THE BLOG

I Might Not Know Why Dad Died Suddenly, but It Was Better Than Him Having Cancer

27/04/2015 13:22 BST | Updated 24/06/2015 10:59 BST

I work with people who have all manner of medical conditions, from asthma to leukaemia, and including those who have cancer. Day in, day out I speak to cancer patients as they get on with their lives and plan their holidays abroad. I talk to them about their inspirational stories, chat about their travel plans, and speak about their lives.

And oh how unfair life can be.

Not only is there the huge struggle to treat this awful disease while consecutively dealing with the mental strain it puts on patients and their loved ones, there's the sting in the tail in that they can't even go on holiday half the time, even when in remission. Seriously.

Imagine having spent years in and out of hospitals and clinics, dealing the with possibility there might not be another year, month, or week.

Can you imagine the futility of thinking you'll not see another summer? All those things you had planned - a nice car and house, kids and a puppy, holidays to sunny climes in winter, taking the little ones skiing in winter, watching children grow up and cradling your first grandchild in your arms - they're gone.

Imagine that.

Imagine if you were told this summer was your last. And then being too physically weak to tick off everything on your actual real-life bucket list.

Imagine waking up with the fear that today might be the day your family plans your funeral.

Then, there are those in remission, where all they can think about is how they're getting better. There's the guilt that even though some fade away, they drew the lucky straw and for an unknown reason they made it. They celebrate with family in private, secretly scared that one day IT will return.

Why did they make it?

Why did the person in the next bed not?

Will they be so fortunate if there is a next time?

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After all that physical, emotional and mental trauma, the people I speak with tell me the only thing they want is some time in a warm country away from the battle they face (and although I hate that word as it implies the weak lose and the strong win, it's the way many cancer patients I speak to describe their treatment).

But they can't.

They can't just assume their premier bank account's insurance will cover them. They can't just head to a comparison site and whittle off their quote. They don't have the choice of a cheap £29 policy. They don't have the luxury of risking it and hoping it'll all be ok.

Instead, they come to us so we can arrange special care for them in case anything happens while they're abroad - a 24 hour emergency line for any possible reason, and access to a team who can ensure the best hospitals are sourced if needed. So if they break their leg, they won't have a £6,000 medical claim thrown out because they didn't tell their provider about their cancer, whether it was two or twelve years ago, whether they're still treating it or they were given the all clear.

Their doctor holds the key to their plans - one word from a GP who says you can't travel and you won't be able to get a policy. If they say no, it's no.

If it's a terminal diagnosis and the family wants one last holiday... we can help as much as possible. But sometimes, even with our thirty years' experience, sometimes it's a no.

They will be tainted with this disease for the rest of their life. And I see it every single day.

When my dad died earlier this year, he just died. And we still don't know why.

We were told he had mild hepatic steatosis (for a man who rarely drank alcohol, liver disease was a huge kick in the teeth) and slight hypertension. That was it.

I've read the coroner's report upwards of fifty times now, trying to decipher a hidden code, a reason why, but they were just as stumped as we all were.

His light switch was flicked off and that was it.

And all I can think about recently, the thin, weak string trailing out of the impossibly tangled knot of acceptance in the grieving process, is that he didn't suffer. He didn't have to sit in a hospital day in day out. He didn't have to feel sick and lose his hair and waste away.

He didn't have to worry about his family, my mother and sister, being ok if he didn't make it. Worry about us worrying about him.

How many times have my family and I said, through tears and sobs, (and I feel awful to write this - how can you compare which type of death is better than the other?) when we think about the numbing situation we find ourselves in, 'At least he didn't have cancer.'

Because we didn't have to watch him fight. We didn't have to see him struggle in pain, see him losing his loveable, cheeky smile as it was replaced by the agony of treatments that burn the skin and poison the body.

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He didn't have to resign himself to the fact he wouldn't be able to travel to his beloved Sicily and feast on mozzarella calzone and brioche pistachio ice cream sandwiches for years while he waited to see if he would be one of the lucky ones.

He didn't have to worry about not being home during the festive season, too frail to take part in the traditional Monopoly rage-fest where he would steal wads of fake money then pretend to act sheepish when we discovered his stash.

He didn't have to worry about which one of us saw him take his breath, listening to the death rattle before he passed away.

He fell down at work. To him, it was instant. He was with us, then he was gone. No long, drawn-out treatment. Gone. We joke it was so typical for him - he worked hard his entire life only to leave us in a flash. Typical dad.

Father's Day is creeping up slowly. And although not a day goes by where he isn't on my mind, I'm glad I never saw him weak and in pain. I feel ashamed for how I feel, knowing close friends haven't had the so-called 'luxury' of their parents being here one day then gone the next. It feels cowardly.

Although the pain of losing someone you love suddenly and without explanation means you never get to say a last goodbye or a final I love you, although you deal with an emptiness unlike no other, at least he didn't have cancer.

Images via Shutterstock

London blogger Laura writes more about grief, living life, and being happy on her blog.