The Cuddle by Elizabeth Moore
I’m sitting with my baby grandson in the last of the summer sun. I’ve sought refuge at my daughter’s home during such unchartered times. I need family to be the touchstone by which I pace my existence in these, the oddest of days.
I am bald, chemotherapy has seen to that. I’m not working while I have my treatment and feel adrift from my ordered world; the one I lived in before the biopsies and surgeries and drugs. I am tired and have marked my recent existence in days. The day for chemical intervention, the days of not being me with a low grade buzzing of side effects and the days of beginning to feel the world returning to a bearable tilt; my respite measured in yet more days before the cycle begins again. I create my version of approach/avoidance theory, a remnant of Psych 101. I don’t want treatment but I know it has been ordered for my survival, my recovery.
He stirs a little and I shift to make him more comfortable. Dark eyelashes curl down soft cheeks and his little body shudders quietly as he takes in tiny, stuttering breaths and then relaxes again. I have time to marvel at the beauty of new life; the perfection of every inch of him and the tiny stork-beak mark behind his ear. I have time to wonder where he was before he entered this world and I have time to reflect on how quickly he has filled my heart, making room for more love.
He has made this journey with me. He was five weeks and the size of an apple seed at my diagnosis. I was afraid to tell my daughter in case my illness affected her pregnancy and I shared my fears with the kind doctor who supervised my day of tests. She comforted and assured and I turned towards the window as tears blurred my view of the basketball court on the roof of the inner city school beneath me. Students, unaware that the world had just shifted perceptibly for me, called, jumped, passed and blocked the ball. They should not be happy while I was bewildered, lost and scared.
He grew and kicked as my world shrank by degrees; each time they pumped the poison and whispered encouragement. His ultrasound showed a tiny raised hand, waving from his quiet, warm comfort to the world awaiting him. I cradled this as an acknowledgement of my travails, a nod from his safe haven to my current rotation of weeks.
My life was now shaded differently; more greys and shadows than the sharp colours of a normal, uncluttered life. My scalp prickled and itched as hair fell in clumps before being overruled by exacting shaver blades. I tried wigs and scarves, but my cancer had appeared at the beginning of a hot summer and I chose comfort over appearance. My nails were painted black to stop them falling off during the indiscriminate surge of drugs through my system. I lived the Gothic days of a timetable unfamiliar to me.
My careful stock take of treatment hit a wall. There would be no oncology visit between Christmas and New Year, when my final purge was due. I shrugged off the mantle of stoicism and controlled emotions, donned to comfort those around me; those who loved unconditionally and tried to walk with me. I sobbed bitter tears and railed against the unfairness of the calendar. It was a personal rebuke of all my efforts to scrape through the days and weeks without crumbling.
My last confrontation with the cannula and four hours of infusion was almost an anticlimax. I still had to recover from this final healing assault and the linear accelerator at the city hospital now had me on a rigid schedule with little respite. To miss a day was the equivalent of darkening the headmistress’s study to ask for time away from the school routine.
When he was born, I was allowed a day off to visit my new grandson; three weeks early with time in Special Care. His helpless little form in the plastic crib, the tubes and monitors; the unconscious surrender to treatment and care mirrored my own. He had no control of the world around him; he just was. I quietly sobbed in sympathy but smiled as I comforted my anxious daughter. He will be fine.
Now my weekly prison still pins me, motionless, beneath the beam of a linear accelerator to the crooning of Johnny Mathis. Today it’s Sunday, with time off for good behavior and a cuddle. Tomorrow I will return to the queue of backless gowns for another barrage of high-energy x-rays.
A stretch, a gentle sigh and two big eyes open. I wonder what I look like to this new life; a tired, bald Nanna in glasses? And there it is, a beaming toothless grin; an eyes-crinkled-shut smile. No bias, no judgment, just love and it’s Monday tomorrow.