Two days ago, one of my favourite colleagues at work asked me to go out for lunch to our “usual” place, Pronto – a really great Italian place I was introduced to by the Raleigh gang when the office was based in London Waterloo. She asked me how things are with George and I gave her an update about the most recent side-effects George has been experiencing. Catherine keeps saying that she really doesn’t know how I am managing things at work while so much is going on in my private life. She also added that she just couldn’t do it if she were in the same situation.
That last statement took me back to June 2013, when George went for one of his 6-monthly checks and there was something wrong with his counts. He told me on the phone while I was at my desk at work and I remember clearly, as if it were yesterday, what I told him.
“This is leukaemia, this is the end of it. I am going to go back to Italy, I swear to God; I can’t face it, I just can’t. This is bigger than me.” Supportive wife, eh?
Days later we received an update that reassured us things were okay, but another appointment was scheduled in October. I was happy again, as after all that was the 5-year milestone cleared!
In October, back in Ruth Myles on the day George had been asked to undergo a bone marrow biopsy because counts were again not quite right, I was sitting in the day unit waiting for him to return from the biopsy. I was in tears, talking to Andrew and telling him what one of the doctors had just told us: that the red blood counts were going down and that Dr Willis wanted to see George straight afterwards.
It didn’t sound promising to me. I felt unwell and the only thing I remember is what Andrew told me: breathe slowly, and when you see Dr Willis pay lots of attention to anything she says. He might have known what was waiting for us later.
One minute before we would be called by Dr Willis, I held George’s hand and words that I would have never imagined could come out of my mouth were there: “Amore, whatever we get told, whether it is just a tiny problem or whether leukaemia is back, we will be fine, we will face it together.” One minute later we were in – and you know how this story ends.
What I am trying to say is that you are always braver and stronger than you think. The truth is that back in July I felt I couldn’t have faced this scenario. But when you find yourself in the situation, somehow you realise that you have no choice: you need to be strong. Why, how? I don’t know.
In my case it is the love I feel for George. That is what gives me the strength to help him and be there for him when he needs me. It is not always that straightforward, though… There have been mornings when I just couldn’t get myself out of bed, when I spent hours buried under the duvet, in the dark, reading a great deal on transplants and other patients’ experiences, and when I have never felt more scared in my life.
Those days still happen, but in the end you always find the strength to carry on. My reason is that smile that I see every time I enter George’s room. I look at him, I feel his willingness to fight, to smile and to be positive despite everything.
Whether it is an illness, or too much pressure at work, too much to do, what I now know is that you will always manage to find the strength in the end, even if you think you really can’t.
You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think.