A broken heart

It was in January of this year that I first had an inkling there was something wrong with my heart. There were tests, angiograms and monitors, more tests, and then finally a triuphant call from my cardioligist. As I puffed my way up the steep incline of the treadmill he watched my heart screaming for help on a screen in front of him “there it is!”. A bicuspid aortic valve. While others have a tricuspid valve, three (think peace sign) I have a bicuspid, two (think fish mouth). Eventual heart surgery is on the cards.

The wry smile that appears as I type, the foolishness of thinking this would be my biggest worry of 2020.

As the year went on our family (like many others) dodged and weaved our way through a series of one-two punches. The first punch landed with the pandemic. The school closure in Doha was the trigger, my youngest and I had to get back to Australia before Covid separated me from my other children in Oz. The second blow was swift and straight between the eyes as the doctor announced the discovery of my husband’s bowel cancer. Twelve centimetres smack, malignant whack, chemotherapy thump, then surgery crack.

We were in the full swing of chemotherapy as Covid took hold in Australia. G and I drove through desolate streets to get to the hospital for treatment. I watched him walk through the hospital doors alone due to restrictions and fear. I updated my parents by phone, the three hour drive to reach them in the country was now out of reach.

When we could finally get together it was in a random hotel on the other side of town. My parents had driven down from the country. Dad had an appointment with a specialist for an ear infection and I’d met them nearby for lunch. Dad looked unwell. His weight loss was explained by the fact he’d pretty much given up drinking but he seemed tired. We went outside to look at the new car, well, new to us. “You’re wearing tracksuit pants Dad?” I’d shaken my head as only a daughter can when she’s horrified by her father’s attire. He’d grinned indignantly “they’re my most comfortable pants!”. He’d given me the usual signature Dad wink but it didn’t feel right, this was a trip to the city and Dad was wearing tracksuit pants. A trip to the city for Dad usually required good pants, a belt and perhaps even a shirt with a collar. I put it down to the ear infection.

It was July when he went for a scan.

July.

The text came from my mother, they’d driven home from the doctors surgery where they’d been given the news. My parents have been driving home from somewhere together for 58 years.

“It could not be worse, pancreatic cancer, non treatable…Dad asked the doctor how long, he didn’t think he’d be here for Christmas…I am not sure I can talk…”

I sat in silence staring at the message, the world went on around me.

I could see them in the doctors surgery waiting to go in, I could see them sitting together as they were told the news. I could see them walking back to car, then driving home. What I couldn’t see was one without the other, ever.

Later that night my Dad put the two cancers side by side, my husband G with his bowel and he with his pancreas. “Well, if someone has to go, I’d rather it be me” he said to my mother. I winced as she told me, I didn’t want anyone to go anywhere.

August was all about the sale of the family home, the garage sales, the boxes, the downsizing of a life. Dad’s cancer news was kept in house. We shared a sandwich and a bench on the balcony of our local hotel. A hotel he’s frequented for over seventy years. A hotel with his name on a wall and the memories of Friday night drinks, Lions Club meetings, Valentines dinners and celebrations. I asked him why he wasn’t talking to people about his cancer and he answered my question with a question “are you sick of Covid?”. I tilted my head like our labradoodle does when he doesn’t understand what we’re doing. He went on “I’m so sick of Covid, it’s all people can talk about, the entire news bulletin is Covid, the papers are full of it even the sports section. It’s like they can’t tell us about anything else. Don’t you think Covid is boring?”

I smiled “Cancer is boring?”.

There it was again, the signature Dad wink.

For the past couple of months Dad has slowly disappeared in front of our eyes. Each trip home delivered another blow of the reality of what was coming our way.

It came today.

I could hear it in her voice, my mother’s broken heart as she delivered the words that would then in turn break mine. “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry”. It’s exactly what I said to my own children “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry”.

This year will be bookended by broken hearts – not just mine, all of ours, Dad’s.

My beautiful Dad.

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