CHEMO DURING COVID | When her dad’s cancer treatment brought Alanna Duffield home for lockdown, she was surprised to find small moments of joy.
by Alanna Duffield
At first, it felt like a cruel joke. As if we needed another weight of worry on our shoulders.
I cried a lot initially when I moved back in with my parents. Not just for us – our family – but for everyone. I wept because I hated our government, I wept because people were dying without a goodbye, I wept for elderly people without toilet paper the most.
But fear fatigue eventually found me too, and even I couldn’t maintain that heightened level of dread as the weeks and months pressed on.
We were maybe a month and a half into lockdown when they told us his chemo could restart. I didn’t want it to. I wanted to stay in this perpetual childhood for longer – boiling the kettle for three, always hopping the last stair, fighting for the phone charger.
But he wanted it done, and I understood that his limbo was very different from mine.
When they eventually came around, the things I feared the most didn’t feel so frightening in the end. I shaved his head on the patio at sunset, surrounded by birdsong. While he was away getting treatment, I was there to make house-noises: clattering about in the kitchen, spilling something on the sofa. I had worried about her being alone, before.
And when he was back home, I would catch him out of the bathroom window, just pottering about, feeding that ridiculous robin by hand. Every small scrap of information that I would otherwise have been missing felt important.
I seared it all into my memory: the first plum of the season; when I accidentally smashed the expensive dish and had to hold my wrist under the icy tap surrounded by bits of aubergine; the baby chicks we reared by hand who became the darlings of quarantine.
“I wanted to stay in this perpetual childhood for longer – boiling the kettle for three, always hopping the last stair, fighting for the phone charger.”
I think about how I used to visit every two months or so, for a couple of days at a time. I’ve been home now for 120 days straight, so in a way, I’ve added years and years to our time together – time that we would never have had otherwise.
People keep asking me when I’m going to go home. I don’t quite know how to tell them that I already am.
I’ve been quietly amazed that, during what is unquestionably one of the worst times of my life (of all our lives), I still wake up every morning with a sense of excitement for what the day might bring – no longer looking at the bigger picture, but taking our lives hour by hour.
I watch him unclip his Tupperware full of drugs every evening, and it hurts like hell. It makes me want to curl up right there on the kitchen tiles or throw them all wildly out the window.
I wish I could take a part of it, whichever he needed a break from the most. The hair loss, the fatigue, the nausea – if I could just take one and hold it in my own body, that would feel fairer.
But fairness doesn’t work like that. We all learnt that this year.
I’ll always try to feel hopeful. I think ahead to the next first plum of the season, and what life might be like by then.
A different world entirely, no doubt.
I picture the best-case scenario: it’s a golden evening, the curve has flattened, there is some sense of justice for the bereaved. We look at each other differently (more kindly?), the hair clippers are in the cupboard collecting dust, and I’m walking back from the plum tree – a ripe one in my hand.
‘Dad,’ I’ll say to him. ‘Look.’
Alanna Duffield | Instagram: @alannaduffieldpoetry
Alanna Duffield is a London-based copywriter with a MA and BA Hons in English and American literature. Born and raised on a farm in Sussex, Alanna writes her best stuff while out walking in the countryside – opening and closing the Notes app. In her spare time, Alanna is a published illustrator and hairy dog enthusiast.