The thing that people don’t tell you (well didn’t tell me) about a terminal illness is how relentlessly invasive it is. That sentence sounds naïve. I don’t mean about how invasive it is to the person suffering it, that’s pretty obvious… it’s invasive for the people around them, for the home environment, for the finances, day to day routines, and even the pets.
For me, that feeling of invasiveness was brought in with the medical contraptions and paraphernalia. My Mum’s bedroom, full of things that made “her” – her jewellery box, her weird porcelain 1920s clown, her 37 bottles of perfume that she wore in perfect rotation, bras hung over the bedpost, the one snotty tissue constantly on her bedside table – started to disappear. Replaced by the shower chair. The toilet frame. Handrails installed along our staircase. Boxes upon boxes of adults’ incontinence pants. Huge bags full of different medication. Little sponges on straws that we’d dip into water for Mum to suck on because she couldn’t take fluids properly. Nothing at home was homely.
When she left the palliative care unit, Mum had some pain medication to take home. She was advised not to take it all the time as it had a possible side effect of vomiting. In January, Mum started to develop a tumour in her arm. She took her pain medication. She needed to vomit. This happened whilst I was driving home from seeing Sam. Sam sent me a few texts in a row, and then I got a call whilst I was driving so I stopped at Rownham’s services (s/o if you know it). It was my brother;
“Mum had a really bad turn. Yesterday she took some medication and it didn’t agree with her, she got up to be sick and fell over as she started walking. She was sick on the floor and couldn’t get herself back up. It’s not looking good.”
He was getting to Dorset as soon as he could. We were worried. I called my Mum’s partner and he said that I should try get home as soon as I could. I rang Sam back and cried. I sat in my car in the car park and cried. I cried all the way home. When I got home Mum was asleep, although she woke up when I sat down next to her. She was quiet, weak, and tired. The next day, she was pretty much fine (as fine as one can be when going through aggressively advancing cancer). She’d gotten over her fall – albeit with a couple of bruises. She’d gotten the sickness out and felt a bit perkier. By this time, my brother had arrived, and it seemed as though both of us being there together had lifted Mum’s spirits. She became chatty and was drinking properly again.
However with each day that passed, Mum became weaker. She lost more weight, her muscles deteriorated more, her memory and mind faded more. She was losing the ability to communicate fully. Her lovely hazel eyes now constantly dilated full black from the amount of drugs she was taking. She needed help moving around in bed, even just turning over required assistance. Her once round and plump cheeks now gaunt and sallow. Her usual perfectly shaped and painted nails had become brittle and discoloured. My brother went home again, he told me he was now going to try and be here with Mum at least once a month to spend more time with her. Her death was coming soon.