May...

I hate May.

The one that's just passed, that is.

In normal terms, I associate the month of May with the advent of Summer, with long, endless evenings of sunshine and life.

This May was different, inasmuch as I learned that my father has cancer, while my mother's losing her eyesight and won't be able to drive anymore.

Thursday 4th: Mum phoned to say he'd had a bit of a funny turn in the house, whereby he seemed confused and unable to articulate, using the wrong words for things (reading glasses were 'librarians', Sellotape was 'Dibdabs', etc.). It lasted for about twenty minutes, which frightened my mother into bringing him to our GP; when examined, he retained no memory of the incident. Dr. Rowan wrote him a letter for St. James' Hospital, and he was admitted for tests that afternoon.

Friday 5th - Wednesday 10th: A battery of tests, including bloods, CT scans and two MRIs, the results of which were sent to Beaumont Hospital, where they specialize in neurological medecine and surgery. Dad was allowed 'day release' between 10:00am and 7:00pm, and Mum would come to collect him and leave him back later on. He seemed his normal self, but impatient at having to be confined; the last time he was in a hospital was when he was ten years old.

The results of the CT scans and MRIs came back, and we were told that the tests had revealed a 'mass' in Dad's brain (doctors don't like to use the word 'tumour', it would seem) that would require surgery and analysis. For that, he was to be transferred to Beaumont, on the other side of the city, where they specialize in neurological medecine and surgery, but would have to wait until a bed was available.

The evening of Wednesday 10th, Mum phoned to say she was having trouble with the vision in her right eye. It turns out she has different degrees of vision in each eye, but the right was the best, and the one she used to qualify for her driving license. I told her I'd take her to the A&E but she insisted until waiting overnight so she could see an optician first.

Thursday 11th: I drove Mum to the optician, then went to collect my dad from hospital. He didn't know about Mum, so it was a surprise when I rolled up in her car. I explained what happened and we drove back to collect Mum. The optician had examined her and diagnosed a suspected retinal tear with haemorrhaging, which required immediate treatment. So I helped her into the car and we drove home to drop Dad off (he wanted to come but Mum didn't want to expose him to an A&E in case he picked up something else). My nephew Mitchel was home, so he wouldn't be on his own, and we arranged for my cousin Carole, who lives close by, to visit.

So it was that I drove my mother to the Accident and Emergency Dept. of the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital, where we waited with a crowd of people to register and see the triage nurse. The hospital is a specialist unit that only deals with eye, ear, nose and throat conditions, so things moved quickly enough, and Mum was taken 'backstage' to be examined. She wouldn't let me go with her, so I sat outside and waited for news.

The staff could not have been kinder or more professional, and the young doctor (Dr. Brendan Cummings) who treated Mum was most empathic. We learned that she was suffering from Age-Related Macular Degeneration in both eyes. She was devastated to learn that, although she might have treatment to stabilise the condition, she would no longer be able to drive. My mum has arthritis, and the car was her independence, so the poor woman was desolate when she was given the news. The doctor organised an appointment with a specialist for the following Monday, wrote Mum a prescription for a vitamin supplement, and she was free to go home.

Friday 12th: Dad got a bed in Beaumont, and my sister drove him over with Mum to get him checked in and settled.

I don't like Beaumont. The staff are efficient, but don't listen to the answers of questions they ask, and don't wait to speak with the patient when his family are present, something we requested since my dad is partially deaf and not in any frame of mind to understand medical jargon.

Monday 15th: Mum had her visit with the eye specialist; Dad had brain surgery to remove a 2cm tumour.

Mum's treatment will involve a series of injections into the eye, to arrest the progression of the AMD. Her specialist explained what was involved and what the long-term prognosis might be, but didn't hold out much hope of any miracles that might get her back behind the wheel of her car.

Dad's surgery was lengthy - he was in theatre for as much as five hours, plus two in recovery, before being moved back onto his ward. His doctors felt confident that they had gotten as much of the mass as they were able to without risking damage to the brain, and Dad passed all of their post-operative tests, so that was reassuring.

He was back on his feet the following day.

Tuesday 16th: Results of the biopsy came back, and the news is not good. Dad has what's called a Glioblastoma, a Grade IV condition that means his cancer is malignant and will return. Treatable insofar as the condition will allow, he's been given a prognosis of 3-5 years. Hopefully it was not too advanced when discovered, but we have no way of knowing.

Thursday 18th: Dad was released from hospital and allowed home. He was weak, and tired (naturally) but the familiar surroundings and faces helped his recovery. His speech was slow; this was expected, a side-effect of the surgery, and he would occasionally pause to think of the word he wanted to use, but we were assured this was temporary, which appears to have been true.

He would also repeat himself from time to time, and seem to forget a converastion from several hours ago. Again, we ascribed this to the surgery, and it appears to be sporadic.

Friday 19th - Monday 28th: A good period, with both parents in good form. Dad got his sutures removed on Monday 21st - 50-odd metal staples that made him look like Igor the Lab Assistant. The scar will be long, but neat, and once his hair grows in, he'll be able to conceal it.

Tuesday 29th: Dad had his first visit to St. Luke's Hospital in Rathgar, where he'll undergo a course of radio- and chemotherapy to treat the remaining cancerous cells. He also has to see his oncologist in Beaumont in early June and on a regular basis for assessment.

And that's about it for now.

My dad's doing okay at the moment. I took him to the library on Saturday and we wandered around a shopping centre and we had coffee and talked. It tired him out, though, so he still has a way to go. It's safe to say he won't be playing golf just yet, but I think he will play again.

As for Mum, she's adapting to her new situation. It's not going to be easy, but as she says herself, it's happening in her life, and it's something she has to deal with. She won't sit still, and will continue to be as independent as possible despite everything.

But it's the speed with which all of this has taken place that has us spinning, an emotional roller-coaster that has us up one moment, down the next, literally not knowing what the next 24 hours will bring.

It's been a crazy month; I'm drained, emotionally and mentally, so I can only imagine what it must be like for my parents, who had not the slightest inkling in April what they'd be facing in May. And my sister, who lives with them, has been tremendous. Her mental strength and ability to "cut through the bullshit" has gotten us more answers than if we had simply taken the doctors' explanations as given.

Our two brothers have to deal with it as well, and they will, in their way - they know we're all here for each other, and vice versa.

I apologise to anyone seeing this if it seems self-indulgent or needy, and in the same breath, I don't. I had to write this down, see it in text, to try and put some sort of shape to it so that I can get a sense of the speed with which it has overtaken our lives.

I've had great support from friends and work colleagues, as well as from family; everyone's been great and had good advice, and I couldn't ask for more.

The next couple of weeks will give us an idea of what our parents need in terms of ongoing support - certainly Dad's treatment is going to have an effect on his emotional state, plus he faces the prospect of losing his hair. But he's facing it positively, so we can do no less.

We can only do what we can do...


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