In just over a week I will be officially old J On Easter Day, that greatest of Christian festivals, I will qualify to draw my church pension and will celebrate a birthday I once wondered whether I would live to see. Before then, however, we have another important family birthday to celebrate: that of Grandson #1, which falls tomorrow.
Luckily, given our fading memories, all three grandsons’ birthdays are easy to remember. Grandson #3 was born on another of the great festivals of the church (and one of my favourites) – Epiphany, while Grandson #2’s arrival coincided with our wedding anniversary. How sensible of Prince William and his fiancée to choose such an auspicious date for their wedding.
However, I remember the birth of Grandson #1 for a very different reason.
Just before Christmas twelve years ago, when DD was 5 months pregnant, I was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time. In the initial daze of shock and fear I briefly wondered whether I would even live to see the birth of our first grandchild and certainly whether I would be fortunate enough to watch him or her grow up. As it turned out, I was one of the lucky ones, whose cancer had been found early and was eminently treatable.
Early in the New Year I had surgery, and a few weeks after that started on a 5-week course of radiotherapy. This necessitated my making a daily round-trip of 88 miles on country roads to the nearest District General Hospital – three hours of driving for three minutes of treatment. I beguiled the tedium of the journeys with the wonders of audio-books and with daydreaming about my impending grandmotherhood, to which I was looking forward immensely.
The course of radiotherapy finished a fortnight before the baby was due. Ten days later I drove through a mid-April snowstorm to visit DD, who had been admitted early to hospital, and to stay with our son-in-law until the birth. We didn’t know whether it would be a boy or a girl, as DD and her husband hadn’t wanted to spoil the surprise. In the event we welcomed with joy and gratitude the safe arrival of the first of our three grandsons, and suddenly life took on a whole new dimension and meaning.
After my operation, the kindly consultant had given me a very good prognosis, but the radiotherapy and the driving had been hard work. Now the birth of this first grandchild brought me a new sense of optimism and hope for a future that had for a little while seemed doubtful. I could look forward again, not back, and could trust that, barring accidents, I would indeed live to see him grow up. Even a totally unexpected recurrence of the cancer when he was six didn’t destroy this hope, though it certainly dented it for a time, until tests showed that again I had been fortunate and the cancer had not spread.
Now, as the magic age of 65 looms, I am so glad still to be here and watching all three grandsons growing up into loveable, talented and unique individuals. Each birthday is celebrated as the significant milestone it is, but still, for me, the birthday of Grandson #1 has a special meaning, as I remember what might have been and give renewed thanks for what is and what may yet be to come. Having had cancer twice, I know that the future can never be taken for granted, but at present life is good and I am content, and always, always grateful.