parental advice


Letters 3

So back with a bump from my sunny, sunny orange grove. I’ve the post holiday blues. Well actually it’s more than that. I meet the Chemo people tomorrow, it’s just a meeting but it’s the first step of the next marathon (as A. says “it’s a marathon you didn’t even sign up for though!”). I’m scared, really scared of this next bit. I’m sure I’ll be pithy and cheery soon, even about being scared but all I’ve got at the moment is this two line non-sentence. I’m scared.

I’m counting all the stars in my sky because I have people to help me forget these fears for stretches at a time but A. says he can still see it in my jaw, so I’m not fooling anyone.
Until tomorrow, when I can turn the light on and see that this Chemo Monster is really just a coat in the corner (fingers crossed), I leave you with my Mother’s wisdom.
I keep finding her letters at opportune moments, I was meant to be tidying when I found this one – let’s not tell A.
I like the bit about making friends, I’ve heard it can get chatty in the Chemo wing. Presently, I’m not very good at making friends in the C-Club, it reminds me I’m going through cancer (if that isn’t the silliest reason) but I think I need to get over myself and learn from their wisdom. I’m very grateful to Miss B, my FB C-club friend, she’s a little life line – thank you Miss B! 
For the record 1) Yes I was really that unhappy for a whole month my first term at uni – I am a big scardy cat, I got over the homesickness and then Mum was diagnosed the first time, 2) can we forgive my Mum for thinking that I am awesome, I think that’s a Mother’s duty and it works better for a pep talk, 3) Sappy as it sounds -parents write to your kids, actual letters, they will find them useful someday, 4) Kids keep those letters, they will come in useful someday…….

Dearest P


Well darling I hope you’ve recovered from the bout of homesickness you had on the phone last night and that your lectures were a bit interesting. 

As I said just take one day at a time, look your best, smile a lot and I’m sure friendship will come your way. Being a lively member of the group (any group) is always attractive – your natural bubbliness and sense of fun will pull you through and your sensitivity to others will keep you interested and interesting…. No situation is ever perfect for long – that’s what keeps us all striving and no bad situation stays that way – that’s what gives us all hope. 

Remember that ‘prayer’ ( I don’t think its a particularly christian one) – “may I have the strength to accept what can’t be changed, the courage to change what can be and the wisdom to know the difference” I don’t know if it’s relevant right now, but it’s a good maxim to know.


Eat well, exercise your body and mind and relax before sleeping. And for goodness sake – go to a counsellor and tell them your fears.


As I said everyone has fears at this stage – it’s a learning stairway – you’re discovering it early in life and you’ll learn to recognise it and accept it and control your terror very soon. Good for you. 


Nothing worth knowing is easily learnt. Nothing worth having is easily acquired – at least, not in adulthood, I’ve found – I sometimes think walking was the only thing I learned easily – the rest is struggle!


M is having a hard time enduring the music of the Whitebear. Dad is busy with lectures and tutorials and I’m like a headless chicken already – no fun here!


Love you very much




Musing on My Mother, from an Orange Grove

I’m writing this sitting with A in a hammock in an orange grove in the South of Spain. It is as idlic as it sounds, not a cloud in the sky.  A is reading a book about science, it is my lovely lot in life to be surrounded by men, with a love of science. Every few pages, A looks up with a ‘huh’ waits expectantly for me to ask ‘what?’  He then reads me a section. I feel I am reading the book as well, which works out nicely because I always meant to.

Until it occurred to me a minute ago that this is probably one of those moment I’ll want to remember, I was reading also.  My book is an autobiography about a woman who hikes the Pacific Coast Trail, alone, after her mother dies (no I did it know that fact when I bought the book).

I’ve just read a line where she’s scared on the trail, though she knows she’ll always be safe because her mother has died and that was the very worst that could happen. It made me smile and think about Miss E, my fellow motherless duckling and taker of wonderful photos. Quite soon after I was diagnosed, she had shared how shaken she had felt – “I mean, I thought we were bullet proof.”

I understood the sentiment but somehow my brushes with mortality had the opposite effect. I saw potential hazards everywhere. I became fearful for all my loved ones, practically driving A away with my constant worrying. I never worried about myself however.

I’ve switched locations, I’m now under an umbrella by a lovely turquoise pool, still surrounded by orange trees. The air has that scorched land smell and we have fresh squeezed juice for breakfast. Perhaps because I’m in a place this lovely, perhaps because I feel so warm and safe, or because of the book I’m reading, or maybe because it was inevitable but I’m allowing myself to think about my mother.

When my Mum died, I slowly and painfully became aware of the life events she wouldn’t be around for, the solicited or unsolicited advice I’d not receive, the fights, the love. I’d never get to fully understand what made such a complex woman tick. We’d never ‘do’ weddings or babies – I just never thought that cancer would be another thing on that never ‘do’  list.

Not being a mother myself, I’m not sure how it feels when your child is ill. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be a mother, so perhaps I’ll never know. Either way,  I’ll never be able to phone her up exhausted and apologise for everything I put her through. However, I never banked on knowing how it feels to live  with cancer or what it takes to get through Chemo either.

There have been times recently, when I’ve been cut to the core at how little I understood about all this, how draining it is emotionally and physically. How all encompassing and how white knuckle scary it is. How sick you can feel (and this is before chemo, fertility treatment and my Ops have been enough). She must have hid a lot, I thought I knew it all, I was 19 and I thought I’d seen all her illness. But I see now that I was still her child and she hid things.

Sometimes I hide things, A always makes me promise that’ll wake him if I wake in the night. I never do and then he’s mad the next day. I always point out, there’s is very little point Us both being awake, he can’t physically do anything and it’s best he’s rested, to deal with everything he deals with in the day. Besides just having him near is soothing, asleep or awake.

Quite soon after her death I went through a phase of worrying. If something else horrendous happened, how could I believe my mother was watching over us, protecting us, as everyone had been at pains to tell me. I reasoned if something bad ever happened, I’d feel like she deserted me twice.

I eventually mentioned this to Da, who kindly and softly reminded me that this is not what we believed. No matter what a comforting image it was, she was not on a cloud, margarita in hand stomping out all mountains in our way. The only way she watched over us, remained with us, was through the love we had for her – the conversations we shared, the life we had all lived together. I am lucky, I have emails, letters and birthday cards too.

Ma taught me a lot about how to deal and some times not deal with cancer. Her dramatic personality, coupled with pretty hardcore steroids, occasionally had explosive consequences. It was her grace, I admired most.

Grace, was the first word I thought of,  when I was trying to imagine how to plough on with all this. My Mother was also the founding designer of Cancer Chic, she rocked Cancer Chic hard. Unless it was a really bad day, she was always up and dressed, she always put on a little makeup too. Even in hospital, she requested I come and help ‘put her face on’. These may sound like small achievements to some but trust me, some days they are huge.

Ma kept a journal, hers was a lot more private than mine, but I think it helped keep her sane. She started on a path towards a Masters degree too. Gosh she was strong and smart to boot.

Like animal species the world over (A’s book rubbing off on me) I watched My Mother, to learn the Art of Survival. It was just, at the time, didn’t know I was doing it.

PS there’s now a traditional Spanish trumpeter playing in village below, his music drifting up to us. Oh, I’m wearing a coral red on my toes called ‘Macbeth’ too. Today is a good day.


Letter 2


Today would have been my Mama’s Birthday. It’s horrid to admit it but for the first time in 3 years this wasn’t my first thought when I woke up today.

I wanted to mark it though. My Mum’s advice filled letters punctuated my life until she died. I miss them. I’ve been realising how bossy Little Blog can get and this note, from my early Uni days, sheds light on where that tendency comes from….. Often I didn’t realise it, especially in my youth and when the advice ran contrary to what I wanted to hear, but my Mum’s advice, as mine does now, came from a place of love – whether you want it or not.

Well, we arrived home at 10.30 having stopped at a supermarket nearish Bath to shop! Felt very virtuous. It was lovely to see you, but hard to leave. I’m so very glad S. came when he did – what an easy – going chap! I’m sorry to ‘get’ at you to introduce us  but it should start to be a habit now that you are moving in your own circles – there has to be a moment of just saying who everyone is to make everyone fell included and comfortable. You can have all sorts of different ways of saying it but “hey everybody – this is E. ” isn’t actually very comfortable making for E. E. will need to know ‘everybody’ too – you can make a joke of the big group loads of names thing but you really must do it or it leads to people feeling not quite sure and lonely and isolated or not good enough. It’s very simple. costs you nothing (in fact it makes you feel good to bring people together – and in control) and really, truly makes a HUGE difference. Believe your old Ma. Oh yes, and if anybody forgets to introduce you to a new person or group (or whatever) you can just say “hello I’m Polly…I didn’t quite catch your name…” or (after a while) – “oh, by the way, I’m Polly – how do you do!” (joke, joke – cos now you are half way to the cinema)
OK lecture on introductions over.
When I was a girl…. there used to be a comic called Girl (like Eagle) and on the back pages it used to have a drawn comic strip about social skills and things like that – it was really good. I guess there are somethings that don’t change- or that it would be silly to drop without replacing them with equally comfortable -making devices. That’s what social skills and good manners are about, making other people feel included, acknowledged (if they invite you somewhere or send a present etc) and appreciated. Social skills go a v-e-r-y l-o-n-g w-a-y and actually make the biggest difference to first impressions. a lot of this you know about, of course, and a lot comes naturally to you (and that’s a blessing to count) but there are still many/much that we all have to learn and continually learn. When people go to work in Japan they have to go to special classes because social intercourse is so different there – a;; the signals are entirely different and sometimes opposite – and they are very complex and super important. Americans find it especially hard because they have fewer ‘rules’ than the English and can’t quite get to grips with all the bowing and self effacement! Did you ever see “Shall We Dance?”
Well – I’ve rambled on and not said anything yet about how impressed we were at how incredibly well you’re settling in – I know you still feel terribly torn ( and believe me, so do I darling) but I think you are doing a brilliant job of making friends and being a friend – and also hand washing you smalls and signing up for getting involved! All these are achievements for you Polly and should make you feel really good about yourself! You really do seem to be setting out on a very positive road to adulthood and independence – or rather inter-dependence. I really feel that is the right word – more co-operative sounding and it also make me think you aren’t cutting yourself off from us just because you spend important time away in your own sphere.
And it was brave to let us go last night. The door is always open, you know that and it is your choice, but I hope you begin to see now why we encouraged you to take the opportunity to go to College this year. Next year, you’d be miserable going away after a year at home but at 19 going on 20 you’d have had fewer people to share your sadness with – you’d have to be horribly brave. Of course, I hope that the courses cheer up for you – that’s a BIG part of it. Can you hear OK in lectures? Have you told them about your ear? Can you get a seat close to the “teacher” and on the right side? I forgot to ask all these questions.
Well M’s just returned (1pm) so I’d better get going and get lunch. Dad’s at work – I’m starting when I’ve had lunch – then I have to go to Bath tonight. Yesterday was a lovely treat and a good break for both of us. M will have to start at the White Bear tomorrow 11am – 7pm – 4 days a week. Actually not bad hours but not great money (£3.30/hour!) – but something to get up for and it’ll be pocket money to tide him over.
How did your friends like “….Mary” I’ve heard it is outrageous – but fun. I’d like to see it.
I’ve put a pencil mark in for Oct 26th by the way – we might have to leave early so I can be back for 7.30pm – a dance thing in Bath that I long to see.
Love you so much and miss you loads
Mama (and Pa)


I wasn’t going to post again today but then I found this letter, written by my mother, years ago now, before she was even diagnosed. I typed it up a while ago with another purpose in mind. I have absolutely no idea what she’d say about this new situation and while the below was written about homesickness, I find it rather apt and incredibly comforting.

Nearly Thursday


This is the only paper around so this will be a RED LETTER DAY for you (even if you are feeling rather blue). Actually, since, with any luck you will receive this on Saturday it will be rather special because Daddy will be coming down. It may not be in the car though because the poor old thing is rather sad and has to be hospitalised … It could be a lengthy operation. Oh dear.

It’s 3am and I’m writing this in the kitchen. I went into your room but it was too sad to sit in there. I woke an hour ago thinking and wondering about you, hoping you have managed a nights sleep yourself. Daddy said you called at 10ish – unhappy again and had found the disco rather loud so had come back early. I hope you managed to get thru to E and that speaking to him may have settled you down a bit.

The telephone at your ‘house’ was busy when I tried, so I left a goodnight note on your pager (a somewhat embarrassed young man was taking the message so I couldn’t be too soppy!) M also left a message when we arrived home, so you know we’ll always be thinking of you – as much (or more) than you think of us. Really, truly.

P, darling, I know your thoughts and feelings are awfully muddled just now – mine are too – of course I don’t want you to be unhappy and would much rather you had been looking forward to starting as you thought you would when you first saw the brochure.


I hope and (actually pray) that you will begin to see a light at the end of what must seem at the moment like a very dark tunnel, and that you can hang on to all sorts of little positive catch phrases like – imagine it’s this time next year, how far away all this will seem and try to help someone else – it’ll help you too and keep active mentally and physically – retreating from life makes it harder and people out there need you – need your sunshine to warm them and your smile to comfort them and your hugs to keep them going. You are blessed with so many gifts of love and tenderness, the world is a better place with you in it. You have so much to give.

(PG here, obviously she’s my mum so thinks I’m pretty great. Apologies for own horn tooting)


Everything that ever works best for people is what they’ve actually turned it into. It’s the creative part of living – not the pieces that are handed to you, you just smile and say “thank you” for those (and hold them dear) they are the passive gifts; the active ones are the ones you are about to receive by your own making – little things, like spending the first night, that’s an achievement. Coming back with M and me or even having us stay the night would have given you nothing to be proud of. Now you’ve done it! You never thought you would and you did! Just keep quietly patting yourself on the back for things like that a and you’ll realise bit by bit what I’m talking about.


We do miss you already and love you to bits.

Hugs and oo’s and kisses Mum