My wife Karen, is one of those rare people who can walk into a party full of strangers and leave with new friends and social plans for the next few weeks. I can only marvel at her ease with strangers and the manner with which she effortlessly engages on a social and professional level with all. I, on the other hand, find this level of social intercourse for more of a challenge and making friends and acquaintances more of a slow burn.
Meeting the Brown family for the first time I assumed would follow a similar path, with me making my best attempts to cover my social awkwardness until I discovered that Dylan and I had something in common. This common thread was something that allowed us to communicate in a different language and I soon discovered that this language was something very dear to the both of us and one that we spoke with the same dialect. I refer to the language used by those that are professional on the outside while rebel on the inside, the language of emotion and freedom, of wide open spaces, the language of oil and dirt, the language that allows two strangers to unite over a common interest that revolves around an inexhaustible subject, the language of the motorcycle.
To those that know me and to those that are now rolling their eyes, I do promise that the remainder of this soliloquy will not be about motorcycles, although there is a risk that the odd motorcycle related nuance may permeate.
Dylan and I soon discovered that we had more in common, we both liked video games and real ale and armed with these three subjects it seems obvious that we were destined to become friends and conversation between us unlikely to be lacking. It was not more than a handful of months later and shortly after a reasonably raucous NYE, at which Dylan demonstrated his penchant for Patrick Swayze, that his son and middle child was diagnosed with ALL.
ALL doesn’t really mean anything to me, or at least it didn’t at the time, but basically its leukaemia, I still can’t remember what ALL stands for and a google search and subsequent definition would undermine my honesty. I know that it is cancer (I will not give cancer a capital c as it doesn’t deserve on) and I know that it nasty. I remember a tearful Mrs Bower telling me that ALL is the most common of the childhood leukaemia, which is a good thing. I found it quite difficult to see anything good about it, and while I refrain from using expletives I am confident that I could find a choice selection that could accurately describe my feelings towards this news.
I write from here on, intentionally selfishly about myself, how I felt, the effect it had on me and how it affected my relationship with the family hitherto known as Brown now as Team Brown and my friend Dylan. This will prove rather a challenge from one whom, according to my wife, suffers from an emotional deficit and lacks the ability to express feeling, but I will give it a go.
I am a methodical person, logical and I apply a somewhat Spock like objective perspective to decision-making. I am not prone to emotional responses, is it right to apply this Vulcan like process to such an emotionally evocative situation? Not necessarily, but that is what I did.
My thought process as follows. I am not medically trained and while I do consider that I would be quite competent with the administration of antibiotics, and range of creams and potions childhood cancer is a little beyond my level of unqualified expertise. I therefore quickly concluded that medical opinion and suggestion was best left to the experts. Team Brown have a great group of friends and family all very capable of providing support to the whole family and I am pleased to be able to consider that my family were part of this network. I just needed to define my role, in terms of what is required and what I would be able to offer, considering my personal qualities and emotional deficit.
I decided that the best I could offer would be to listen, offer no opinion just keep it business as usual, the norm or at least as close to normal as possible. While no psychologist, I am of the opinion that one cannot live and breathe a problem on a full-time basis and that time off is necessary to avoid the risk of the issue defining you. I can imagine, and I can only imagine, that having a child with cancer can become all-consuming and impossible to switch off from and so I decided that where and when possible that my relationship with Team Brown and my friend Dylan would continue to be as normal and that cancer would not dominate.
Handshakes became hugs and opportunity for coffee or beers became less frequent during treatments times but we still managed to meet up. While the cancerous elephant in the room was always present so was the friendship with the same talk about beer and motorcycles and our newly discovered shared frustration of spousal dishwasher stacking. The elephant was allotted time as and when required, but was not allowed to take over. I hope this was enough for at least a few moments of mental respite. On a more selfish note I have got to know a few of Dylan’s other friends who I now consider my own. They are all good chaps despite not riding motorcycles, and I know that they have all been there for Team Brown. I make no specific or further reference to them as this is not about them, but you know who you are.
I have never considered how I felt about the crisis that Team Brown have faced and continue to face. I have children myself, and so far, I am fortunate enough for them all to be healthy. I suppose what I think in this moment of contemplation is that the experience serves to reinforce the fragility of life and that what we take for granted can easily be upset. It reminds that irrespective of how challenging and difficult my children can be on occasion that these events would pale into insignificance should one of them become so seriously unwell. It reminds me that what I may consider as important today, could be irrelevant tomorrow and that as a parent having children the experience can be as wonderful as it can be devastating.
cancer (I have had to adjust my MS Word settings to start a sentence without a capital) will at some point choose to touch your life in one shape or another. There is no instruction manual to help you, you cannot prepare for it, you cannot plan for it and you cannot spend your life wondering when and where it may happen, for that way madness lies. What you can do is deal with it, pull up your socks, put on a brave face and even a smile if you can and meet it head on, and hit it hard. That is certainly the approach that I have seen demonstrated by Team Brown, the family that I am privileged to call friends. Those that know Team Brown or keep in touch via the interweb will be aware of their journey and I can only hope that the small part that my family and I have played has made their journey a little more bearable.
Dylan and I are still friends; I don’t think that anything has changed. We still meet up drink beer or coffee and talk motorcycles, although we have a new subject of conversation now, Adventure Motorcycling. It’s my birthday today and he bought me a T-shirt. It’s a size too big, so I’ll change it on my home, he doesn’t need to know that I am a size slimmer than he.