I was nine when the phone rang, one weekday evening, to deliver the news that my seven-year-old cousin had incurable brain cancer. As my parents broke the shocking news that my cousin was going to die, an ordinary day suddenly became extraordinary.
I, however, was completely perplexed. How could this news be delivered with such certainty? Surely they were wrong? Just moments before, I had been joking around with my brothers and eating dinner, this kind of news doesn’t come after dinner. There was no way my beautifully spirited and very much alive cousin could possibly die.
I was rather upset and annoyed by the whole scenario that had suddenly been thrust upon me. I decided that adults were often overly dramatic about sickness. I comforted myself with this thought and packed the idea of death neatly away.
As my cousin, an only child, started treatment for her brain cancer, my parents made every effort for us to be with her as much as possible. I would travel to the children’s hospital after school with my dad and spend the afternoons chatting and playing with her.
Watch kids receive teddy bears with their late grandfather’s voice in them.
It is these memories, of my last year with her, that I hold close. I unpack them year after year as I grow older and as I go through life’s milestones. My lens adjusts to accomodate my ever changing life and circumstances as I develop a deeper understanding of what went on as the years drift by.
At the time of her illness, I navigated most of that year with a sense of optimism and innocence. I had never known anyone who had been sick enough to be in hospital, so the visits there were a complete eye opener.
There was the beautiful doctor who gave us icy poles when we came to visit, her friendly nature and great kindness making a lasting impression on me and her own death from cancer, years later, reinforcing the lottery of the disease.
My cousin’s everlasting array of brand new toys that she received as generous gifts were very exciting as was the all you can eat McDonalds we were given whilst my cousin stayed at Ronald Mc Donald house. Although, the fact that we were suddenly permitted to gorge ourselves on McDonald’s, when it was usually banned, did set alarm bells ringing. As I watched my brothers run to order another round of hamburgers, it dawned on me that things might be more serious than I’d initially thought.