The ‘C’ Word

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My family.

No, not that C word, I’m talking about the dreaded C word, CANCER! It was June last year when I heard the following four dreaded words leave my father’s mouth, “Girls, I have cancer.”

It was a normal Friday afternoon for myself and my three sisters. We just got home from our shopping trip in Victoria Square and headed straight up to my room to do the usual fashion show that consists of showing each other our latest purchases from that day (I know typical girls). Mum and dad were away to get “their heads showered” which is understandable as there is only so much ’girl chat’ dad can keep up with in a day. They arrived home shortly after us which is when we were called downstairs for ‘a talk’. I don’t know about you, but when we ALL get called downstairs it’s normally because someone has done something wrong. Immediately we all start asking the question “Oh for goodness sake what have we done this time? who hasn’t emptied the dishwasher?”

Anyway, downstairs we went, and sat nervously on the sofa awaiting our lecture (I was really hoping it wasn’t going to be as long as a lecture in uni). After what felt like a decade of silence, mum finally says “Girls, your dad and I have something to tell you?” Uh oh, what on earth could this be about? ‘they’re getting a divorce’, ‘Mum’s pregnant’? (I was really hoping it wasn’t this one, three sisters stealing my clothes is enough, never mind four sisters doing it) ‘they’ve won the lottery’ (that would have been nice, no more university fees for me) all thoughts I had but never once could I have predicted or prepared for why we were really sat here together.

And that’s when it did, when you don’t predict it, The C word! A word I never thought I would hear, I never thought it would happen to our family. “Girls, I have cancer.” A ‘normal’ day for us quickly turned into a not so normal day. After we all had a quick cry together, due to the initial shock of the news we wanted to get the facts and find out the prognosis. Thankfully, mum went to the hospital with dad and was able to give us this information, dad was also there but as a typical man he was able to retain about 2% of what he was told.

Dad went to get his tonsils privately removed as he was complaining of having a sore throat for over a month. During this operation the doctor found a cancerous growth, one that they couldn’t remove there and then as it was too far on. He was told he would have to endure radiotherapy and chemotherapy, but the prognosis was good (I don’t know if it’s just me, but the words radiotherapy and chemotherapy are scary). Dad was already at stage 3 which was a shock as he obviously didn’t expect anything was wrong bar having tonsillitis. So, here is where I plea that if you feel like something is wrong, even a small thing like a throat infection please get it looked at as it really can be a matter of life or death.

Our family was very matter of fact about the situation and to receive any form of sympathy is very rare (unless of course you break a nail – that’s MAJOR). Therefore, once we got all the facts, we took a very matter of fact approach and instead of dwelling on the negative news, we all remained very positive. Dad was also able to retain a positive mental attitude throughout the duration of his treatment which again encouraged us girls to be positive about the situation. However, I do think this backfired on him as he really didn’t receive any sympathy from us at all, actually if anything it got worse for him. Even when he had to be admitted to hospital and fed through a tube, we all made light of the situation and he was still the brunt of all our jokes.

I guess my life lesson to you from this situation is that no matter how hard you think it is, how hard you think it is going to be or how hard the news seems at first, you can get through it! It’s true what they say, and as cliché as it is, ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ even if you can’t see it at first. I promise you that eventually it will come through. Throughout this difficult time, as a family we relied on each other for support, and although at times it was tough, we all stuck together and as a whole it brought us closer together and strengthened our already strong family bond. I know this may not be the case for you but there is always someone willing to listen and help you through tough times.

Dad’s personal catch phrase is “Living the dream”. Anyone who asks him how he is, the response is always “Living the dream” (I mean how could he not, he has four beautiful daughters and according to my mum a beautiful wife). Together as a family, I’m glad that he is still able to live the dream and to live it with us makes it that bit better.

The photo on the left: Now you can put a face to the name, this is ‘Dad’ when he finally completed his radiotherapy and chemotherapy. 

The photo on the right: My family (Minus Lucy – getting us all together is a very rare occasion) at Dad’s abseil for cancer. Yes, this was the one-time mum didn’t pick out his clothes and he did wear the costume the rest of the day.

Molly Stevenson is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on: Instagram – @molly_stevensonn; Facebook – Molly Stevenson; LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/molly-stevenson-4bb39115b/

 

Instagram Vs Reality

When I sat down to write my first blog, with not a clue what to write about I did what I do best every time I procrastinate. I lifted up my phone, clicked on Instagram and began pointlessly scrolling. It was then that it clicked, Instagram really is one big illusion.

There’s so much more to life than the perfect Instagram post, so many hiccups and imperfections covered up by a filter.

For me personally, I took a scroll through my own Instagram feed. It went like this – two weeks in California for Christmas, a summer touring around California with my best friend, winning Camogie championship with my best friends, trips to Dublin and London and plenty of nights out in between. Yeah you could say I’ve had a pretty good year but in reality I’ve also had the most mentally challenging and toughest year imaginable.  

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Here’s a small insight – It began last March when my Granda died, as this was the first death of someone very close to me, it hit me and my whole family hard, he was a big part of all our lives. Then 13 months later, my aunty Orla died. 49 years of age, the life and soul of every room she walked into, vivacious, healthy and with so much more to give and fulfil in her life. How could this happen to her? When she took herself to the hospital a few days after she came home from holidays with what she thought was a ‘bug’ from the plane home little did she, or any of us, know that within just 60 short days she would’ve been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer with secondary tumours in her lymph nodes, liver and kidneys and die.

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My aunty Orla and I at my 21st birthday, 5 weeks before she died.

I don’t even know how to begin to explain the sadness, anger, frustration, anxiety, depression and grief that has overtaken me this past year but what I do know for sure is that it’s ok to feel like this and it’s ok to ask for help, as hard as it is to admit to.

I know for sure there are many friends and maybe even family members of mine reading this now who were totally unaware of the way I’ve been feeling. What I’m trying to say is that it’s easy to post an Instagram story out for lunch on a Saturday but what you don’t see is the anxiety attacks, petit mal seizures*, days of meltdown, tears and not leaving my bed that had happened before I finally headed out for that lunch.

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The thing I’ve learnt about grief is that it affects everyone differently and at different times. I remember straight after Orla died I was so confused why I wasn’t so sad all of the time and felt bad about it and it wasn’t until my granny sadly passed away after a long 13 years of suffering profound brain damage from a car accident in September that all of a sudden I became sad, angry and confused about Orla’s death – grief just having it’s moment. In the midst of this, my dad had taken a heart attack and had two stents put in. As if I wasn’t stressed and anxious enough, being the complete daddy’s girl that I am I was struggling to come to terms with everything that had gone on, the fear of what if it was too late for my dad, it was tough.

Anyway, I suppose what I’m trying to say is that everyone is fighting a battle none of us are aware of. Loosing 3 very influential and special people within 17 months has been an extremely tough time for me yet looking at my social media outlets you’d be none the wiser.

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Don’t get me wrong, I will continue to scroll through and post on Instagram but at the end of the day Instagram is like our ‘life highlight reel’, our social media persona and I’ve learnt not to compare myself to other people. The point is this—do not fall victim to the highlight reel. Do not fixate on the lives of others, don’t compare your life to someone else’s. No one’s life is perfect. As my very wise Granda used to say “be slow to blame, you might’ve done the same.”

Thanks for reading!

Niamh Mac Manus is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter – @niamh_mac_manus, Instagram – @niamhmacmanus_ and Linked In: Niamh Mac Manus

*An absence seizure is a form of internal epilepsy which causes you to blank out or stare into space for a few seconds and can result in you becoming forgetful.

Grieving and Staying On Course

Grieving and Staying On Course

29 days, one day for each year I’ve been alive. From diagnosis to the day my mum died, 29 days, that was all the time we were permitted. When you lose your mum, it comes with a dreadful feeling of isolation. No matter what age you may be, there’s nothing in this world more heart wrenching than to watch the person who made the very fabric of your soul, that one person who watched you take your first breath, to have to watch them take their last breath. Death has never been so real in watching my mum die. You get this feeling that you are now truly on your own in this world. As I write this, I hear the clock tick by, and with every tick, my mum’s memory is disappearing into the past. With every tick, like a scavenger I search for memories of her, searching for the sharpest memories that I can put into the permanent parts of my mind. My mum lay on her hospital bed, propped up with pillows at either side and she asked me to do something for her. It was to plan her funeral with her and as much as I didn’t want to talk about planning her funeral I could see such dignity and strength in a woman not afraid of death. Her words where “You are my son, take this loss one day at a time and allow grief its space, cry when you need to, you have to live the best possible life for me and you because you’re my strongest” and that made me realise, how can I not make her final wishes a reality. Having to face death is most certainly the last thing I thought I would be facing in university, it changes all features of your life.

“The strongest of all warriors are these two — Time and Patience.”

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My mum died so unexpectedly and so suddenly through second year, that I didn’t get time to process her cancer diagnosis. University had been great with extensions and their continued support while I dealt with the funeral process. It had been an extremely devastating time for my family and me. But it was also very important to my mum that I commit myself to finishing out my second year and continue into final year. It has been six months since my mum passed away, and I can tell you that at present, I miss her beyond any comprehension. The last six months have brought me so many different emotions, some of which I can’t tell if it’s sadness, angry or happiness. What I do understand, as I experience this journey, is that for every person I’ve met who’s experienced a great loss, his or her grief is unique to him or her. For me though, I had switched into autopilot, because I had to think academically and also think about planning my mum’s funeral and executing these plans. The emotions that accompany grief intensify for a long time after the death has taken place. For myself, I had to grieve after the funeral, as per my mum’s requests. I received my student loan in April and used it to cover the cost of the funeral; one thing I learnt is that death pays for itself, there’s no need for Marketing or Public Relations. I’ve read tons of different articles about how some bereaved students may suffer academically; there definitely is a sense of bewilderment about thinking academically and feeling the full weight of grief. Compounded in my grief, I still needed to sit two exams and considering how delicate the situation was I passed them two exams with firsts.

”Just because you can’t see my internal pain, doesn’t mean its not there”

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Grief is perhaps, one of the most invasive feelings; it touches every aspect of your life and shakes all your foundations. After University had finished, I spent the summer in bed. I replayed the events of what just happened, recalling every conversation with every doctor and nurse that crossed my path during my mum’s short battle. I felt I was silently imploding, I felt I was dying myself, because I couldn’t let my mum go yet. I begged and pleaded for resolution from the grips of grief. For myself the fog is lifting and I was very accepting of my mum’s death from early on but I did have extreme anger at the forces that surrounded the death of my mum. At present I allow myself the space to grieve when I need to, I wear grief on my sleeve because I believe it’s vital to express myself. What I am learning about the process of grief is that there isn’t a right or wrong way to grieve a loss, and no amount of accelerating of the process will fix it. No person should tell you how to grieve, the only person who can do that is yourself. No wound is as mentally as large as losing your mum. The mental pain however is beginning to become bearable, which is allowing myself to concentrate in final year. Grief to me is as simple as this; it has no rules or regulations in how and when it chooses to consume all corners of your mind, body, and soul! Grief to me is life experience. Grief to me is a mental and physical journey every single individual will take, no matter how much wealth or health we have, it’s a must do journey.

 

Kevin Doonan is a final year BSc in Communication Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University. He can be found at: Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/irishcuchulainn/ ; Twitter – @KevinODunain ; Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/irish_cuchulainn/ ; LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/kevin-patrick-doonan-54749056/