When Felix was diagnosed with ALL in January 2016, it well and truly took the wind from our family’s sails. As “The Smiths”, we’d always considered ourselves lucky – our parents were in good health and still happily married, us three girls had lovely husbands, a gang of kids between us, good jobs, nice houses – everything you could hope for, really. Of course, there were blips along the way, but nothing we couldn’t laugh off afterward, because that was how we dealt with everything – by taking the mick out of each other. This all changed when Felix was diagnosed.
The week after diagnosis, I drove down to Dorset from Somerset to visit Felix and the rest of the Browns. It was a grim journey in many ways involving flooded roads, a speeding ticket, tears and a song on repeat which I can no longer listen to. All I wanted was to see Fe and the rest of the Browns. That afternoon in the children’s ward of Southampton Hospital, something changed. We tried to joke about it all (Dad trying – but failing – to work the jukebox, Felix thrashing me on some driving game on the Xbox) but it wasn’t the same. This wasn’t funny. You can’t polish a turd.
Fast forward over the next few months and things were going from bad to worse – Felix was changing beyond recognition – the bloatedness, the hair loss, the anger, the weight loss. I had my own family to look after in Somerset and a life that had to carry on as normal as possible, but that came with its own issues – I was torn between being desperate to see Felix and being terrified that I would pass on some unseen lurgy (as a teacher and mum to two young boys – there was a relentless stream of snot in the house). The guilt was unbearable.
Things are better now. We are all less shell-shocked. Felix is looking the picture of health and although he still has a long time of treatment left, things are looking really positive. I can talk about Felix at home now without my eldest son looking worried or asking if his cousin will die (Felix has always been his idol – it’s mainly a hair/football thing).
I know this is a real cliché, but when something like this happens to someone close to you, you realise what is actually important in life and what isn’t. We could really do with a new bathroom suite, our boiler is prehistoric and the 1970s pine kitchen cabinets should really go. But we’ve decided we’d rather spend our money on memories rather than stuff. Dad has painted the kitchen cabinets and they look fab. I’ve decided I quite like the avocado corner bath after all. I’m praying for a mild winter.
In December, us Smiths will go on our annual pilgrimage to Torquay. We already know exactly what we’ll do – there’ll be the Christmas Quiz, a trip to Cockington (photo taken by the rude part of the sign), a scoot along the seafront, lots of swimming, the kids will all go to Uncle Dyl for some money for the arcades (he’s the generous one) and Karl will spend hours walking the littlest member of Team Smith around in her buggy, willing her to go to sleep (she’s the loud one). Mum and Ker will get their bingo fix, Talia will get her Primark hit and there will be laughter. Lots of loud, lovely laughter.