Abi came down with cold, so the appointment to have her port fitted was postponed until 16th February 2015. As we had to report to the ward very early and we were coming from far, we were given a room in the patient hotel opposite the hospital. So Abi, Kara and I took the opportunity to spend the day before in town and watch a musical. Before the show, we had a lovely Italian meal followed by some fabulous lemon and mango sorbet. The play itself was great fun; an hour or so of primal rhythms beaten out on bin lids and brooms. It was hilarious. We loved it.
Sarah met us outside the theatre to take Kara home. That was the cause of yet another row. “I would like Kara to stay with us because Abi does much better with her sister around,” I told Sarah. “No,” she replied, definitively. “She should not miss a day of school,” she said, firmly. “Okay, I suppose that’s fair enough. But after dropping Kara off at school, you may not have time to make it to the hospital before Abi has her operation,” I said. “I’m sure Abi would like you there,” I continued. “I’m going to stay with Abi in the hotel tonight. I’ve arranged a sleepover for Kara,” Sarah told me. “But it’s a school night! That means she’ll be exhausted because she’ll stay up all night playing games with her friend! That’s not fair to Kara or her friend!” I pleaded. But as usual, Sarah got her own way. Our relationship was awful. I could guarantee that if I said black, Sarah would say white, no matter what. It was exhausting. It made every decision much more challenging than it needed to be.
Abi and I booked into the patient hotel. Sarah arrived later on and immediately started fussing over Abi’s supposedly unkempt hair. She also complained that I had not dressed her warmly enough. “What a fun night this is going to be!” I told Sarah. It was the last thing I said to her. I decided the best approach to her foul temper was to ignore her. That proved difficult, especially when she answered a phone call from her father and started pacing up and down and talking animatedly to him in Italien. I soon had nightmares of our marriage; her walking and talking on the phone used to annoy me then too. I began to let it bother me. But before I lost it completely, I decided instead to focus on gratitude; I did not have to witness that very often. I was thankful for that.
The morning soon came, and Abi was on the ward being weighed and measured. 1m 23cm and just 18.96 kg. Abi was my beautiful, angelic, length of string. One of the anaesthetists came to discuss the procedures ahead. She was nice. She had must have spent the night studying Abi’s extensive medical history because she knew that she had been anaesthetised many times before. She didn’t even ask us the usual mundane questions like whether Abi was allergic to anything or if she had all her own arms. Instead, she merely asked: “has anything changed?” “No,” I told her. So all the necessary paperwork was soon signed. We then settled down on the ward to wait for the operation. I stole Abi’s bed and relaxed while she sat at a small desk nearby and happily coloured in pictures from Frozen.
A nurse came to collect Abi around 10.30am. I carried Abi down to the theatre, upside down, with her giggling all the way, fulfilling my usual hope that Abi goes into her operations laughing. After Abi had the gas mask placed over her mouth and had drifted off, we were asked to leave. I kissed my daughter’s forehead, secretly wished her luck, and went back up to the ward to wait.
I intended to pass the time by reading. But when I got upstairs, there were two more sets of parents in the ward who were also waiting for their children to come out of surgery. They were talking about their children’s journey with cancer and how stressful it was. While pretending to read, I listened to their conversation. One remark, in particular, peaked my interest, “What’s hardest about it all is having to deal with all the concerns of close family and friends. Sometimes I just feel like telling them all to leave me alone! I have enough to carry without having to shoulder all their shit. So my son’s cancer also puts a strain on all those relationships too.” I wasn’t the only one having problems with parents.
When I was called to collect Abi from the recovery room, she was lying on her left side and watching the doors over her right shoulder. She was waiting for me. I recognised her relief when I walked in. “Hello, angel face,” I told her, holding her hand. “Hello, Daddy,” she replied, smiling gratefully. It was lovely to see her, and she seemed in good spirits too. A nurse confirmed that all had gone well.
Back upstairs on the ward, we received some visits. A CLIC Sargent liaison officer told me that I should be able to claim disability living allowance now that Abi was going to undergo a year of chemotherapy. Then a dietician came and discussed everything we were feeding Abi, and how we might be able to increase her calories to get her weight up. He thought smaller, more regular, portions would help. Finally, a nurse came to talk about the port. She gave us information sheets and told us about the signs of infection that we needed to look for over the next few weeks.
The whole day had gone very smoothly and we were soon free to go home. On the train back, I reflected on how stress-free it had all been. I think ‘ordinary’ families would have found a tube fitted into the chest of their daughter traumatic. But after everything we had been through, the operation had seemed quite normal. A wave of sadness drifted over me at that realisation.