Despite calling myself a "writer" I wouldn't say I have a particularly good way with words when it comes to my family. I tend to find the things we should say to each other are always assumed rather than said -- for instance we've never been the type who says "love you" when we hang up the phone. My family know I love them dearly though, but when I got some amazing news today I felt like I needed to write something down.
There's one member of my family who I just cannot put into words how proud of her I am. My Aunty Ilona -- my dad's little sister -- my best friend, advice guru and all round incredible human being. When I was younger we didn't see each other much, we live on practically opposite ends of the country and she couldn't afford to travel up and we never ventured down. About five years ago that all changed.
We started going on holiday down south to where my dad grew up and where Ilona still lives, which meant seeing her a lot more -- to this day I still feel guilty this only happened so recently. I remember the first few times we saw her; with her beaming smile, cackling infectious laugh and amazingly decorated flat. I thought she was so cool (minus the recent addition of a stuffed boar's head on her wall).
Since then, we've been going on holiday down there at least two to three times a year. I try to see her as often as I can, and I love nothing more than sleeping over on her sofa, watching a shitty film, drinking lots of tea and putting the world to rights. She's been pretty amazing to me in these last five years, helping me through two breakups, university disappointments and basically helping me be the adult I am today. I don't know what I would have done without her sound advice, and her ability to turn any situation into a brash joke.
Throughout these years however, she's been facing battles of her own -- the dreaded C word. Ignoring the hair loss and regular hospital trips, you just wouldn't know it. Despite some pretty hairy moments (excuse the pun) about two years ago she's shown no sign of weakness. Fighting one of the toughest blood cancers out there, Lymphoma, and coming through the other side with new DNA, a new head of hair and new lease and love of life.
Through chemo, stem cell treatments and transplants she's always kept that beaming smile and wicked sense of humour. She's the sort of person who makes jokes at her own expense, but not because she's self-conscious, because she knows you either laugh and get on with it -- or cry and wallow in your own pity. I truly believe it's her incredible self power and perseverance which has pulled her through. My favourite joke was when her DNA had officially changed due to a stem cell transplant, we were plotting all the things she could now do and blame it on the German man who donated the cells (bank robbery anyone?).
I don't doubt the situation has been a lot closer to the edge than I am aware of, as she wouldn't want me, or the rest of the family, to worry. But her positive demeanour and genuine lust for live throughout has been so unwavering and inspirational. The lust for life she's always radiated drives me. It's pretty easy to let yourself get into a rut, but when you compare your trivial troubles to what she was going through it's easy to snap out and keep going.
Over a year on from her stem cell transplant she has just received news from her doctor that she can start planning for the future, something she never thought would be possible five years ago. Hearing this literally makes me swell with happiness, the sort of feeling you just can't describe. I never let it cross my mind that I wouldn't have a future without her in it. I've already pictured her pulling faces at the front row of my wedding, or buying my children immaculately wrapped Christmas presents.
She deserves total happiness, which I know for a fact she has given to hundreds of others who also have the privilege of knowing her. I think for the first time in a long time she can truly have that now. So F you cancer, you've not won this time. My amazing, hilarious, warm-hearted Aunty is here to stay and I am so excited for the future she's now going to have.
p.s. Ilona if you're not sobbing by now that German DNA is obviously taking its toll, LOVE YOU.
(If you would like to know more about blood cancer, please check out the amazing Anthony Nolan charity, who without them Ilona wouldn't be here today).