in your legs from walking so far and knowing you’re going to be doing it every day for the foreseeable future.  It’s about going in for your second day in the hospital and genuinely being cheerful, and making both you and your mum laugh and laugh and laugh uncontrollably, and smiling as you sit in your flat in Leith, feeling all the feels and writing ‘letters’ to keep track of the fact it will all work out in the end.

It’s about taking that silver lining love and channelling it into all of the healing and care you can give to the most important person in your life – your mum. It’s about knowing in your heart of hearts that no matter what the fuck happens you have absolutely got the strength inside you to be 100% okay.


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