16 July 2013

'You know it's real because it all happens at the same time.' she said as she was in her last few days of Life. When she said that to me back in 1999 just before she died her words brought the hair on my arms up.

We promised ourselves if I got permanent residency we would make some changes - once the nightmare of Immigration Limbo was lifted we were going to start doing up the house, spend a hell of a lot less time online, Live More, in other words. Finally we would be able to exhale.

If you've never been in the midst of Immigration Limbo you won't know what hell it can be. Suffice it to say as an American it's very-very-very strange to be on the receiving end of the anti-immigrant sentiment. Not that anyone was overt but there were little things. The UK (and European) press is full of anti-immigrant sentiment every single day; the hurdles an immigrant must negotiate to become a permanent UK resident are more like flaming hoops and lakes of fire. They OWN you if you are an immigrant - every single action is fraught with the knowledge that the UKBA could swoop in and decide you have to leave the country. Now. Not next week, now. It seems in the UK if you are a law-abiding, compliant immigrant it is still easy to be unintentionally outside the rules; they change the rules so often that it's nearly impossible to 'get it right' at any given moment and so they can deport you in a half-heartbeat. It's something we live with every day until/if we are granted permanent residency, that fear that inspite of all the hoops and hurdles endured the UKBA has every right to drag you from your home and put you on a plane back to where ever.

(Unless you are a radical extremist; apparently the drive in the UK to prove they are multi-cultural and believe Islam to be a religion of peace causes the government to err on the side of caution. So the hate preachers carry on spewing hate in the streets and create no-go zones whilst Christians are told they can't wear a cross to work and Christian children are told they can't have a drink of water during Ramadan at school - all to avoid upsetting Muslim extremists. In the midst of the anti-immigrant press is the constant reinforcement that the huge influx of Muslims to the UK are the worst of all the immigration troubles but the government is unable to do anything concrete because clearly they don't want to offend them and cause another 9-11 or 7-7 or near beheading of a soldier on his way to the base. RIP Lee Rigby, hacked to death by Muslim extremists on a London suburb street in full view of horrified passers-by, 22 May 2013)

And then Immigration Limbo was over, and we could indeed exhale. Life is better. We bought a BBQ, a car; we finished the kitchen and started on the bathroom...And then, as my hospice parishoner reminded me, it all happens at the same time...

We went down to Devonshire for a week in the car we bought just after I was granted permanent residency in the UK. We stayed with friends who live inside Dartmoor National Park, enjoying daily visits to just a few of the amazing sites in the park. Great food, great conversation, great sights but the bloody heat nearly put my husband in hospital with heat exhaustion. (OK, I didn't fair so well in the heat either; my little heart thingie reared it's pointed little head and reminded me that even though I've quit smoking the little heart thingie is still hanging about).

Small whinges compared to what the Mrs half of our host couple are enduring. While we were there she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She goes in this week for tests and scans to find out what stage. Does she smoke? Not anymore. But the cancer isn't a smoker's lung cancer anyway, it's an adenocarcinoma tumour and the doctors used the magic word - 'curable'. After all the years of counselling patients and their loved ones I found myself utterly speechless and all I could think of to say was 'OMFG how unfair is this?!' Helpful the first time for a lung cancer patient to hear but not repeatedly.

It brought back memories for my husband too. As a two-time testicular cancer survivor he was able to pass on some very helpful tips to our friend. His cancer fights were 'successful', he's passed the all important ten years clear mark. But he ticked all the not-so-good boxes (delay in seeking treatment after onset of symptoms, age at diagnosis, metastasised to his abdomen after first round of chemo, etc) and so we have it always in the back of our head that the cancer could come back any time. He looked at our friend the day we left and said 'I'm sorry to welcome you to the Cancer Club', and I looked at her husband and said 'You and I are in a special club too.'

Being the spouse or partner of someone fighting cancer is quite simply a total bitch. You read everything there ever was printed or published online about the type of cancer your loved one is fighting; you think about all the time you don't have. You go through periods of all five stages of the classic Kubler-Ross grief cycle, and you hate that sometimes you want to blast your loved one to the moon for...

For what? Getting cancer in the first place? How is that their fault anyway, so you feel like a total heel for being angry.

For what, being irritable/grumpy/weepy/clingy-especially needy/depressed/disinterested in eating-sleeping-talking/sick for days after a chemo session? Well crikes, you can't blame your loved one for any of that, so you heap more guilt on yourself for being worn out with the struggle to be a rock for your loved one.

Cancer sucks. It sucks the life right the hell out of a family and circle of friends. It renders the articulate speechless; the compassionate incapable of maintaining the 24/7/365 patience needed. Cancer strips away EVERYTHING in its path, changes EVERYTHING, makes EVERYTHING peripheral to the fight.

So as you are packing the car for the 600 mile drive north to Scotland you don't have a scooby what to say. Somehow it doesn't feel right to say 'Wow, thank-you so much for having us down, we had a wonderful time!' to a couple whose life just changed forever and not in a good way.

The heat in southern England was bad and is worse this week - neither of us handle heat well at all. But my husband and I wish we live in the same town to be there for our friends. But we had to pack the car and head north, where the weather is cooler enough to be bearable for us and beckons us to the patio to BBQ while laundry flaps with the stiff breeze. Where the bathroom awaits the new vanity and hand wash basin. Where the potatoes we planted are flowering but the tomatoes lost the fight. Where the daily life events continue...it all happens at the same time.