Now here is one you have never heard before: being a single parent is hard. You have to be very strong, like all of the time. You grow the thickest skin ever. Some may even say you develop the ability to be unshakable and unstoppable. You may seem like nothing ever throws you. Your children certainly end up thinking you don’t have a vulnerable bone in your body, because you do your best to be their everything and the lynch pin of the whole show.
I know I have done a good job of becoming the strongest parent I can be. I have built my networks and assembled my safety nets, I have got to the point where our unit ticks along nicely. No lie, but it would seem that I have done such a good job of fooling my kids I am infallible that my 8 year old daughter not long ago thought I could actually control the weather. But, worries about what would happen if something came along to upset the equilibrium lurk at the back of my mind and sometimes lurch out at me; What if I got really ill? What if we became homeless? What if I can’t actually stop climate change? But I have always just pushed those thoughts away. No need to worry about any of that unless it happens, and it won’t, because that sort of stuff happens to other people, not me.
You can build as many safety nets as you want, and get everything running as perfectly as you want, but if you are the only adult running the show, the thought of something coming along and setting all of that off track, and upsetting the very fabric of your children’s lives, is not worth thinking about. Its too scary.
Ah shit, but the lurky, unthinkable thoughts have come and bit me on the bum recently. It would seem I am not an untouchable super-human after all. I went to see my doctor last summer to find out about hormone replacement therapy, as I realised due to my periods being almost constant, and the fact that I was waking up far too often drenched in sweat, that maybe I wasn’t just a grumpy moody bitch, but I was actually menopausal.
My doctor agreed, and I started getting my head around early menopause. It was suggested I go and have an ultrasound just to check all was well with my uterus, so off I went in October to see a sonographer without a second thought to anything really being wrong. But her game face was crap, and within seconds of the subterranean imagery of my insides coming into view all I could focus on was her puzzled squint at the screen and the clickclickclick of her drawing concentric lines over the same spot again and again.
“You seem to have a large mass on your right ovary. Or your uterus. I can’t be sure. I will get my boss to have a second look and your GP will be in touch”. I didn’t feel much then and there; I asked a lot of factual questions and got no real answers, and it wasn’t until I got to the car park outside the hospital I started to feel scared. So scared the first thing I did was phone my Mum and tell her I was scared. My GP called me the next day and told me he was referring me for a fast track MRI scan. The mass was attached to my right ovary and was the size of a can of coke. It was probably a cyst, it probably wasn’t cancer, try not to worry. The MRI will tell us if it is a normal ovarian cyst or if it is solid, and if it is, it may be cancerous. Okay. This is a bit shit and real.
I had a month to wait until the MRI appointment, so I did what all good Mums do, I hid the appointment letter where my kids couldn’t find it, and hid the fact that there had been any doctor’s appointments or conversations, or that there was anything to worry about. I got on with life. Except for when I wasn’t getting on with life, and then I worried, late at night when I had drunk far too much wine on my own. I got so used to not sharing and not worrying, it became really hard to tell anyone that I was scared. I laughed with my good friends in the pub about my evil twin with hair and teeth clinging on to my defunct reproductive organs, I couldn’t worry my Mum as worrying makes her more ill. I tried calling my ex boyfriend late one night and telling him I was scared, but that didn’t help.
I wanted to lie my head on someone’s lap and just breathe out, but the thought that I might need someone to lean on made me feel too lonely, so I just kept on breathing.
The MRI scan came around just over a week before Christmas, on election day. It wasn’t as claustrophobic and scary as people say it is; I was just pissed off at having Liam fucking Gallagher and Coldplay courtesy of Heart FM pumped into my headphones against my will with no aural escape. I had read online it should take around 40 minutes, and I knew it wasn’t a simple ovarian cyst as soon as I was out and discovered I had been in there for 70 minutes as they needed extra images. The radiologists’ game faces were better than the sonographer’s, and they cheerily told me my GP would let me know the results “sometime before Christmas hopefully”.
Then started the most bizarre twenty four hours of my recent life, topped off by the most 13th-y of Friday 13ths. I went out that night to do my first gig review. The exit poll results came in as I was being accidentally push-pulled into a moshpit, and I stayed up until 4am and got blind drunk in a state of collective misery as I watched my preferred political party being pummelled into submission by the baddies. I had forgotten about the MRI almost, crawling into bed at 4am, getting back up at 6.30am to get my kids out of the door for school. The plan was home, collapse in bed for 3 hours, get up, write gig review, get on with Tory majority rule, and definitely not have cancer. Christmas was coming as well, and I had pretty much not bothered with it so far this year.
The sky seemed like it had changed colour to purple or green or brown as I walked my daughter to school that Friday 13th December; everything felt different. My neighbour was crying, a pupil’s grandmother I had never spoken to before hugged me. I crawled into bed when I got home at 9.10 and I got the call. “You have a solid mass of 10x10cm on your right ovary, a solid mass of 3x4cm on your left ovary. The consultants who looked at the images yesterday cannot identify them; they are not ordinary masses, so they will be shown to a multidisciplinary panel next week. You are being fast-tracked for treatment and a biopsy; do not make any plans to go away over Christmas and new year as you will probably have appointments to attend.”
I still didn’t let on to my children that anything was wrong. I went into automaton mode. My own feelings about this were not the most important thing at this point, because I am a Mum. Nothing bad can happen to me. I bashed out that first gig review in one hour and it was brilliant. I took my daughter to her school disco that evening and the first time the cracks appeared even though I had been delirious with hungover exhaustion were when I started crying watching the simple beauty of her dancing with her friends.
I hugged my children tight that evening and smiled more than usual. Nothing bad can happen to me. I can change the weather.
To be continued……