Two weeks ago at a routine appointment my GP told me she thought I had skin cancer on my face. Two days later it was confirmed by a specialist.
Without wanting to sound melodramatic it has been one of those fortnights that I would not want to revisit. The waiting, the thinking, the Googling, the preparing. Grappling with the taboo C-word, and coming to terms with exactly what this means. Feelings of misplaced vanity about the aesthetic results of surgery.
Yesterday was a day that I don’t want to repeat in a hurry.
While lying on the surgeon’s bench being cut and sliced, the nurses continually reassured me that I was ‘doing great’. I couldn’t help but wonder what it was that qualified me for this merit; I was simply lying there in a state of catatonic dread, desperate for it to be over with and willing my surgeon’s hand to stay steady. I couldn’t help wondering what would downgrade me to a lesser than ‘great’ patient, as I was so very close to freaking out at the lidocaine-loaded needle, the etching sound of scalpel-on-flesh, and the snipping of tiny scissors.
The trauma of the day was softened by my wonderful best friend Samantha squeezing my feet and distracting me with gossip while I was being stitched up in the final and most unnerving episode of the ordeal. I am not sure she knew exactly what she was letting herself in for, when she volunteered to come and pass the time with me.
Matt had been into surgery twice with me in the morning for the excisions but had to go home to sort out the boys so he had passed the baton to Sam. Matt was also amazing but I will come onto that later…
I have to give a special mention to my lovely friend, and Sam’s sister, Amy, who by an amazing stroke of fortune was my surgeon’s biomedical scientist. Amy was responsible for analysing my tissue, and using her expertise, deciding how much more flesh needed to be excised. Amy even gave me a tour of her lab and showed me my slides under the microscope. Her presence and reassuring words were such a comfort and she made the day so much more bearable.
An unwelcome but somewhat comical addition to the day was the old chap next to me on the ward who Matt secretly named Adolf. A dedicated protagonist of UKIP, this old boy had seen it all and done it all. He proclaimed he was by no means a racist, fascist, or indeed a bigot. He just happened to believe that ‘they’ should go back home, stop taking our benefits, and that the country was a much better place when he was a lad. Oh, and if you haven’t lived through a war then you haven’t the right to a voice. Not forgetting that if we brought back corporal punishment then our children would stop showing such descent to their elders. And mothers who choose to have careers are neglecting their children and are a major cause of above lack of discipline. Anyway, I have digressed!
I finally arrived home from hospital at 5pm after a day of cutting, slicing, stitching, cauterising (who knew barbecued human flesh smelled so ghastly?).
My support network of grandparents had been on hand all day dealing with my boys. I needn’t have worried on that note as everyone did a brilliant job and the boys hadn’t a clue that anything was out of the ordinary.
After slurping down a magnum ice cream, this being the only food in the house that seemed safe for softly mulching without bursting a stitch, I retired to bed with series 2 of Gavin and Stacey on Netflix.
Despite a gram of paracetamol, and probably partly down to the unnatural elevation of my head on three pillows, I was unable to sleep. I seemed to spend the night listening to Coby snuffling and Matt snoring, while wondering whether I will ever have a normal face again.
Yet I finally drifted off around 3am and my fantastic husband did his very best to keep the boys as quiet as possible in the morning so that I could sleep in.
My strong inclination to ensure that Coby had toast with his weetabix and Jenson had the correct shoes on was outweighed by my lethargy and before I knew it I awoke at 11am to a silent house. This was either a godsend or a disaster. A quick check on my iPhone’s ‘find friends’ app reassured me that Matt was at the local skate park but my default panic mode kicked in as I realised that the count-down to lunch time was approaching.
In my tardy, incapacitated and throbbing state I managed to plate up two lunches for my little hungry hoovers and it wasn’t until I popped into the bathroom that I caught sight of my hideous face. A purple golf ball had taken the place of my right eye and my right lip was curled down like Cruella De Ville. My face was still marked out in blue pen like a join-the-dots puzzle and the lashings of steri-strips were starting to really itch, over the huge bandage that covered my wound.
I started to fret over the absence of my boys and as lunchtime loomed I began to feel hopelessly out of control and anxious.
Since Coby came along nine months ago, I have naturally taken the lead in the systematic planning and organising of the four of us. Having a new baby in the family along with four-year-old Jenson and his additional needs has elevated me into a heightened state of preparedness at all times, for all occasions.
This last two days has been a crash course lesson for me in just how extraneous I can be to the boys after all. It was refreshing and unnerving in equal measures.
My experiences in the last couple of days have opened my eyes to just how capable and competent Matt is at being dad. As stupid and obvious as it sounds, he is as good at being dad as I am at being mum. No, actually better.
Where I have compartmentalised bags, lists, schedules, and clockwork dogmatism, he has a rucksack, a skateboard and a whole heap of ‘let’s do this!’
We are the polar opposites when it comes to getting the kids out of the house and organising ourselves and our activities. But if nothing else this has been a valuable lesson in relinquishing control and letting those you love take over.
When they finally rolled up at home, the smiles on the boys’ faces spoke volumes.
After wolfing down their lunch and throwing another sparse assortment of randomly selected items into his rucksack, Matt and the boys headed down to the beach hut. They were accompanied by our lovely friends from Bristol who had arranged to visit before this rude interruption had been thrust upon us.
So, feeling bewildered at my uselessness, I retired to my bed, and as I lay there with a swollen face and a tummy full of analgesics, I alternated between bouts of throbbing pain and feelings of tension and guilt over the household tasks that remained untouched.
This is a great lesson for me. So what if I haven’t prepared a proper dinner and they have to eat beans on toast tonight? So what if the washing basket holds more clothes than the boys’ combined bedroom drawers?
I am lying here in bed and against all my instincts I am not allowing myself to default to pre-programmed mother duties. Doctor’s orders. Nothing to exert myself and risk popping a stitch or causing a haematoma. Besides, I’ve practically lost the sight in my right eye from the swelling so I’m not much use anyway.
To conclude this blog, Matt and the boys have just returned from the beach and aside from Jenson being dressed in his friend Maddie’s trousers following an incident involving Jenson and the sea, it appears that everything went swimmingly.
So while my face swells further and my self-pity reaches an all-time-high, my love and appreciation for my amazing husband also soars higher than I ever could have imagined.
He even promises me that he’ll continue to love me regardless of what I look like when these bandages come off!