Living in an earthquake

16.14, Thursday. 24 Nov 2017

“ Feeling a bit worse and more short of breath so about to have a Chest X-Ray. I will call you once I’ve seen it”   Colin

I’m not sure if Id ever given serious contemplation to how my world could change suddenly from one minute to the next. I’ve seen it 100s of times before in various guises in other people’s worlds.

The motorcyclist that died on a New Zealand roadside, slipping from conversation to unconsciousness in less than a minute. No longer able to compensate for the massive internal bleeding. The baby that didn’t wake up; resistant to the collective willing of the resuscitation room and the abundance of tubes and wires inserted in hope of a miracle.

Colin is 42, my husband and best friend. Father to my 12 year old and 7 year old children. 19 years ago we bonded over a mutual love of beer and laughter in the face of all that goes with working for an NHS under pressure. We’ve backpacked the world, emigrated to Australia and survived numerous mishaps largely with good humour and a sense of c’est la vie. Colin says we’ve been lucky.

He went to work that day by bus, the bronchitis that had been annoying him for a few weeks seemed to be making the hills hard enough that it he wasn’t looking forward to the bike ride. He worked his full shift before heading for the x-ray before the world spun us on its axis.

It’s like living in an earthquake. When everything around you is shaking and crumbling. Your torn and fighting to hold the cracking walls of family existence together, paralysed by fear of everything that happens from this moment forward and deciding which crisis to band aid first. Will everything else remain standing if you take your hands off the wheel for a few seconds?

Maybe the next test will have kinder results; maybe the sliver of sunshine in the darkness will grow. Maybe it’s an unusual presentation of TB. There are at least risk factors for that. Maybe the fluid will show a rare but recoverable resolution usually confined to the annals of rare medical phenomena, last seen grappling with Hugh Lauries’ “House.”

Or maybe they will come quietly into the room, preparing themselves mentally to tell a colleague and his wife that they find this news difficult too. Asking again about exposures to asbestos. Looking again at the nodules growing on the grainy black and white screens. Themselves shaken, as the “other side” has infiltrated the magical protective cloak of the medical profession. A dark force greedily eating away the future of one of their own.


Saturday Nov 26 04.38

“I want to be with you. I’m not sure I can be without you. My hearts breaking my world is shaking, the day is waking. Sleep wont come, fucking night Jays at it again” (Lizz to Colin in hospital)

Two weeks after the chest X-ray text message. I’m looking at life through a 48 month lens. The news wasn’t pneumonia as expected but cancer. A cancer without life saving treatment. A cancer that has taken up residence in his right lung and flooded eight litres of fluid into the space where the breath for the uphill bike to work lived only a week before. A cancer that shouldn’t happen to people in their 40s, and not to those whose work it is to save lives.

Mesothelioma is considered a life ending cancer, no happy survival statistics to clutch on to in the face of aggressive chemotherapy or surgery. Instead we grasp at miracles, the woman who survived 10 years, the man who has lived 14 years due to his veganism. The promising clinical trials adding months to life expectancy or the advancing revelations of immunotherapy.

The bubble grows bigger, expanding to fill the entire hospital room. Here the truth remains confined, it doesn’t inflict pain on those who love us. Here we don’t have to tell our children that Daddy has cancer. We don’t have to call his parents to tell them, that cancer is a journey that father and son will now endure in unison. There are no messages from friends expressing disbelief and baking lasagne. Here there is only numbness. A slow motion silent movie plays, pictures of his childhood, the years before we met pass across his eyes. Our times together depicted in rose tinted technicolour. Glitching interrupts the future show reel. Pressing the reset button and turning off and on again simply returns to an opaqued screen. Were unable to make out what happens, unable to picture the future clearly. Faint images last only long enough to raise the spectre of possibility fading in and out before we are able to translate them into thoughts.


Monday 12 December 11.28.

I’m writing, searching for the calmness that comes with the rhythmic tapping of the keys as the jumble of thoughts and feelings unravel into words. I worry if I am telling only my story, I don’t want to intrude or speak out of turn of other peoples thoughts.

Were waiting, 2 days until the Oncologist. The everyday mundane of family life continues. Take the kids to school, return home to make the lemonade for todays class Christmas party. Colin struggles to see past Wednesday. I could wait another thousand lifetimes. It becomes more real on Wednesday. We worry that the slivers of sunshine we have poked in the bleakness will also be extinguished. I try to keep my Pollyanna pants pulled up high. Young mesothelioma suffers make up around 2% of cases worldwide. The soul sucking literature revealed by Google isn’t necessarily indicative of the journey ahead of us. We could have been given 4 months. Our friends have revealed themselves to be freezer filling, child collecting, housecleaning fairies. Our migration to Australia means we happen to live a 25-minute drive to a world leading Mesothelioma centre of excellence. Christmas is around the corner and family and friends will be in abundant supply to chivvy, cheer and pass tissues.

2 days until we watch the kids end of school dance concert that has been re-ordered so that we can watch both of them before driving to our future normal.

My Pollyanna pants and I are preparing as best we know how.


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7 comments Add yours
  1. Beautifully written Hon. I really do have no words for how crap & unfair this all is but that’s not the way forward Pollyana as we both know
    . I’ll help keep your pants up however I can xx

  2. I love how you write from the heart. Keep the words coming and know that you have the love and strength of friends around you to help you keep them damn pants up!!

  3. Lizz – words escape me. Keep writing – you do it so beautifully. If I can help, in any way, let me know. Lots of love xxx

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