When you go through something like this, it’s not unusual that your outlook on life changes. Mine clearly has, and the whole idea of ‘Buy a Bigger Bucket’ is all about that. So I’m not going to try and quantify how humbled, lucky and grateful I feel for the support and motivation I’m getting from literally everyone I know; except to say that it matters, it makes a difference, and you will never know just how much.
However… I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have something to say on the subject, right?! So I’m going to say something.
When I was first admitted to OLVG, I had a private room. But when I arrived at the VU, I was in a three-bed ward with two other patients.
In the bed opposite was a 61-year old Dutchman called Derek, who had similar symptoms to me and was scheduled for surgery on September 6th. He spoke little English but always had a smile and a nod.
In the bed beside me was an 81-year old Dutch lady called Ellie. Unlike Derek and me, her condition was not operable and she was waiting to be moved to a care home in Amstelveen.
Ellie spoke pretty good English, and she often corrected Mum and I as we tried to improve our Dutch. She was just lovely, and every morning when the nurses came and drew her curtains, she’d look over at me and say “Geode Morgen Rebecca.” I’d reply “Goede Morgen Ellie – how are you this morning?” Sadly, I often heard her weeping when she woke up (behind her curtains) and one morning when I asked how she was, she replied “Well I have no pain today, but if this is my future, it makes me sad”.
I just wanted to make her happy, even if just for a minute. But how do you do that when you have no appreciation of what the other person is feeling? So I just said “When I feel sad, I try and think of three things which are good, things I can smile about. It’s sunny outside, maybe that’s something we can smile about today?” She then started to talk to me about how she loved sunny days, the birds singing, the flowers in her garden, her family (who I’d already seen coming in to visit her), the choir she started in Amsterdam (but now couldn’t sing in because she was going into a home), her late husband (who’d worked in Wales so had an amusing Welsh accent to his native Dutch tongue)… I told her my Grandmother was Welsh, and how my Grandfather had been a Westminster Abbey choirboy, and sung as a Tenor in the Bach choir until he was 95… She told me about the weekly Wednesday recitals in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, where you can just go in and listen for free, and how her favourite music was Handle’s Messiah…. I took out my phone, fired up Spotify, found the Messiah and left it playing on the table between our beds. When her son Pieter appeared at the door an hour later, Ellie was humming along and, at some points even singing. Pieter looked over at me and said, “What have you done? She’s like a different person!” When Ellie left for Amstelveen on Monday, I promised to go and visit her as soon as I’m able to… we’re hoping to go at the weekend.
Befriending Ellie was as much therapy for me as it was her. Having a friend to talk to on the ward…hearing her sing rather than weep… telling her about my Grandparents… what we talked about is almost irrelevant – little things – but the impact it had on both of us was so powerful, it truly put into perspective for me the things that matter and the things that don’t.
In the past seven years, there are a few people with whom I’ve lost touch – significant people in my life, but for various reasons, we’ve not spoken for a long time.
The night after I found out I had the two lesions, one of these people contacted me. My initial reaction was anger – who’d told them I was sick again? Why had they contacted me now? Too much of a coincidence, surely? But no-one had told them – call it fate, divine intervention, it doesn’t matter – they point was they’d reached out.
Angry, confused, frightened and unsure of their motives; I decided to sleep on it and draft a response the next day.
My response was cautious but honest, as their initial contact had been, and over the following days we messaged back and forth, and gradually started to communicate again. At first I didn’t reveal what was going on on my side, but when I ‘went public’ a week later, I gave them a heads-up it was coming.
A lot has happened in both our lives over the past seven years, and I think we’re both conscious that we’re not just slipping back into who/how we were. But being back in touch is incredible, and while we’ve both changed in many ways, there’s also a lot that’s still the same.
The fact that we were so close means they know me well, but the fact that we’re not fundamental parts of each others lives now means I’ve actually found myself able to open up and be more honest with them than perhaps anyone else, which has been like an extra level of support through all this. So I don’t care why we lost touch, it doesn’t matter to me any more. But being back in touch does.
The mental, emotional and physical strength and positivity you guys all say is ‘inspirational’ comes from you, not me. I can’t do this on my own, and whether it’s a joke, a meme, a text, a photo, a comment, a clip, general banter, professional insight, or a secret oasis behind the shed where I can come and just cry… everything you guys are doing for me is what’s keeping me positive.
So whether I’ve known you for two days, three weeks or forty years – thank you xx