Brutus and Rocky – The Pet Project Exhibition

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Brutus and Rocky strike a pose

(Photograph by Sam Rose)

About the Pet Project Exhibition – ‘One of the Family’

What is the Pet Project?

The Pet Project is a photography exhibition run with the aim to capture the importance of how dogs are part of our family.

This involves three master photographers – Janet Craig, Tina Urie and David Brittain who are working with Cancer Support WA to form The Pet Project.

The photographers are seeking pet owners and their dogs to take part in a professional photo shoot and are looking to capture one photo that demonstrates the love and connection between a person/people and their dogs.

How does the fundraising work?

Each person that enters will have their own fundraising page set up with their chosen photograph and a short write-up about their dog(s).  The next step is to get people to sponsor your fundraising page where all proceeds go to Cancer Support WA.

If you are lucky enough to raise $1,200 then you get a free canvas print of your photograph but either way, anything that is donated to Cancer Support WA is a welcome donation no matter how much it is.

Why?

Apart from showing the bond between dogs and their owners in a photograph and the fun of actually taking part in a photo shoot with your dog, the most important reason is to raise funds for Cancer Support WA.

About Cancer Support WA

I have tried to find the right words to describe the work that Cancer Support WA does, I have tried to find the right words to describe the benefits, the help and the priceless support that they offer to those affected by cancer but nothing I write seems adequate enough.

I have taken some of the information from their website but as for what they do and the services that they offer – I shall leave you to decide just how incredibly amazing Cancer Support WA are.

*Taken from the Cancer Support WA webpage*

“Cancer Support WA is a leading Western Australian cancer support service provider caring for people with cancer and their families”.

Doesn’t that sound simplistic and easy?  Well it isn’t because the words ‘care’ and ‘support’ do not even begin to describe the work that they do and the support that they offer to those that need it.

The Faces of Cancer

I believe that cancer has many faces and it takes on the form of whoever it invades and then the faces of the family and loved ones that it affects.

My friends, family and I are just some of the faces of cancer.  I have lost my Mum to the disease, my Dad, friend and sister are in remission from it, I have two friends currently fighting cancer and I have lost a very close friend in 2014 to the disease. Basically we are part of that cruel jigsaw puzzle that makes up a cancer diagnosis.

Here is a link to a previous blog I have done about my journey when my Mum was diagnosed with cancer.

How cancer has affected myself and my family

You can see it in the eyes of these people in terms of pain, fear, anger, confusion, hurt and a silent voice that screams ‘I am scared and I need help’ and this is where groups like Cancer Support WA can help.

The Importance of Support and Help

To have a counsellor at the end of the phone to offload to, for someone to tell you what assistance that you are entitled to and help you to get it; this can make a big difference to a person going through such a cold and lonely journey, because that is the only way I can describe it – ‘cold and lonely’.

It takes an entire team which include a huge network of professionals to support a family that has been affected by cancer and in order to have that team, it takes funding and lots of it.

*Figures taken directly from the Cancer Support WA website*

For example:

$1,000 can offer support to one person for a year

$120.00 can pay for a counselling session

$35.00 pays for a 24 hour cancer support service

$50.00 pays for a home and hospital visit

$200.00 pays for a family cancer management plan

$300.00 pays for a cancer care pack

$500.00 pays for a research library

These are services that we all hope that we will never need but in the event that we do, we would no doubt be grateful for each and every part of it which is why continued funding is so important.  So let’s help the support groups to support those that do need it.

About our photographer – Janet Craig

Our session was booked with Janet Craig who is a professional portrait photographer and owns a successful studio in North Fremantle. She is a Master Photographer with 3 gold bars with the Australian Institute of Professional Photography.

How I got involved in the Pet Project

I had seen the Pet Project advertised on Janet Craig’s Facebook page a couple of weeks ago.  They were seeking out Perth dog owners to see if they wanted to apply.

It looked fun, although the thought of my two boys in a photographic studio filled me with dread but Brutus had assured me that he would be a good boy and Rocky is always a good boy anyway so I thought ‘why not?’ and sent Janet a message, she quickly called me back and a date was organized for the shoot – Saturday 22 May.

A bit about what I write

For those of you that have not read my blog before, I write about talking animals.  Basically I give them their own perspective on life, I write about what they would say if they could talk and I bring their personalities to life in the way of humanizing them.

In my stories my dogs drink coffee, read the paper, have parties, go to school, have meetings and do all the stuff that humans do.  Some of my previous stories are quite adult in nature so if you do choose to read those, please be advised that sometimes adult content is used.  In this story however, it is child friendly and suitable for anyone with a good imagination and sense of humour.

My stories are childish, some may call them daft while others may say ‘animals can’t talk, don’t be stupid’ But I will say just one thing and that is if you do have a pet then I suggest you really observe him/her.

Because when you do, it will open up a whole new world comparable to that of ‘Dr Doolittle’ and once they start talking, you will be hard pressed to shut them up.

As I have said before, all animals can talk – it is just whether or not we choose to listen to them.

A bit about my dogs 

Rocky

Smiling RockyRocky

(Photograph by Sam Rose)

Rocky is a 7-year-old kelpie dog, he is grumpy and a bit disabled as he has bad hips.  Like a lot of kelpies, he is tennis ball focused which is difficult as being so disabled he is unable to have the ball thrown for him.

He enjoys barking at the garbage truck every Tuesday morning which is somewhat annoying so we have started to intercept that.  This usually ends up in an argument of some kind with accusations that we have ‘ruined his life’ and how he was ‘saving us from the garbage truck’.

Rocky is a very intelligent and sensible dog, he wears half rimmed spectacles and reads the newspaper while drinking ‘dog-o-cino’ coffees.

Brutus

choir dogBrutus – not the smartest kid on the block

(Photograph by Sam Rose)

Brutus is large 2.5 year old Rhodesian Ridgeback/Kelpie and could be what is described as the ‘Forrest Gump’ of the dog world.

He is not a smart dog and has a liking for ‘pronking’ (bouncing) in the air trying to catch the water-bombers when they fly over our house to put out bush fires and yes, he believes he can catch them.

On a couple of occasions I have found him on the bonnet of my car perched like a mountain goat while admiring the view and the butterflies.

Brutus talks in a deep, slow voice and if you could compare him to a kid at your school, he would be the annoying, clumsy and naughty child at the back of the class with a bad farting problem.

The morning of the photo shoot

It was the morning of the photo shoot and Brutus and Rocky were getting ready and trying to make themselves look halfway respectable.  Having never had a professional photograph taken before, they were practising various poses in the mirror while jostling each other for prime position.

‘Will you let me have a go!’ Rocky snapped to Brutus who was pouting and trying to flex his muscles.

‘I am trying to make myself look nice’ Brutus growled back which only made Rocky angry enough to nip Brutus on the bum.  Like typical vain teenagers, the dogs were sucking in their bellies, pouting and trying to find the most flattering of positions.

‘It’s so hard being a model’ Brutus said dramatically and briefly wondered if he should have had his dog chow for breakfast, but only briefly as he believed that breakfast breaks the dreadful famine that he has suffered during the night.

Help arrives

My good friend Moira and her son Chad were coming along to give me a hand with the boys.  Brutus at 30kgs and Rocky at 20kgs are a little bit too much for me to handle on my own so I was more than grateful for Moira and Chad’s offer of help.

We were taking my car and I was to sit in the back between the boys while Chad sat with Moira in the front.  Not used to having people in the back with them, Rocky and Brutus were clearly not happy at having to share the back of my car with me and it was only then that I realised just how disgusting my boys are.

The journey was quite dreadful with Brutus kicking me with his long legs claiming that there was not enough room for him to stretch.  Rocky was blatantly farting in front of me and when I told him off, he blushed and tried to claim that was what the back seat of a car was for – dogs and farting.  (I think it was the steak that I had fed him from the night before)

By the time we arrived at the studio in North Fremantle I was more than relieved to get out of the car and the boys were raring to get on with their photo shoot.

Getting ready for the shoot

Janet introduced herself and what a lovely lady she is as is her assistant.  They made us feel very welcome indeed.

The studio was large, light and airy with lots of props placed around it and the first thing that struck me was a gorgeous print of several dogs all sat outside a house, it was an incredible shot that spoke volumes and commanded your attention.

‘Oh my god, this place is enormous, it is bigger than our garden, can I dig it?’ Brutus barked excitedly and then jumped up on his hind legs to stare at himself in the mirror.

‘Right, show me where the sheep are, do you have sheep, if not tennis balls will do’ Rocky said firmly and glanced around to see if there was anything for him to herd up.

I had brought some props with me which included Brutus’s Harley Davidson cap, his beloved Tony Abbott doll which is his favourite toy of all time, a black vest that he sometimes wears and a tennis ball for Rocky who was already wearing his smart Australian flag neckerchief that he saves for special occasions.

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Brutus when I first bought him his Harley Davidson cap

(Photograph by Sam Rose)

While Janet got everything set up, we were waiting in the reception area that happened to have a large mirror there.  Now I don’t know if your dog’s ever react against their reflection in the mirror or even if they have ever seen themselves in the mirror but my Rocky dog has never really taken notice of himself in the mirror before up until now that is.

11377267_10152879323733317_2234150612644594788_nDon’t worry Brutus – Rocky has it covered!

(Photograph by Sam Rose)

Brutus was oblivious to the mirror as Brutus is oblivious to everything really except food and his friends, Tony Abbott and his puppy blanket.

AbbotBrutus, Tony Abbott and his puppy blanket (and a carrot)

(Photograph by Sam Rose)

But Rocky wasn’t and once Rocky had seen his reflection, he was absolutely furious about it because he doesn’t like other dogs gate crashing his personal space – even his own reflection.

RockyRocky – not amused by his own reflection

(Photograph by Sam Rose)

‘Excuse me, what on earth do you think you are doing here?’ Rocky growled at the angry little black kelpie dog that was staring back at him mirroring his expressions which annoyed Rocky so much that he was beside himself (in the mirror).

‘Who is that?’ Brutus demanded to Rocky and then stared at the reflection but only really noticing Rocky’s reflection.

‘Don’t worry Brutus, I’ve got this covered’ Rocky growled in an authoritative voice and then puffed himself up and to his horror, the dog in the reflection did the same.  It was ‘game on’ and Rocky would fight this kelpie dog to save his family – if he had to of course.

‘You have two seconds to get out of here before I make you cry’ barked Rocky and then looked back at Brutus and mouthed to him ‘It’s OK, I think he is scared of me’.

I could see things were going to get out of control and Rocky would end up beating his own mirror image up if I didn’t stop him, so thought I had better put him out of his misery.

‘Rocky, there is something I need to tell you’ I said to him gently, after all there is nothing worse than embarrassing your dog in public and it is quite unforgivable.

‘Step back Mum, this dog is aggressive’ Rocky said tried to nudge me backwards.

‘Rocky, it is not another dog, it is your reflection in the mirror’ I whispered to him.

Looking boot-faced, Rocky bristled with anger and after a painful silence replied simply ‘I knew that, I totally knew that’ and then did what any other dog that had been so publicly shamed would do, turned round and looked for another diversion.

‘Oh look, there is my tennis ball’ Rocky said in a voice that clearly said ‘I have been shamed’ and then trotted off with his hackles still raised.

‘Ha ha ha! You were growling at your own reflection!’ Brutus laughed to Rocky.

Then with a confused look on his face, Brutus asked him ‘Rocky, what is a reflection?’ Bless him, as I said he is not the smartest dog on the block.

Fun in the Studio

We were able to let the dogs go off the leash as the studio door was shut and as you can imagine this went down very well with the boys and totally unused to trotting around on a shiny floor, Brutus galloped around like a new-born foal getting tangled up in its legs.

‘Yay! Look at me!’ Brutus yelled as he ran from one end of the studio to the other.

‘He is SO childish, he is not my brother, please ignore him’ Rocky said looking so embarrassed to be in the same room as Brutus let alone witness the giant dog skidding all over the studio narrowly missing furniture as he did so looking like Scooby Doo on a ghost chase.

When it came to getting ready for the photos both dogs thought it was just one big game and perhaps it was but either way Janet had the patience of a saint.

The tennis ball was duly brought out and Rocky went into ‘Perfect Kelpie’ mode and some good shots of him catching his ball were taken while Brutus just galloped around the studio in his own little world, skidding along the floor and admiring himself in the mirror.

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Rocky knows how to be a good boy!

(Photograph by Moira Humphry)

‘This is great fun, I can move really fast without trying!’ Brutus shouted to Rocky as he came thundering round the corner tripping up in his own legs while Rocky was being ever the professional and doing marvellous things with his tennis ball.

When it came to Brutus’s turn to pose it was a bit like asking a child to sit quietly through a Cliff Richard concert – it just wasn’t happening.

We got some shots of the boys together while Brutus was asking Janet if he was THE most handsome dog she had ever laid eyes on.  Rocky just rolled his eyes at such vanity and looked fed up while secretly hoping that HE was the most handsome dog that Janet had ever seen.

After all, every dog loves to think that he/she is the most handsome and well-loved dog in the world don’t they?

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Trying to get the boys in one shot – not happening!

(Photograph by Moira Humphry)

I would like to tell you that both boys did everything obediently and for nothing other than praise but I would be lying.  Both dogs were heavily bribed with treats and high pitched squeaky sounds to make them look the part.

Brutus took full advantage of the bribery and ate his treats with such speed that one could be forgiven for thinking that he had been starved for 50 years.  Rocky was also bribed and quickly disowned his tennis ball in return for the dog treats.

‘I am SO loving it here, I love you Janet – do you love me? Can I play here on a weekday and have treats and run around and everything, do you do doggy daycare?’ Brutus said in a deep voice while speaking as quickly as the words could fall out of his mouth.

I am sure that Janet has heard it all before as there are several fabulous photographs of dogs in her studio looking all serene and obedient – unlike mine.  But Brutus decided that he liked Janet and her assistant, he liked skidding round the studios but most of all, he loved the treats.

The final few photographs were taken of the boys in my car and the reason behind that was that Rocky adores going in my car and loves it when I drive him round the palm tree in the garden with the seat belt on him in the front passenger seat.  In fact I actually believe that Rocky drives my car and hoons around Fremantle when I am not using it but that as they say, is another story.

CAR 2Rocky is a bit of a hoon in my car

(Photograph by Sam Rose)

‘Move over, it is my turn to drive’ Brutus growled at Rocky from the back seat.

‘No way, you think I am going to let you drive?’ Rocky snorted with laughter.  Rocky always gets his ‘Cop face’ on when he is in the front seat which I will add he always secured by his leash as well as a human seat belt when I drive him around the palm tree.

CArThis is Rocky with his ‘Cop Face’ on

(Photograph by Sam Rose)

His ‘Cop face’ is the kind of face you pull when a cop pulls up next to you in the traffic lights, where you look and check your mirrors, nod curtly at the officer, smile and pull away gently and slowly and then once the cop is out of sight, you shout and swear at the car/cyclist that has just cut you up.  Rocky has a professional and full on ‘Cop face’ when he is in the front of my car.

That is why it was fun to photograph the boys in the car, Rocky in the front and Brutus in the back looking like a dirty teenager.  Although whether or not the photographs turned out is anyone’s guess as Brutus wouldn’t look at the camera.

The dogs enjoyed themselves so much that they lost track of time and before we all knew it, the shoot had come to an end and it was time to go home.

‘And that as they say, is a wrap’ said Rocky.

‘Wrap? Did someone say wrap?  Chicken wrap?’ Brutus asked with his ears pricked up at the thought of food.

Rolling his eyes, Rocky shook his head and replied ‘That’s the lingo you see, that is what they all say in media – that’s a wrap’.

‘Who taught you that?’ Brutus demanded to know.

‘I saw it on TV once’ Rocky said knowingly.

‘Well if it’s a wrap, then why can’t mine be chicken?’ Brutus added and jumped in to the back seat so that I could secure him to his seat belt.

‘You have food on the brain’ Rocky snapped and then said in an apologetic voice to Janet ‘Please excuse my brother, his middle name is stomach’

‘Bye Janet, love you Janet’ shouted Brutus from the car as his big boofy brown head hung out of the window in order to say goodbye to his new friend.

‘Well that was fun wasn’t it?’ I said to the boys as we drove away from the studio towards home.

‘I am so tired that I think I might need extra food to compensate’ Brutus said in his most pleading ‘hungry’ voice and yes, he does actually have a ‘hungry’ voice that he uses when he is trying to get more food.

‘Yes I enjoyed that and it was nice to play with my tennis ball’ Rocky said happily.  You will have to forgive him for being obsessed with his ball to the point that he has a book called ‘Tennis balls and the modern-day Kelpie’ on his bookcase.

‘What about you Brutus, have you got anything to say?’ I asked him.

‘Do you think I have what it takes to be a model?’ Brutus asked as he tried to catch his reflection in my rear view mirror.

And that my friends is one question that I never got chance to answer because all I could hear was Rocky snorting with laughter.  But Brutus as a model?  I shall leave that one to you.

The End

Brutus and Rocky’s Pet Project Fundraising Page

If you would like to sponsor our photograph and donate to Cancer Support WA, please follow this link.  Donating is safe and easy to do and you will be making a difference.  You can also check out the photograph that Janet has picked from our session – but don’t be fooled by how angelic Brutus looks!

Please sponsor us if you can.

Brutus and Rocky Fundraising Page for Cancer Support WA

PurplePlease sponsor us if you can

(Photograph by Sam Rose)

Links

If you or your loved ones have been affected by cancer and would like to contact Cancer Support WA; the website is: Cancer Support WA

Cancer Support WA – Facebook Page

If you would like to book a photograph session with Janet Craig, the link to her page is: Janet Craig

Janet Craig Facebook Page

Samantha Rose (C) Copyright June 2015

Cancer Support WA figures and parts of Cancer Support WA write up – taken from their website as stated in article.

The Waiting Room

This article is about my journey when my Mum was diagnosed with cancer and to a certain extent – my Mum’s as well in the best way I can tell it as she can’t herself.

To respect the privacy and emotions of my family, they have had little mention in this because I believe that whilst we all played an essential part in helping and supporting Mum as a family, we all have our own story to tell.

We have all travelled our own path and this one is mine but it is by no means taking away the hard work and dedication that my sisters, nieces, and nephews and friends offered to my Mum – because trust me, that was when I realised the importance of family and just how close we are.  But as I said, this is my story as I saw it.

The Waiting Room

Most people I know would assume a waiting room is something that is found in a hospital, doctors, dentist, physiotherapist and they would be right but this article is not about that kind of waiting room.  It is about a waiting room that not everyone gets to visit and only some get to notice or observe.

When my Mum was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in November 2005, our (myself and my siblings) world ended as we knew it and little did we know, that we would be entering a dark tunnel of grief and pain.  I distinctly remember ‘bargaining with God’ to make her better, to make it a medical mistake, to make it a nightmare and most of all, to make us all wake up from that nightmare saying ‘Thank god that wasn’t real’.

Except it was real, it was also brutally harsh, cruel, emotional and exceptionally very painful and the emotional roller-coaster that took place after that fateful diagnosis will be one that every member of my family will remember – each for their own reasons.

When a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, the whole family dynamics change; quite simply they have to.  Each person will take on a role – nurse/carer, driver/organizer, worker/provider, support person etc and it normally is the best person takes on each job so to speak.

After the shock of a diagnosis when you realize that all the screaming and shouting and bargaining in the world won’t change the outcome, and that crying until your arms go numb and your eyes swell up from over crying – everything is still the same.  And when the shock of saying the word ‘cancer’ in the same sentence as your loved one has subsided (but not worn off because for some of us it doesn’t), only then do you start to get practical and make plans.

Because to be honest, you may not be able to change the outcome of the ‘hostile lodger’ that is cancer in your family, but you can change how you deal with it and what is said and done along the way.  So much is within your control if you choose it to be.

At the time of Mum’s diagnosis I was at university studying nursing (something that I never completed) and I remember when Mum was diagnosed, it was the loneliest period of my life.  It was like my foundations had been rocked and they had because Mum was the key part of those foundations and the fabric of my life.

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Mum and me in hospital

Even when the heater was on, I was cold – the coldest I had ever been, the loneliest, the saddest and the most frightened.  Who wrote the rulebook on cancer because I needed a section on how to cope?  There didn’t seem to be a chapter on that part.

‘Where do you get strength from?’ I asked a friend one day when I told him about my Mum, sobbing down the phone as he listened to me, not knowing what to say – who does in those situations?  Where did I find the strength to cope?   Well I shall tell you, I found it from my friends, I found it from the cancer support team, and I found it from my family knowing that the only people that truly know what you are going through are the ones that are going through or have been through the same thing.  But most of all I discovered a strength within me that I never knew existed, almost as though it lays dormant until required and then like a trooper, steps right up to the table.

The best advice came from a friend who wrote me a message which read simply ‘Spend every second you can with her, say everything you want to, leave nothing unsaid and make the most of each day with her’ (or words to that effect).  And it was that advice that served me well and something I would advise anyone else to do as well.

Due to Mum’s rapid deterioration, I gave up university; after all why should I study about caring for others when my Mum needed me to care for her?  Also the university couldn’t grant me any further compassionate leave but did offer me ‘some time off in the third year’ (I was in the first year) and as Mum was on borrowed time and had a poor prognosis, I bit the bullet and walked out of University that very day that they said that I couldn’t have further time off.

I remember walking through Ealing (London) feeling as though a weight had left my shoulders because now I could commit to what was important – my Mum.

“Mum, I have dropped out of Uni” I told her cheerfully but secretly terrified as I would have to pay back the NHS Bursary payment that I owed them.  How I was going to pay my way was anyone’s guess and I was more than aware of the strain that it would put on my husband who would be the sole earner.  Still, I did not regret that decision and I still don’t to this very day.

“You didn’t do that because of me did you?” Mum asked – sounding weak and tired on the phone.

“No of course not” I replied – which was partly true really as I didn’t want to stay in a place and an industry that claimed to care yet wouldn’t allow me to do the same with my own family.

“Liar” Mum replied – she knew me so well!

God bless the telephone….

I don’t know about you but to those of you that have been in a similar position, I found myself calling my Mum a million times a day, I would start off pretending that I needed to ask her something, then by the end of the day I would be doing it purely to hear her voice so I knew she was safe and ‘still alive’.  I will also admit to still having Mum’s mobile number on my phone because I cannot bring myself to delete it.

“Will you stop calling me, I have spoken to you lots of times already” Mum would tell me off.

“Love you Mum” I would say at the end of each call.

“Love you Smanff” (My childhood nickname) She would reply, I would tell her that I would speak to her tomorrow, she would agree but we both knew that I would call before bed.  Suddenly all the ‘I love you’s’ in the world were not enough and I had realized that up until now, I hadn’t appreciated her like I should have done.  I had always assumed that when I went back home, she would be there in her reclining chair with her handbag by the side of her, her glasses case on the arm and her coffee cup by the table.

I had assumed that she would be in her chair, grinning like a Cheshire cat when I walked in the door, as she would say “Hi Smanff”.

I had also assumed that I would always be able to call her and say “It’s me” and Mum would reply “Hello me” as she always did.  But we all know the old saying about assumption – just never do it because it will come back to bite you.

When Mum came out of hospital after the initial diagnosis, the family met up at Mum’s and we had a traditional Sunday roast and Mum sat at the end of the table like the Queen she was and also the most significant person at the table.  I had brought my video camera but sadly Mum was so tired she would fall in and out of sleep and the only footage I got of her that day was when she was asleep – why didn’t I video her before this diagnosis so that I would have had better and more memorable footage – now there’s a question I ask myself every day.

I recall looking at her, when did my larger than life character of a Mum get so tiny and frail – how on earth did that little body manage to hold such a big personality?  I wanted to stare at her face forever and take in every aspect so that I would remember everything; I stared at her until my eyes burned.  I stared at her chest to make sure she was breathing and I stared with all my heart and soul because I knew, well we all knew, that she was going to a place that we were not allowed to go to.

“I will fight it” Mum would say firmly looking more determined than I had ever seen her, but shortly afterwards she would be fast asleep in her chair looking as pale as pale can be.

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Mum – the ‘fighter’

She had been prescribed morphine quite early on but she hated it, she said it sent her ‘mad’ and much to the disapproval of the cancer nurse specialist, Mum stopped the morphine to regain her mental clarity on thoughts and judgment and you know something – that was her right to do so.

Mum seemed ‘normal’ for a while, well I say a while it might have been a few days, it might have been longer.  She was tired and she was uncomfortable but she was ‘with it’ as to quote her.

But very slowly, so slowly that you could barely notice it, she became quite distant, as though her mind had the ability to leave her body (and us) for a bit and go off somewhere else.

“What are you thinking Mum?” I would ask her at various times her when it appeared her mind had wondered.

“Nothing” Mum would reply.

This would be a daily question with the same response but one day when I saw her ‘escaping’ from her own thoughts, I asked her the question again.

“What are you thinking about Mum?” I said – expecting the same response.

Mum ‘came back’ from her ‘mind escape’ and stared at me hard.  Her piercing blue eyes bore into mine; she paused momentarily as if choosing her words carefully and replied firmly “I am thinking about how you kids will cope when I am gone”

That was when it dawned on me that how we (me and my family) coped with this, would determine how Mum would cope with her cancer and her own journey.

It took a huge amount of courage to say “We are going to be just fine” – Mum looked at me and held my hand.  She had ‘Mum hands’ – you know what ‘Mum hands’ are, they are special hands that kind Mums have, usually with too tight rings on them giving the impression of chubby fingers.  ‘Mum hands’ are used to cover your forehead to see if you have a temperature and are far more reliable than any thermometer.

These very special hands are used to comfort you, hold your hand and generally make you feel that nothing else could match nor compensate for the ‘Mum hands’ of your Mum – except for when she is giving you a clip round the ear for being naughty and then those hands are the biggest in the world and a force to be reckoned with.

Mum stared at me for what seemed ages, as if assessing my ability to cope without her.  Could she tell I was crying inside and begging her not to leave me, could she feel the raw pain I was feeling and the emotional and devastating need to go where she is going and hang on to her hands and follow her?

Mum then sighed and nodded, as though she had got all the answers that she needed, whatever she had tested me with, I had passed the initial stage and she could go on to the next stage in her life and that is what I have called ‘The Waiting Room’.

The Waiting Room – (my definition) ‘a place where your loved one starts to go when they want to prepare you for your life without them in it’ 

Obviously your experience may be different and you might have your own version of how things are when you are faced with losing a terminally ill relative but this is mine.

Mum’s mental escapes would become more and more frequent.  She would be sitting in her chair with her eyes open but she ‘wasn’t there’, she would go off into her own world and I couldn’t go with her.

“Where do you go Mum, can I come with you?” I wanted to ask but couldn’t.

One day I had to go to the shop to get her some milk for her coffee, when I got back, Mum was sat in her chair with a broken glass on the floor around her feet – I felt sick with horror of the what might have happened, she could have hurt herself badly and I hadn’t been there to protect her.

“Sorry, I broke a glass” Mum told me in a weak yet matter-of-fact voice and then off she went escaping from her own mind into ‘The Waiting Room’.

I cleaned up the glass and made her a mug of coffee and sat down next to her and decided that if I couldn’t join her in ‘The Waiting Room’ then I would try and watch her go there.

I made small talk with Mum and watched her nod and smile at suitably appropriate moments and then quite suddenly, Mum drifted off, her eyes took on a blank stare, she would stop communicating and off she would go into her new world ‘The Waiting Room’.

I stared at her and tried to imagine what it was like there and I came up with this explanation. 

They start off by distancing themselves from you at a tiny bit at a time, but prior to this, they need to know that you are ready for them to take this step.  It is an invisible room with an invisible wall that is so strong; it cannot be cracked nor broken in to.  They can see you but you cannot see them and they will keep dipping in and out of this room to check on you that you are OK and more to the point, that you are going to be OK and only when they are satisfied that you are strong enough, will they decide the time to make their last trip to The Waiting Room before they pass on to their ‘final resting place’ – wherever that may be depending on your beliefs (or not).

I sat for what seemed ages staring at Mum, with her ‘Mum hands’ all clenched up holding her own fingers, her eyes open, a wistful look on her face – wherever she was, I wanted to be there with her, why couldn’t I go with her, it just wasn’t fair?  But I guess there isn’t space for me there, I don’t know but I do know that I saw her go there, I saw it with my own eyes and heart and what is more; I felt it too.

Many a time I watched Mum go through to ‘The Waiting Room’, each time for a little longer and then quite suddenly she would answer a question as sharp as you like as though someone had whispered in her ear it was time to come back to me.

The times Mum was in ‘The Waiting Room’ were lonely times and although she was sat next to me, I was the loneliest and the coldest I had ever been in my life and no heater in the world could have warmed me up.

Mum hadn’t been out of hospital following her diagnosis for very long when she collapsed and was taken by ambulance to hospital.  I was back in London at the time with my husband after travelling between St Albans and Northolt, when I received the message and made my way to the hospital.

Hemel Hempstead Hospital

Mum was in hospital for about 10 days before a hospice bed was found for her, I refused to leave the hospital and was allowed to sleep on the floor in the dayroom and my goodness did we have some fun in there!

The following memories are to name but a few that happened in hospital and during that time we were there, we forged friendships with nurses, doctors, patients and relatives and the kindness of complete strangers totally restored my faith in humanity at that time.

Each evening I would help Mum settle and do little bits and pieces for her, then I would change into my pyjamas and shuffle off to the dayroom armed with my blanket and pillow and watch TV with the other patients.

One night I had cleaned Mum’s false teeth and I was standing over the sink with a pot of Steredent false teeth cleaner (the smell reminds me of Mum) and I said in a too loud voice “Mum, I have cleaned your false teeth for you and rinsed them for the morning”

Mum pursed her lips in a disapproving ‘Mum look’ and replied rather curtly “Thank you Samantha, now the whole ward knows I have false teeth!”

Aside from the fact that my darling Mum was sitting up in bed in a blue nightdress looking like a gummy bear with no teeth in her mouth, the whole ward could see that she had no teeth of her own!  Still I got told off for making it obvious – something that still makes me smile to this day.

Another time there was a male prisoner on the ward and he was handcuffed to two prison warders.  I made friends with him and would often go to Budgens to buy delicious food and share it with him and his wardens and another night the prison wardens treated him and me to pizza and we shared it – it was the best pizza that I had ever eaten and I will always remember that night we all fell asleep in the dayroom, me huddled up with a blanket and the prison wardens chained to the prisoner, occasionally jangling their chains each time they moved to change sleep positions.  I don’t know if I felt safe because they were there or unsafe because they had a prisoner.  But they were great company and so was the prisoner and I often think about what he is up to and if he or the prison wardens remember the tatty looking blonde woman curled up with a blanket late at night in the dayroom, or the night I treated them to smoked salmon from Budgens.

I told Mum about the prisoner and Mum said in a worried voice “I don’t know that I am happy about you hanging out with criminals”.  But she needn’t have worried, the guy was chained to two officers at all times and those poor bastards had to accompany the prisoner even to the toilet!

It was ever so funny one night; we were all in the dayroom having had our food and sharing sweets and stuff when the nurse came in to check on me.  Apparently Mum had said to the nurse “My Samantha is hanging out with a criminal, can you check she is OK?” (Imagine that in a Yorkshire accent!)

So myself, the prisoner, the two guards and the prisoners girlfriend (who was visiting at the time), all went down to Mum’s bed to show her that I was OK and the prisoner waved to Mum with his chains rattling and the prison wardens all waved as well and so did his girlfriend – it was like being a member of the Chain Gang!  Mum nervously waved back and raised her eyebrows!  We laughed about it the next day and Mum said I had surpassed myself ‘hobnobbing with the Underworld’!

Mum rarely went into ‘The Waiting Room’ when she was first in hospital, in fact she seemed to communicate more there than she ever did at home which told me that her need to have myself and my sisters and brother cope after she had gone, was really important to her and when she was in hospital, she didn’t have to pretend to be brave, she didn’t need to be scared of upsetting or scaring people because at the end of the day death and the grieving process is not only scary, but terrifying for all involved and after all, it’s something that ordinarily our parents want to protect us from.

One night I was sleeping beside her bed, curled up in a chair with a blanket and a pillow.  I had just fallen asleep and could feel someone poking me, I rubbed my eyes and looked up and it was Mum leaning out of her bed poking me to wake me up.

“Are you OK Mum?” I asked her.

“Just checking that you are still here” Mum replied and then patted me on the shoulder.  I curled back up again but stayed awake in case she needed me.

“Mum?” I asked her.

“Yes love?” Mum replied, I could see her beady little eyes glistening in the dim light of the hospital bed lamp.

“I love you” I replied.  I would have said it ten times as well, in fact I did under my breath when she was asleep.

“I love you too” Mum said and patted me again.

“Just so you know” I told her and I could feel her frail hand fumbling from the cot sides of the bed – I took it and held it, feeling her gnarled arthritic fingers grip mine – it was precisely 11.20pm, I remember the time well as I had my phone next to me.  That was how we would always fall asleep, holding each others hand and I wondered just how and when something so simple as holding hands could suddenly become so important and I held her hand as though my life and hers depended on it.

That became our bedtime mantra you know, “Mum I love you, just so you know” – I said that every single night up until the very morning that she died.

Mum had eventually started to go back to ‘The Waiting Room’ while she was in hospital.  One night we were watching ‘A Night at the Proms’ on TV and Mum was in her own world, probably assisted by the morphine and nothing would rouse her.

I was organizing her bed as I still liked to plump her pillows though and tidy her hair and just feel like I was doing something, in fact I ended up plumping a few pillows there of the elderly patients, to this day I don’t know if their pillows needed plumping or they allowed me to purely to humour me.  I assisted with the teas and coffees as well and we would all gather round someone’s bed at night and watch TV over a cuppa.

When a ‘Night out at the Proms’ were on TV, the all male opera group were on ‘IL Divo’ and they were Mum’s favourite, she loved them.  I recall Mum opening her eyes and giving a big grin before she went back to sleep, I guess those boys have the power to ‘get anyone out of the Waiting Room’!

The Hospice

Mum was transferred for what was to be her final journey to the hospice; I was in the ambulance with her.  We had all gained a level of acceptance, although it was still so painful, we knew what was going to happen and it was almost like an organized and controlled journey and it was out of our hands.

Many people in life are denied the chance to say goodbye to their loved ones, car crashes/plane crashes/murder/heart attack – all kinds of things can snatch a life so proper goodbyes are denied to those left behind.

With cancer and good medical care, you are often given the chance to say goodbye, either at the time or you can say your goodbyes beforehand – it doesn’t really matter, but basically you get the chance to say what needs to be said, you get the chance to say ‘I love you’ or ‘I am sorry’, or to make peace and get the chance to hold the hand of the one you love.  I consider myself blessed and incredibly lucky to have had that time with my Mum because not everyone is so lucky.

The Wedding Planner!

When my husband and I got married, we didn’t tell anyone – not our parents, or anyone and yes we hurt them, which is something, I regret doing to this day.  A week before Mum died, I had organized with the vicar in the hospice if we could renew our wedding vows and I would surprise Mum on Christmas Day – except that the best laid plans tend to screw up.

Mum had started to become confused and in the end I had to tell her about ‘the wedding’ to keep her focused.

“Mum, what is happening on Christmas Day?” I would ask her.

Mum who had been back in her ‘Waiting Room’ would very quickly come back to me and say “A Wedding” and then she would smile and be off again.  Mum was fading fast and I had 4 days to keep her, 4 days to make amends for marrying without her being there – 4 days, would she make it?

A (difficult) Decision

It was a couple of days before we renewed our wedding vows and I was assisting Mum with her tablets.

‘Here you go Mum’ I said and popped her medication in her hands and helped her put it in her mouth.

Her eyes fixed on me, she was out of ‘The Waiting Room’, and she moved her tongue from side to side in her mouth and then removed every single tablet and handed them back to me.  It didn’t register what she wanted so I made attempts to give them back to her.

“Come on Mum, you have to take your meds” I smiled at her.

“I said NO” Mum said firmly, her blue eyes burning holes into mine.  She was making a stand, making a choice and asking me to respect it.

“That’s OK Mum, you don’t have to do this anymore, I shall let the doctor know” I said softly, trying to hard not to cry that my eyes were burning.

Mum suddenly became more lucid and came out of ‘The Waiting Room’ and held my hand, she was trying not to cry. “But what about you kids, will you be alright?”

I will always remember what I said to her because it took every bit of strength to give her my next response.

“Don’t you worry about us, you have taught us well and I promise you that we are all going to be just fine” I replied.

Mum stared at me, nodded, held my hand and went straight back into ‘The Waiting Room’ quicker than I have ever seen her do, in fact I could have sworn that she skipped in there with a spring in her step – she was ready for the next stage in her life.  I held her hand and she maintained a weak grip on mine and that was how we remained until my sister arrived.

December 25th 2005

“Can’t stop, I have a wedding to go to!” The vicar said cheerfully after we had done the Christmas morning carol service where my niece had stood up and sang a song for Mum.

I remember wearing this horrible nasty grey jumper and some jeans, I looked awful but I still reserve the right to have the title of ‘blushing bride’ even if it was a while since I had blushed let alone initially made my wedding vows.

My family gathered round the bed and my husband and myself stood near the vicar and we had to read our vows from the bible.

There was one moment that Mum would have loved and that was when the vicars robes knocked over a jug of water and it went everywhere, I wanted to giggle but felt that God would have kicked my arse and told me off but I know my Mum would have laughed – perhaps she did and I never saw it.

Mum was barely awake, sedated from morphine and she could not be roused really.

Let me tell you that it took all my strength not to cry reading those vows and I suspect it would be the same for my family as well.  We all held on and remained composed as the vicar read out the vows and we repeated them.

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Our ‘wedding day’ by Mum’s bed

At the end of the ceremony, my nephew said, “Aunty Samantha, look! Quick, look at Nana!”

I looked at Mum’s face, she was lying on her back, her eyes open and tears pouring down her cheeks – she had heard it, she had heard everything I was sure of it!

“Mum, squeeze my hand if you heard the wedding” I said to her as I held her hand, which was cold and floppy.  To my immense surprise, Mum squeezed my hand as hard as she could.

“Mum, squeeze my hand if I have made it all OK” I whispered to her, wanting to try yet wanting to stay composed – tears would upset Mum, I was sure of that.

Mum squeezed my hand so hard that I wondered where her strength came from.  “Mum, I love you” I whispered close to her ears.

“I love you too,” Mum whispered in a husky barely audible voice.

26th December 2005

Mum died peacefully at 2.40pm on 26th December 2005.  It was like she had left ‘The Waiting Room’ and had gone to her final journey, she had fought to stay with us for as long as she could now she knew we would all be OK, she felt comfortable enough to leave us.

Where did you go Mum?

The question I ask myself all the time since Mum died is ‘Where did you go?’.  I want to know where she has gone, I want to know where she is and whilst it is nice when people tell me “She can see you, she knows you miss her”; I am rather selfish as I want proof of all this.

I saw what I perceived and interpreted as ‘The Waiting Room’, is it so selfish of me to want a glimpse of what is beyond that?

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Me doing Race for Life in Mum’s name

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Abdel, Mum and me – healthier days and Mum always smiling!

Dedicated to my Mum whose strength in her journey taught me how to be strong myself and how not to be afraid of what life may throw at me.

IF YOU REQUIRE HELP AND SUPPORT

Cancer is not only a disease, it is a lonely and traumatic journey that can turn your life on its head – but there is help out there and please do not be ashamed to admit that you need a helping hand to cope – either for yourself or your family.

The biggest step is deciding that you need to talk to someone and by talking to someone, you take the first step of managing the grieving process, because at the end of the day it is that – a grieving process that has to be dealt with by yourself.

Please be kind to yourself and remember that there is help out there, reach out for it and don’t be scared to ask for it.  Something I found helpful was before I went to bed each night, was to write down in a notebook exactly how I was feeling, it was random, it made no sense, it was barely readable but as my psychotherapist told me ‘If it’s on paper then it’s out of your head’ and he was right.  Then I would rip it up and throw it away and even I  was surprised at how much lighter I felt after doing it.

Here are some links that you may find useful – although some of these are UK links, you may find the equivalent in your own country.

Samantha Rose (C) Copyright 2013

Cancer Council/Cancer Research – Not Just ‘Faceless’ Charities

For me personally, November is a testing month with regards to emotions as I keep thinking back to November 11th 2005 when my Mum was given the news that shocked our whole family. I remember at that time thinking I would do anything, pay anything, turn to religion or if I had to, do a bloody deal with the devil to have my Mum cured of a disease that robs, affects and tears the lives of families apart – cancer.

Earlier this year I was offered a two day temp role with Cancer Council WA and it was here where I learned a few things about cancer charities and what they do.

Firstly you may think that you don’t need to donate because a couple of dollars wont make much of a difference. Well actually it makes all the difference. I used to open the mail at the Cancer Council and see just how many $2 donations we would receive every day so trust me, it all makes a difference.

‘Cancer hasn’t affected me – so what?’ I used to think like that until I saw my strong Mum have her life taken away by this disease. Then I heard that one my best friend in the UK got diagnosed but thankfully she kicked its ass and beat it.

So whilst I am ashamed to admit that at one time cancer had not affected me and that giving money to a faceless charity was not on my agenda, I can tell you that now it has affected me and my family big time and you know something? It’s not nice.

I have come to realize that Cancer Council/Research is far from a faceless charity – it carries the faces of everyone that has been taken or affected and its painful legacy lives on and will live on until a cure is found and for me, it carries the face of my Mum and each advertisement I see has my Mum’s face on it, it carries the faces of my family and I repeat, it carries the faces of everyone that has been affected by it.

Where does the money go? – Let me tell you about where your money goes. it goes towards training people to man the phone lines, it goes to provide support in the way of food, medicine, treatment, nurses, psychologists, counselors, the staff that work so hard at the Cancer Council and believe me when I say this, they are fantastic, special people and many of which are ‘survivors’ themselves.

Your money goes on medical research, hospice care, home care, cancer drugs, – all the things that make this charity tick which in turn give patients and their families the support and lifeline that they so desperately need.

Why haven’t they found a cure after all this time? New drugs and modern medicine are being developed all the time. Cancer is a bastard of a disease, it is a clever disease with hundreds of factors to take in to consideration – family history, genetics, exposure to certain chemicals/hazards, risks of taking certain medicines, quite simply it is a minefield.

There are many different kinds of cancers, some so aggressive that it requires equally aggressive medicine to fight it. My Mum had the aggressive form that ‘stole’ her within 6 weeks of diagnosis, it was too late to treat her by the time she was diagnosed.  However, she was lucky enough to be able to spend the last of her life in a hospice with specially trained staff to enable to her pass away pain free with dignity.

Doctors are not just fighting one enemy with cancer – there are many different kinds that make for a ‘harsh army’.

Fifty years ago a persons chances of surviving cancer would be nowhere near what they are now and that is due to the skill and dedication of the doctors/medical staff trained in that area, plus modern medicine and a thirst by this profession to gain the knowledge to fight this disease.

So please do not be disheartened that there is no cure as yet, because behind the scenes of the ‘faceless charity’ are teams of people doing their best to find one because nobody wants this disease and nobody chooses to have it.

If you are lucky enough to never have been affected by cancer then I am jealous, so jealous I could cry because you wouldn’t know the pain that comes with hearing that word as a diagnosis. The shock of hearing the word ‘cancer’ in the same sentence as your loved one.

If you have never been affected by cancer, you would not have experienced the feeling of crying until your arms go numb because no bastard is going to take away your loved one and if you cry loud enough and hard enough, and stamp your feet even, surely it wont happen? Hell, you won’t even know where you got those tears from or that you had so many to cry.

But all I ask is that when you see someone collecting for a cancer charity, give them your spare change – no matter how little it is, it makes a difference, it all makes a difference.

When did I change my mind and why? I will tell you – I changed mind on the 11th November at 11.01am as Big Ben chimed to mark Remembrance Day, when I hugged my Mum on her hospital bed as she had just been given the news that cancer had indeed decided to become ‘part of our family’ and completely uninvited.

Quite simply, I changed my mind when I lost my Mum to cancer.

This status is dedicated to the following:

The cancer charities, the oncologists, doctors, nurses, specialists – everyone that fights so tirelessly to find treatment and a cure for this disease.

To the champions that beat this bastard and keep smiling along the way and prove that modern medicine and cancer research not only works, but is pretty damned awesome as well.

And finally to my Mum, Avice Stocken who lost her 6 week battle to cancer on 26th December 2005, but put up a damn good fight along the way.

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Samantha Rose (c) copyright 2012