Lion With a Squint

Squiffles readingExcerpts from a journal.

Wednesday, November 11th Well, the op’s over. And praise the Lord! I still have my breast. It’s extremely sore, but they’ve given me a jab. Writing’s tough as it hurts like crazy when I move, but I want to make a few notes before I go to sleep. Rob was here all day. He slipped home for supper and returned with David who wrote an exam paper today. That couldn’t have been easy, knowing his mother was having surgery for cancer. Steve and his girlfriend visited this evening, but I was too woozy to pay much attention. He brought me a magnificent arrangement of pink velvety roses.

Believe it or not, he also brought me a small, stuffed lion. He says it was lying near the till and caught his eye. I’ve no idea how it managed to catch anyone’s eye. It’s got the most ridiculous squint. Besides, Steve should have known I don’t collect soft toys. I’ll keep it for one more day, then send it home with Rob. Meantime it’s stuck in the drawer of my locker out of sight. Man, I’m so sore. I’m going to call it a day and try to sleep.

Thursday, November 12th What a night! I couldn’t sleep on my back, but when I tried to turn on my side my head swam with pain. I was drugged, yet wide awake. The events of the day kept racing through my mind. “Cancer.” Can this be true? I was too dopey to take in all my surgeon said when he visited after theatre, but there was no mistaking some of the words. “Aggressive . . . glandular involvement . . . chemotherapy”.

Dear Lord. Is this possible? Steve and David are almost adult, but surely they still need me? What of Debbie and family in Venezuela? My grandchildren over there won’t even remember me if I die now. Last night, I kept thinking stupid thoughts like, Other people get cancer. Not me. I became so sorry for myself I was scared to go to sleep in case I didn’t wake up. That was when I remembered the lion. Can you believe this? I reached across and pulled him from the drawer. He seemed to stare at me . . . out of one eye anyway. I wonder if he knows I think he’s a stupid gift. I haven’t had a teddy or soft toy since I was a little girl.

As I gazed at him in the half light of the ward, I noticed that he has a crooked nose. In fact his face is decidedly skew. Great—a skew-faced, squint-eyed lion. His face is squiff. So that’s what I’ll call him: Squiffles. Not that I name toys . . .

What am I supposed to do with him? And yes, he’s definitely a ‘him’. The funny thing is, he looked as forlorn and deserted as I felt. I pulled him into bed with me. Despite my pain, I smiled. Mature, sensible, levelheaded and in control, and I lay cuddling a stuffed lion. I felt as if he understood. My family wasn’t there for me. Rob, Steve and David had all gone home, and of course Debbie’s at the other side of the world. This funny little creature was all I had. Believe it or not, I actually fell asleep with him cuddled against my damp cheek.

Friday, November 13th According to superstition this should have been a bad day. Yet for some reason, I seem to have been the life and soul of the ward. Typical. Outwardly I’m cheering everyone else up. Inside I’m trembling.

Squiffles, my squint lion, lay under my blankets out of sight. My fingers caressed his furry little body and no one knew he was there. Each time I left my bed, I hid him under the pillow. When the nurses come to make my bed, I relegated him to the drawer. I know this sounds crazy, and I won’t admit it to anyone else, but I’m growing attached to this silly little character. No one knows about him except Rob and the boys, and I’m sure they think he’s stashed away somewhere as they never see him.

Saturday, November 14th This morning, I was whisked away in a wheelchair for numerous tests. I longed to take Squiffles, but the picture of a mature-aged lady sitting in a wheelchair with a stuffed lion on her lap was ludicrous. I left him tucked under my pillow. I admit that before I left, I whispered to him, “You stay here and pray—I won’t be long!” D’you suppose the cancer’s gone to my brain? Fancy telling a toy lion to pray!

The inevitable happened. While I was away, the nurses made the bed. I returned to find Squiffles lying on my pillow, watching the two opposite sides of the door for my return. I was so embarrassed! I slipped into bed and pulled him under the covers. My secret’s out however. Every time a staff member comes near, they ask me where my lion is. One of them asked his name, so now they ask me how Squiffles is. I’m sure they’re having a good laugh behind my back. Interestingly, the other patients seem intrigued by him. Several of them have asked to meet him. It’s as if he’s become a little mascot of hope in the ward.

Sunday, November 15th Yeah! I was discharged yesterday. A number of my fellow-patients and some of the nurses said goodbye to both Squiffles and me. I thought I would forget the lion once I got home.

Little Candy, our Maltese Poodle, was so excited to see me. She pranced around yapping for me to pick her up. She doesn’t understand that I can’t because of this beastly sling. Still, she loves the fact that I spend a lot of time lying down. This is the first time I’ve ever allowed a dog on the bed. Candy’s good company, but she can’t replace Squiffles. After all, he knows what I’ve been through. Candy doesn’t.

Wednesday, November 18th I haven’t written for several days. I’ve had so many visitors. I’ve noticed a few side looks at Squiffles lying on my pillow or on the arm-rest. I want to explain that he’s only temporary, and that he was Steve’s idea anyway. But I don’t want to hurt his feelings. Is that stupid or what? He’s a toy lion for goodness sake; a skew-faced, stuffed lion with a squint. Yet he’s become a real source of comfort and support. I feel as if he’s an essential part of my recovery.

When I lie down to rest, I can hardly move. Candy snuggles against me on one side, Yoda the ginger tom list on my other side, and Squiffles lies on my chest. Yesterday I tried to get them to lie together, but each time I put him near Candy, she changed sides. Funny little dog. If I didn’t know better, I’d think she’s jealous.

Wednesday, November 25th Oh my. It’s a whole week since my last post. I am so, so tired. I started radiotherapy on Monday and it really drains my energy. Of course, it doesn’t help that it’s an hour’s drive each way. The staff are kind enough, but I’m not allowed to take anything into the treatment room. I asked to take a book to keep my mind off the humming and whirring of the machines. They said, “No”. I didn’t even bother to ask if I could take in a stuffed lion.

So Squiffles remains in my pocket inside the changing cubicle. I left him at home yesterday, but I missed him so much that I vowed I would never do that again. Do you think this is normal? I’m a grandmother twice over, and I don’t want to leave home without my cuddly toy. Oh man. That’s sick. At least, I would have said that before I met Squiffles. He’s different.

Monday, December 2nd This morning, tragedy struck. I decided I really needed to make an effort to go to radiotherapy without Squiffles. When I was away, Candy took revenge. I found the little fellow lying mauled on the floor, one leg off, his mane in shreds and his tail gone forever. I broke down and sobbed. He’s been such a little champion for me.

I kissed him gently, wrapped him in a white plastic shopping bag, and laid him gently in the dustbin. A good friend—laid to rest. Candy knows she’s in trouble. She’s lying huddled in her basket in the kitchen. She won’t even look at me.

Later . . . Oh my. A few minutes after I wrote the above, Rob came in carrying the small plastic parcel. “How could you do this to him?” he asked. “There must be something we can do.” I found it difficult to grasp that this was my husband talking. This little character has become part of our family. I feel dreadful. Rob was right. You don’t throw away members of your family because they’re injured.

I fetched a needle and thread, and spent the next hour patching scraps together. A plastic surgeon couldn’t have done a better job. Squiffles is lying next to me as I write this, one eye watching my pencil, the other gazing at me. His cute little face is the same as ever, although his mane is in tatters. He now sports a long scar on the same side of his body as mine, and he’s minus a tail. But he’s like me: a survivor.

Thursday, December 5th As the days drag on, I’m more and more exhausted. I go to treatment, return home and lie down for a sleep. When I wake up, I sit in the lounge and read. That’s all I have energy for. Candy seems to have made peace with Squiffles. Now they lie on the same side of the bed.

Monday, December 9th I’m reading a book by a psychologist who went through the same cancer. One chapter heading leapt out at me: Do you have a teddy? She explains how she stumbled, like I did, into the value of something small and cuddly to help deal with major emotional trauma. Of course she uses psychological terms but that’s not the point. I’m so relieved to find I’m not going crazy. I know I can love and hold this little creature any time of the day or night—and he understands. And according to this psychologist, that’s okay.

I know others think he’s just a toy, but they’re so wrong. Squiffles accepts me as I am. He doesn’t make me feel as if I should grow up. He doesn’t turn from my tears. He doesn’t look at me with pity. He just lies next to me, wherever I am, watching me constantly with one of his two opposing eyes. According to the book, I will gradually need him less. Although that seems harsh, I guess that will be a good sign. It’ll show me that I’ve healed, not only physically, but emotionally. I just hope he doesn’t feel rejected . . .

Thursday, December 12th Last night, we put up Christmas decorations. It doesn’t feel like Christmas at all. Every now and then I wonder, Is this my last Christmas? Rob and the boys haven’t said it, but I’m sure they’re wondering the same. We all seem to feel we must make a special effort to make it memorable.

Wednesday, December 18th It’s nearly Christmas and I haven’t written for nearly a week. Every day after treatment, Rob’s taken me to the shops to buy one more family gift. That’s all the stamina I have. Today we bought the last one. No more shopping. Thank goodness!

Thursday, December 19th Well, seems like I was wrong. We’re not finished shopping. Doris has cancer. Her op is tomorrow. She’ll receive many flower arrangements, and have enough chocolates, bath oils and fragrances to last her months. But I know exactly what she needs. She’ll probably think I’m crazy. I certainly thought Steve was. But hopefully whatever I find her will be as supportive, loving and therapeutic as my little stuffed lion with a skew face and two eyes that look in different directions.

infoFootnote: If you are currently in the cancer valley, and you don’t have a small, stuffed animal, don’t ask . . . Beg your family to find you one. You will be amazed at the comfort and encouragement it will bring you.

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