A moment that changed me: my son was relishing life after recovering from cancer – so why did I feel broken?

After he was given the all-clear I found myself drowning in grief and worry about his future. Then came a series of chance conversations …

It is not my place to describe in intimate detail what happened to my teenage son. Suffice to say, in 2021 he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, had a 12.5-hour operation on his 14th birthday to remove half of his upper jaw, and then went through eight months of intensive chemotherapy. For most of a year, he spent more time in the hospital than out. If he wasn’t being monitored for chemo drugs, he was being treated for their side-effects: the nausea, the fainting, the headaches, the nosebleeds that wouldn’t stop. “We don’t give this course of chemo to adults,” said the oncologist. To my raised eyebrows, she answered: “They wouldn’t be able to take it.”

Covid meant that only his dad and I were allowed, one at a time, on the cancer ward. It was a surreal world of blue curtains, masked nurses and endlessly beeping machines. During my 10-hour shifts, I tried to encourage edifying activities such as French practice or reading, but most of the time my son and I either slept or watched crap television. The hospital didn’t have the internet, so we overdosed on episodes of Dinner Date, Taskmaster and reality renovation shows. When my son was well enough, we laughed at everything, pretending to ignore the tall bags of neon-yellow chemo-poison draining into the tube in his chest. I tried to keep his (and my) spirits up by planning what we would do after his treatment was over – a horse trek in Iceland, a gig at Wembley. Each week, we counted off the chemotherapy remaining: “Only 18 more weeks to go”; “We’re halfway through”; “We’ve completed the doxorubicin and cisplatin, now there’s only the methotrexate to get through.” When things got bad, I promised him: “One day this will be over. Life will be back to normal.”

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