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A Life Less Lost: Chapter 9

...I take James swimming because it’s an exercise he can do without pain. I encourage him to try visual imaging. This is when you visualise your immune system to be made up of strong and powerful creatures, which attack the horrible cancer cells. We go to funny films, share jokes and watch things that make us laugh on TV because laughter releases endorphins to boost the immune system. We claw back some control over the situation...

K B Walker continues her account of the battle to restore her 15-year-old son James to full health after he had been diagnosed as suffering from a rare form of cancer.

To purchase a copy of Kimm's inspirational and profoundly moving book A Life Less Lost click on http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_ss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=A+Life+Less+Lost

And do visit her Web site http://kbwalker-lifelesslost.blogspot.com/

We are determined that at the end of all this we won’t have to be haunted by ‘what ifs’. We try to investigate every possible way to help James; items brought to our attention by family or friends, information found on the Internet, in newspapers, magazines or books. We attempt to double-check anything we find to ensure whatever decisions we have to make are as well informed as possible.

Fast or pre-packaged foods are discarded in favour of lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and home made meals. I take James swimming because it’s an exercise he can do without pain. I encourage him to try visual imaging. This is when you visualise your immune system to be made up of strong and powerful creatures, which attack the horrible cancer cells. We go to funny films, share jokes and watch things that make us laugh on TV because laughter releases endorphins to boost the immune system. We claw back some control over the situation.

Perhaps because of his age and the very real risk of infertility, the doctors offer James the opportunity to have some of his sperm frozen before his treatment begins. He finds this excruciatingly embarrassing. But James is determined that he will get well and wants at least to have the opportunity to lead a normal life so he perseveres.

Adjusting to being pushed in a wheelchair is another experience that takes courage. James says he can’t believe the difference in the way people look at him when in a wheelchair compared to when he’s managing on crutches. But a wheelchair enables him to get out more, as walking on crutches is quite exhausting to say nothing of coping with the increasing pain. To all critics of shopping malls, I would suggest they try to push an adult in a wheelchair. Certainly in our local town, if not most towns, broken pavements, curbs and doorsills often make it impossible.

*

The phone call from my mother’s sister and the thought of my son being a parent some day makes me think about my mom. We were opposites in many ways, which made understanding one another challenging at times. I was a ‘homebody’ and didn’t mind being on my own where Mom thrived on the company of others. She’d been a ‘daddy’s girl’ and didn’t always see eye to eye with her mom. My dad worked and played hard, wasn’t very affectionate and, as a child, I found him a bit aloof. I knew he loved me and was proud of me. There were tickling games when we were little and I remember my first time skiing down a slope in the awesome Rocky Mountains between the protective ‘v’ of his skis. But I longed to be a ‘mommy’s girl’.

I remember feeling a mixture of guilt, pride and excitement as a little girl, when my mother took me out of school early on Wednesdays to learn to ski. She was a high school PE teacher then and ran a ski club. Judging by the amount of time I spent sitting behind the class piano for talking, I imagine my teacher was relieved to see me go.

From a young age, Mom tried to instil in us a love of music. I can remember vividly, dancing round the living room to the powerful notes of Grieg’s ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’. She enjoyed a wide range of genres but I always think about her when I hear ‘Climb Every Mountain’ from The Sound of Music or ‘To Dream the Impossible Dream’ from Man from La Mancha.

Once when I’d broken the rules and stayed out after dark, losing the time in the excitement of a neighbourhood game, my mother told me she would have to spank me. We had a wooden paddle that was a souvenir from a fraternity or sorority house. She said it was the only way she could think of to make me realise the importance of being home on time and respecting rules. There were tears in her eyes when she’d done it and they hurt a lot more than the tap on my bottom.

When my mother decided to go back to university to do a Master’s and PhD in clinical psychology, she continued to work part-time and remained active in her sport and social activities. I was very jealous and disappointed when my brothers were able to go off on various ‘boys’ only events with my dad but the promised ‘girls’ days out never materialised.

As busy as my mother was, for a few years we had a wonderful woman called Bertha who looked after us a few days a week and tried to keep the house clean. She was originally from Mexico and introduced us to a new culture and delicious foods. For a time, my youngest brother knew more Spanish words than English.
One day, when I’d brought a friend home from school, I found my mom and Bertha enjoying a cup of coffee together in the kitchen. I proceeded to introduce them to my friend saying, ‘This is my mom and Bertha, our cleaning lady.’ There was a horrified silence and I was subsequently informed that I had done a gross unkindness to Bertha in not introducing her as ‘our friend’. It hadn’t occurred to me that cleaning ladies weren’t also, obviously, friends.

My mother encouraged me to believe in myself. One summer I had the idea of setting up a sort of day camp for younger children from the neighbourhood, in our garden. I must have been about twelve. She listened to my enthusiasm and gently added questions that would help me to think it through more carefully and make it a success. I went door to door asking the parents, planned outings we could do on foot, got cookies and juice ready, played games and read stories, all good practice for the teaching I would do later in life.

The long twelve-week holidays were a struggle for working parents. I resisted organised groups like summer camps but I was often sent to spend a fortnight with either my cousin in the log cabin in Northern Michigan or my cousins in Maryland. My brothers never seemed to do this, although they also had male cousins of similar ages, and neither did any of my cousins ever come to stay with us.

Perhaps because of this, I developed quite overwhelming homesickness, which was treated as silly nonsense. It wasn’t so bad during the day, when I could keep busy, but alone at night it engulfed me. When my crying disturbed my cousins in Maryland, after trying unsuccessfully to sooth me, I was made to sleep in my uncle’s office attached to the house and eventually given something to help me sleep. At sixth grade school camp, I cried so much I was ill and they sent me home. My mother promptly sent me back the next day.

In my pre- and early teen years, my mom would sometimes come and lay beside me at bedtime and we would talk. She discussed in general terms the kinds of problems some of the children in her care were facing and the ways in which she tried to help them unlock their fears and pain. She taught me that loud, show-offs were often the most insecure and made me wonder at the idea that you need to love yourself before others can love you.

I felt grown up and privileged to be able to share in her experiences and felt secure enough to talk to her about my most secret discoveries, personal trials and tribulations. Away from distractions, what we lacked in quantity of time together, we made up for in quality.

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