No Easy Way to Share the News

This entry is part 4 in the series Victory in the Valley

—Victory in the Valley – Chapter Three—

Start at the beginning of the story

mug of coffee

Now read on . . .

After prayer with my colleague, Mariette, and a cup of hot coffee, I went out into the fresh air, and headed for my car. Overhead tiny cloud wisps, as fine as a puff of dandelion seed, drifted across the bright blue African sky. The sight brought peace to my heart.

What a beautiful world this is, and the God of all creation is still in His Heaven. Click To Tweet

“I know this is in your hands, Lord,” I spoke aloud as I eased my car into the traffic. “You’ve never let me down yet, and I know you won’t let me down this time either.” I took a deep breath as I felt my faith start to grow. “I’ll be just fine Lord! I know I will!” It would take more than cancer to keep me down.

Breaking the News

All way home I prayed. I don’t remember ever praying the cancer would go away. Nor do I remember praying that the surgeon would get it all out. I instinctively knew I had to focus on one step at a time. And the first step was sharing the news with my unsuspecting family.

My husband and two grown sons were aware of the appointment but as far as I knew, were not at all concerned. My only daughter, over in far-off Venezuela, didn’t even know I had been to a doctor. Nor did my nearly eighty-year-old mother.

“Oh Lord . . .” I groaned. “How can I tell Mum? You know how afraid she is of any type of illness. How will she ever cope when she learns that her only daughter has cancer?”

I switched my thoughts to Rob, my husband of thirty years. I had to face him first.

“Hi there,” I would say. “Guess what?” No, that was too flippant.

“Hi Love—can you come? I need to share something.” No, too obvious.

All the way home I tried different approaches. None of them sounded right. How do you tell your life’s partner that you have cancer, and it’s probably too late?

“Oh God just help me!” I pleaded as I turned in the driveway. “Give me the words to say. Help me to break it gently.”

I let myself in the back door, and made my way down the corridor to our bedroom.

“Hi there!” My husband came out the study door behind me.

“Hi!” I replied brightly. Was it too brightly?

“So how did it go?” He followed me into the bedroom.

I dropped my bag on the bed and tossed words over my shoulder, “Not so good I guess.” I sensed my husband freeze behind me. Suddenly I couldn’t hold back any longer. I swung round to face him. “Rob . . . I’ve got cancer! And they seem to think it’s too late to get it all out!”

So much for breaking the news gently. I still needed to learn. There is no easy way to break this news.

Breaking the news to an elderly lady terrified of illness

Rob, what must I do about Mum?” I buried my face in his shoulder. “She has to know. I need to drive over to see her right now – but I can’t face an hour’s drive each way, answering questions that I haven’t got answers for myself yet, comforting her. . .” I searched his drawn face anxiously. “What can I do? I can’t break news like this to her over the telephone.”

We stood interlocked in each other’s arms. As a couple we had faced many crises but nothing remotely resembling this.

“There is no way we can go over to Edenvale now,” Rob replied flatly. “Alan will have to cope with this.”

I thought of Alan, my only brother, my only sibling, born a full fifteen years after me. We were fairly close most of the time, but our relationship was not a traditional brother-sister one. Because of the difference in ages we each have our own lives, our own friends. His children are ages with my grandchildren.

“Alan?” I gazed uncertainly into Rob’s eyes. “It’s not fair to dump this on him!”

“Well it’s not fair for you to cope with it right now either. Let’s pray, and then I think you must phone him—or do you want me to?”

“No, I will.” Strangely I needed to talk. I needed to keep repeating the fact, “I have cancer.” Perhaps subconsciously I felt that the more I said it, the less likely it would be true.

woman on phoneI don’t remember what I said to Al. I don’t remember what he said to me. All I do remember is the sharp intake of breath on the other end of the phone, then a moment’s silence whilst we both searched for words.

He agreed to leave work early, and go to see Mum on his way home. He assured me he would break it gently. I still hadn’t learned the lesson: there’s no easy way to break this news. He also agreed he would not leave her, until he knew she was all right.

An unexpected reaction

Less than an hour later, the telephone rang. Rob answered it, and then quietly handed the receiver to me.

“It’s Mum.”

I took the phone nervously, not sure what I would hear, scared of how I would handle her hysteria.

A calm strong voice said, “Well Shirley . . .” and paused.

Slightly taken aback I responded, “Hi Mum. Yes, ‘well’ indeed! I gather Alan’s been.”

“He’s still here.” My Mum sounded shattered yet totally calm. “When will they operate?”

“I won’t know until tomorrow. I’m only seeing the surgeon in the afternoon.”

“How do you feel about it?”

How did I feel? Detached seemed to be the closest word. Totally detached. Why did everyone keep talking about cancer? Why did I keep talking about cancer? Why the talk about operations? It felt like reading a bad novel with no story line.

It felt like reading a bad novel with no story line. Click To Tweet

I don’t remember much about that conversation either. To my amazement, my mother was calm and controlled. All my growing years, she avoided the need to cope, wherever possible, with any type of sickness. She had a horror of hospitals, of operations, of any medical procedures.

The past few years had been difficult for her. She had left Rhodesia, her inherited home country of over 30 years, and come with my dad to live in South Africa. Within a year of immigration, she lost her beloved husband of over 40 years, closely followed by her sight. Now she had just learned that her only daughter had cancer; yet she was calm.

“The Lord won’t let us down” she said with only a slight waver to her voice. “We will overcome this.”

I felt so very proud of her, and encouraged.

If the Lord could make an old lady that strong, He could do the same for me. Click To Tweet

Read on: Chapter 4: An Unhappy Misunderstanding

These events occurred between 17 and 20 years ago. I have tried to recreate events and locations as accurately as possible, but in order to maintain their anonymity, in some instances I have changed the names and identifying characteristics of individuals and places.

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14 comments on “No Easy Way to Share the News

  1. Thanks for sharing your story Shirley – it was interesting to see it from different perspectives and I’m glad you’re out the other end x

  2. Reading this I can only imagine that drive home rehearsing how to break the news and utter that “C” word to your husband. There is no way to soften that blow. Thank you for sharing with all of us.

    • Thanks so much for the visit, Rosemond. I often practice what I’m going to say in specific situations, and usually arrive at a satisfactory solution. I never did this time round!

  3. Such an intense journey captured so precisely that it makes one gasp. Based on the above comments, you are on your path of wellness.

    • Thanks for your encouragement Jennifer. I’ll be 19 years clear of cancer in November this year! Not bad when the surgeon gave me less than a year!

  4. Shirley, your story is gripping. So glad you are on the other side of this journey and I have the privilege of being a friend. Can’t wait for the book. Love what you are doing… Your whole life has been a preparation for this as you encourage cancer sufferers globally through your blog. 111 out of 10.

    • Thank you so much for visiting, Val. I so appreciate what you say. (And thanks for the 111 out of 10. Wooh! I never got a score like that at anything!

    • I presume you’re referring to my mum? She was amazing throughout, and yet she was petrified of anyone who so much as said they felt sick! Thanks for the visit Lizzi.

  5. How wonderful that you had such a supportive family. I can imagine what a shock it was to learn it. It’s a horrible disease.

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