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A Life Less Lost: Chapter 20

...On Friday, we collect the boys from school, stop off for the radiotherapy treatment and then drive on to a village called Stone in Staffordshire. We have collected vouchers to stay at a Country Club Hotel with satellite TV in the rooms, a pool and mini-gym. David and I splash about in the pool and play on the exercise machines. Howard enjoys not having to rush anywhere or answer phones.

James is pale and listless. It's clear that he feels dreadful but still manages a swim and watches a few films on TV...

Kimm Walker continues her profoundly moving account of her 15-year-old son James's battle with cancer.

To purchase a copy 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 Kimm's Web site http://kbwalker-lifelesslost.blogspot.com/

With the fourth chemotherapy behind us, James has to have all the full body tests again in what they call 'restaging'. We go back to the horrible heart hospital, then to two other Leeds hospitals for a CT scan, a bone scan, kidney tests and a general anaesthetic for two bone marrow tests. James has to drink a litre of radioactive contrasts for the CT, which tastes disgusting he says, and scares me senseless. We are in three hospitals in one day.

It's Howard's fortieth birthday and we manage to have a mini-surprise party for him, with help from his Mum and sister, Louise, who make most of the food. His cousin, Michael, drives all the way down from Scotland to be part of the surprise. James puts a brave face on and joins in with the party games and we all have a good time. I can't help but remember the brilliant treat I had on my fortieth and feel heartbroken that my lovely husband has only this subdued celebration by comparison. The following night he has a drink with his workmates at a local pub, then takes the next five days off (for a mini-holiday, not a hangover).

On Friday, we collect the boys from school, stop off for the radiotherapy treatment and then drive on to a village called Stone in Staffordshire. We have collected vouchers to stay at a Country Club Hotel with satellite TV in the rooms, a pool and mini-gym. David and I splash about in the pool and play on the exercise machines. Howard enjoys not having to rush anywhere or answer phones.

James is pale and listless. It's clear that he feels dreadful but still manages a swim and watches a few films on TV.

We eat in nice restaurants and choose delicious sounding meals but I'm unable to taste my food, as James pushes his around the plate. On Saturday, we visit Jodrell Bank observatory. There's a planetarium, museum with hands-on exhibits and an outdoor environmental centre with paths accessible for wheelchairs, enough to distract James and spark his interest so we all enjoy the day. We can't agree on what to do on Sunday so just end up driving the scenic route home through the beautiful Peak District. A soft rain blurs the countryside and seems to blanket our chatter. We stop and order giant sandwiches, which we can't finish.

The following weekend, our wonderful friends and neighbours, Pat and Dave, take James and David to the cinema, keep them for a sleepover and then on to Alton Towers theme park in the morning. They have a fantastic time and are full of stories about the various rides and how they were able to queue jump once or twice because of the wheel chair. It helps James to have something positive made out of the thing that usually inspires pity.

It's good for James and me to have a break from one another. Howard and I have a lovely meal out together. We're all able to restore a bit of strength
ready for what is to come next.

*

When the boys were five and seven years old we moved to a house with a bigger garden and a strip of woodland running behind, perfect for rope swings and dens. We'd tripled the value of our previous property and planned to build an extension on this thirty-year-old, two-bedroom, split-level bungalow.

Within eight months of moving, Howard was invited to be part of a management buyout at work. This meant we would be shareholders in the company, for better or worse. It also meant we had to invest every bit of the money we'd put to one side for our extension, plus borrow a bit more. It was a risk, but we both felt it was a calculated risk, because Howard would be part of the team making the company work. It had that 'right' feel, as when it's something God wants you to do.

Being part of a team, making decisions and sharing responsibility for the success of the company gave Howard new interest, enthusiasm and drive. As the company's purchasing director, he also enjoyed trips to various motor shows across Europe and social events including theatre trips, meals, clay pigeon shooting and opportunities to drive in racing cars or watch rally driving.

Sometimes I was invited but more often than not he was to go on his own. Yet as busy as he was, caught up in this high-powered, more glamorous life, I knew his family was still central to him. He told funny stories about the things he'd seen in the red light districts of various European cities and the 'most macho' competitions, like who can stay up the latest and drink the most, that business men have when they're away from home.

The children had mixed feelings about the move. James, having just turned seven and with two front teeth missing, started sucking his thumb. When I asked him if he didn't think he was a little old for that, he told me he knew someone on 'the edge of thirteen' that sucked their thumb, so what could I say?

David wasn't yet a fluent reader. The new school had a different reading scheme and he suddenly lost all confidence. He also began to scream and fight against going to school, which was very distressing for us both. Thankfully, as a teacher, I was able to bring word games home and restore his pleasure in reading, which helped a bit but he never really enjoyed school again. He did seem happier the following year and when I mentioned it to another parent, she told me that his previous teacher didn't like boys.

It was an old-fashioned school in a modern building. Boys had to wear shorts all year round and parents weren't allowed past the school gates. We had to stand in a long line, peering over the hedge, until the teachers came out and collected the children for the day. It was a nice way to meet the other mothers, though. One mum invited me to a party in her home and it turned out she knew Howard from their school days.

Parents weren't allowed to help in classrooms either but I was determined to find a way to ease David's unhappiness. I eventually managed to get past the high security by volunteering to help teach computer skills to the children and was given a cupboard to work in.

A boy, Jim, from James' swimming lessons lived one house up from ours. His birthday came between James' and David's and they all shared a passion for films and the outdoors. The two families developed lasting friendships. Jim's two-year-old sister, Lucy, tickled us all by declaring that blonde Howard reminded her of Desmond Tutu. We think it had something to do with the smiles.
Jim's mum, Pat, is even taller than me, stunning, thoughtful and very sociable. She has a flair for organising outings and parties. His dad, Dave, used to play football in his youth, has a deep, mumbley sort of voice and a wicked sense of humour. Pat and Dave soon joined our weekly badminton games along with good friends of theirs, Ed and Lyn.

When we first moved in, I contacted the school to see if they could put me in touch with someone who would have my children for about quarter of an hour and take them to school on the mornings that I had to be at work. We made an arrangement with a kind neighbour that had a son David's age. Unfortunately, the boys didn't really hit it off. By the time David had a plastic spade thrown at him, resulting in stitches in his head, and James had received a black eye, we agreed I needed to find an alternative solution. The local child-minder charged an extortionate rate and had a manner that I couldn't warm to. Thankfully, Pat stepped in and offered her support.

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