Julia

My sister is dying.

There, I have said it. She was diagnosed with breast cancer six months ago, and the prognosis went from, “It can be fixed”, to “Oh dear, it has spread” to “I’m very sorry, you will need to start making preparations”. This has happened very quickly indeed.

In this time we have swung, the two of us, between shock and grief, optimism and disbelief, rage at the dying of the light, and now, it seems, acceptance. Neither of us are quite prepared to just sit and wait for things to happen, but neither are we fighting the doctor, asking about further ways of delaying the inevitable.

The doctor, my sister, and myself, are bound together in a strange complicity, where none of us will now talk about “The End!”; as Julia has expressed her wish not to do so. Instead, during our weekly catch ups, we will discuss mundane matters to do with her current treatment. Julia will tell the doctor how well she is doing, and after a while her oncologist will send her for a pretend appointment elsewhere in the hospital so that we can discuss how Julia is really doing.

The cancer is in her brain now you see, and to all intents and purposes looking after my sister is like looking after somebody with advanced dementia. Sadly Julia realises that her brain is going, we joke together about her losing her marbles.

“But how would you be able to tell?” I ask her. “You’ve always been as nutty as a fruit cake”, and we chuckle in shared horror.

Today she went for a spa day, offered to her by the MacMillan nurses. She has been looking forward to this for a long time. It is sad to see even this, how ‘a long time’ has shrunk down from a year or more, to months, to a week or two, or even days. Anyway, I took her to the hospital this morning and dropped her off at the entrance. I knew roughly how long she would be, but checked that she had her phone, hoped that she would remember how to use it, and rushed home to see to my animals.

I got a text a couple of hours ago, saying that she was done, but had arranged a lift back with a local friend. Foolishly I accepted this without checking. The woman Julia thought was picking her up, knocked on my door an hour later to tell me that she had just had a call to let her know that Julia was wandering around a local village, completely lost. She had decided to go shopping and caught a bus home, except that she has forgotten where home is, now.

I retrieved my sister, took her home and sat her down with a hot water bottle and made her lunch. I made her promise not to leave the house without me, she is probably safe for the rest of the day, being too tired now to want to go off anywhere other than bed. I’ve told her to write a shopping list for tomorrow and that I will take her to the shops then. She will probably sleep in front of the tv, but when she wakes up she will remember the list, she always remembers shopping; and she will occupy herself with that harmless activity.

I could weep for my sister but that would not help, so instead I am plotting how she can keep at least an illusion of independence.

I have to watch her like a hawk now. Although she can barely walk, when we were out in town yesterday, she was walking behind me, and when I looked around to say something to her, she had gone. I checked all the shops nearby, then I ran up and down the street looking foe her. Although I knew that she could not have overtaken me, I was in a panic. Eventually a local shopkeeper who knows us both, told me that she had gone into his shop and had asked him to tell me that she had gone to a local bakery/cafe.

Thankfully she was indeed there, sitting at a table and telling me in a perfectly rational voice, that she thought I might like a pasty and cup of tea so she had ordered them for me.

I am now joking with her about attaching her to a training lead when we are out, but although it is a joke, it will be necessary to see if there is some way of doing something like this; in a discreet fashion so that it does not feel demeaning to her. I have also written her a note so that if she does get lost and confused, she can show it to somebody who will hopefully ring me and let me know where she is. She will probably remember how to do this, for a short while at least.

From day to day, we will go on, my sister and I; and when we cannot go on any longer we will work out what to do, until there is nothing left to worry about.

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