Getting over the hump

As time goes by life becomes just that little bit easier. Without Rosie I must find my own course through challenges and obstacles, through life. What I do with and for my children is now entirely my decision. It’s up to me to interpret what I feel is best for Natalie and Joseph based on Rosie’s letter to her closest friends, our past discussions and my intuition. The same goes for the rest of my life; what I do, how I find happiness.

My life has in some ways become something that I never anticipated, never contemplated, never imagined. But despite the obvious upheavals I am beginning to rediscover my self-confidence. Actually, if the truth be told it’s not so much a rediscovery but a personal awakening. Before I met Rosie it is fair to say that I wasn’t the most confident of people. Over our years together she instilled in me a sense of self-worth, and confidence. It is with that confidence that I am starting to rebuild who I am. Yes I still doubt myself. Yes I still question my value compared to others. But I know, for the sake of my children and more importantly myself that I can and will become a stronger person, with greater self belief; much as I was when Rosie was by my side.

This morning I’ve been watching an amazing online masterclass given by Aaron Sorkin on the craft of screenwriting. For those of you who don’t know Sorkin, he is the brilliant writer behind numerous films, plays and TV series. But the one which will always be the one for me is ‘The West Wing’. Rosie and I watched all seven series over and over again. At times I could recite whole tracts of script or précis any episode, recalling the name and the episode number in question. Sad? Yes I know, but everyone has to have something that gets them going!!

As I have written before, in her final letters to me Rosie gave numerous instructions. Most were big, some were life-affirming and some were difficult to carry out. In amongst those letters was one innocuous direction, “make sure you watch West Wing with the children”. On the face of it that seems like an odd thing to add to one’s final letters. But I know Rosie and know what she meant by that. Firstly, she knew that no matter how old the series would appear to our delightful little children there were still lessons to be learned. Friendship is priceless; be honourable; stand by your principles; stand your ground; don’t be swayed if you know you’re right; always do the right thing, no matter how hard it might be. But second, she knew how much we enjoyed watching it together, and that by watching it with the children I would remember her fondly. And she was right.

The problem is that since she died I really couldn’t ever see myself watching the programme again without her. Until today. In that masterclass Sorkin references some of the classic scenes, which are then shown. Having watched those clips I now realise that I am ready to see The West Wing again. And with that realisation I also recognise a number of other aspects of life that I am ready to begin re-engaging with. Life really is for living. No it’s not straightforward, and it certainly isn’t like an episode of The West Wing with a neat and tidy ending. But the life I’m living is the one I choose to live, in the best way I know. I have no idea what the outcomes will be but I will certainly never regret trying. What’s next?*

Elliot

 

*a little nod to Jed Batlet

A heartfelt tribute

You might or might not know that Rosie was a Facebook fiend. In fact without her maniacal love of it I would never have returned to use it again after a six-year absence. It is all too often derided by many (me included) as a place for fake friendships and innumerable and pointless photos of cats (sorry to all those cat lovers out there). But in Facebook Rosie found an outlet. A number of years ago she started the Wonderful Working Mums group – to date is has 2,601 members. The name says it all. It is a group for working mums to get together and to swap tips on everything from child care to career advancement.

And then there are the various cancer support groups which she took inspiration from and participated in. One of these, the Younger Breast Cancer Network (UK), founded by Victoria Yates, was so very important to her in the year since her diagnosis. It was here that she met and made so many true friends; friends who since her death have been in regular contact with me. Almost every message I receive begins with the words “I never met Rosie, but…”. To me it is a sign of her strength and powerful personality that friendships forged online have lasted beyond her life in a way that friendships do in the real world.

Throughout the month of October, Breast Cancer Awareness month, YBCN has been telling the stories of young women who have survived and succumbed to breast cancer. Their campaign is named #nottooyoung. In the words of one of their members the campaign is “trying to counter the pink and fluffy side of Breast Cancer Awareness month, so that women understand it’s not as straightforward as buying a pink pair of pants or showing your bra strap to make a genuine difference to research and development of a cure for the disease. We want to try to encourage women to look, check and get changes investigated early, and to understand most of all that breast cancer is not an older womens’ disease.”

I was asked if I’d be willing to allow Rosie’s story to be told. There was no debate, of course they could use her story. Below are the elegant words which were written about Rosie. For those of you on Facebook you can check out this campaign for yourselves here.

I want to endorse the sentiments of the campaign and reinforce its message. Rosie’s charity will be aiming to do a great deal of this too and I hope we can make a small but significant contribution to eradicating this appalling killer.

Elliot

Rosie, 38, ‪#‎nottooyoung‬

This is Rosie. Rosie lived in North West London. Rosie was a wife, mother of two, Oxford graduate and partner in a City law firm. She was diagnosed in June 2014 with primary breast cancer. Then in December 2014, just as she had finished her course of chemotherapy, Rosie found a new lump. The cancer had returned and spread to her liver. This meant that the cancer was now incurable. Rosie died in June 2015, just one year after her initial diagnosis. She was 38 years old.

Throughout her illness, Rosie blogged about her experiences as a breast cancer patient, winning international acclaim and awards for her blog, Fighting Ghengis. Though originally written as a private journal, her final message was covered by the English and Irish media and The Huffington Post, which gives you an indication of how far and wide she managed to spread her message.

Rosie provided many members of YBCN with comforting words, advice and support often on a personal, one to one level. She was an active member of our online community, leading discussions about symptoms and side effects, chipping in with advice on how to manage some of the problems we all encounter as breast cancer patients, and making many of us howl with laughter with her wicked sense of humour, despite the personal challenges she was facing.

Rosie was incredibly motivated and organised, arranging a YBCN social event whilst in the midst of her treatment. She mobilised dozens of our members from across the country to meet up in central London for afternoon tea and, later that evening, a meal, vodka shots and dancing!

Her enthusiasm for life shone through in her posts, and her wisdom and kindness were almost palpable to those who ‘met’ her through YBCN. Her warmth and sincerity came through the screen and into people’s lives.

So who was Rosie? She read jurisprudence at Brasenose College Oxford, attaining a double first with a prize in European law. While at Oxford she developed many close friendships, which endured with her. After law school, she networked hard to secure a rare internship in competition law at the European Commission.

She was a partner at her second firm by the age of 33 and from there, moved to a significant partnership role at Bristow’s, where she flourished.

Within five weeks of meeting Rosie, her husband Elliot had determined that he had found the one. As a mother, Rosie was peerless. She was a hard-working, highly successful city lawyer and a fully engaged parent. She never did anything by halves. She started the very successful “Wonderful Working Mums” network on Facebook.

Rosie loved her two children, Natalie and Joseph, for all their individuality. She saw so many of her own good traits in Natalie; the bookworm and the natural born leader, whilst Joey would be there to defend Natalie. He was a protector of the family and she loved that in him. She loved his sheer joy of life and his force of personality.

Rosie was a brilliant, accomplished young woman of tenacity, resilience, strength and determination. Yet on being called ‘inspirational’ we’re told she had retorted that she was simply “doing the very best she could in a shitty situation.”

And yet Rosie gave inspiration. She championed everybody to be the best person they could be. She gave life a massive ‘yes’.
Rosie never let go of her wish for life and was determined to do the best she could. Her instruction to her loved ones? “Life’s too short. Do the right thing.”

We miss you Rosie. You’ll always shine brightly as one of the YBCN family.

Younger Breast Cancer Network (UK)'s photo.

My hats off to all single parents

A statement of the bleeding obvious: The past weeks have been a challenging time. For the children the utter devastation, at such a tender age, wrought by the loss of their mummy is practically unimaginable to me; and I say that as someone who lost his dad aged 15. For me, the loss of my best friend, my guardian angel, my everything is simply unbelievable. It still hasn’t sunk in that Rosie is no longer here and that she’s not coming back. The emotional impact is constant and will be with us forever.

On a practical level I’ve had to get used to being a single dad. It’s probably not as colossal to deal with as it could have been. Rosie and I have a phenomenally close family, all of whom have rallied round to help me and the children. We have a wonderful nanny without whom I have no idea how the children would get out of the house in the morning. The children receive tremendous emotional support from all of them. But at the end of the day when everyone has left our home it’s just Joey, Tali and me.

A few weeks ago Natalie, Joseph and I went away to Dorset. I booked the holiday soon after Rosie died, mainly because I was encouraged to plan a summer holiday. I’ve never been a holiday person – a break from work is enough for me and in years gone by (before Rosie) that might just been a week of lazing around at home, reading or watching TV.

But Rosie lived for holidays. She raised the task of planning one to an art form. No sooner had the last holiday finished than the next one was being planned…and sometimes it was sooner than that. And in her capable and willing hands it was something which I was more than happy to leave her to look after.

Having to actively think and plan a holiday for the first time in many years was a bit daunting. As it happened I needn’t have felt so overwhelmed. You’ll be unsurprised to hear that Rosie had already done the hard work. Last October we went on a wonderful family holiday to Suffolk. The hotel was tailor-made for families like ours. Young children who don’t have a volume control, middle class parents who haven’t the energy for slumming it and perfectly good food. That hotel is part of a small chain and Rosie had earlier this year talked about its sister hotel, Moonfleet Manor. That had stuck with me and that’s where I booked.

So mid-summer arrived and the three of us drove South. Natalie had insisted that she wanted our first family holiday to be just her, me and Joey. The holiday was a success and greatly enjoyed by the children. For me it was a challenge. Anyone who has children will know that they don’t always want to do the same thing at the same time. And this was most certainly true for my two. If Tali wanted to swim then Joey certainly didn’t. If Joey wanted to play skittles (which he did several times every single day) then Tali wanted to do absolutely anything else. I tried persuading them to take turns, but that didn’t really fly. At the end of five nights away I was frankly happy to be getting home, for a rest.

I know the children enjoyed themselves, they said as much.  But I was more tired at the end of the holiday than at the start. Of course this will get easier with time, at least I hope it will.  Apart from the challenge of two strong-willed children it simply brought home how much I miss being with Ro. Yes, it would have been easier with Rosie being there, for sure. But at the end of the day when we all went to bed (at about the same time) I didn’t have Rosie to talk to. And I still don’t. And that is the hardest thing about losing her. Her absence is a constant reminder of what I’ve lost and what the children have lost.

Elliot

With thanks…

It occurs to me that almost three weeks on from Rosie’s passing I have yet to publicly thank a number of individuals and groups of people. Shocking as it sounds but Rosie’s illness (if you can call it that) lasted less than a year.

Over the course of Rosie’s diagnoses and myriad treatments she was cared for (care being the prime word) by a great many people from a variety of professions. Since her death I am constantly amazed by the distance over which Rosie’s warmth, influence and personality stretched. People who never met her; secretaries and administrators who had spoken to her on the phone or communicated by email have been moved.

Working back from the end there are three groups of professionals whom I would like to start by thanking. The nurses and doctors at The Marie Curie Hospice in Hampstead, at Watford General A&E and AAU, and at Bushey Spire Hospital. Over the last year Rosie had visited or stayed in far too many hospitals and by no means had either of us expected the end to come in the way it did, and as quickly. But the care given by these three groups of people was exceptional.

My great regret is that Rosie didn’t “enjoy” the care and surroundings of The Marie Cure Hospice. By the time she arrived in Hampstead she was already on the sharp decline, and although she was lucid and awake on her final Friday afternoon and part of Saturday she never really had the opportunity to appreciate her surroundings. The staff there were superb. As the relative of a terminally ill patient it’s rare that conversations are directed at you. So much of my last year has been spent listening in on Rosie’s conversations with her medics. This was the first time, by necessity, that the conversation was directed at me. To be talking about the managed end of the life of the person you have loved for over twelve years, and who you thought you’d grow old together with, is surreal and upsetting to say the least. But the doctors and nurses at the Hospice were compassionate and attentive to our needs as a family.

At Watford General Rosie wowed and shone. The Rosie I fell in love with and adored (still do and always will) was very much still with us. In spite of her serious illness she had the ability to make professional, detached nurses cry. When she talked about her journey with Genghis and the impact on her life, on the children’s lives and on mine the hard exteriors crumbled. In the NHS you expect no continuity of care, and whereas that was a big issue with her time at Watford, I can’t say that about the way the nursing staff looked after her. There are six nurses, who I won’t mention by name for fear of upsetting others, that sought out Rosie at the beginning of their shifts and made a significant effort to cater to her every need, both medical and emotional. That made the world of difference to her.

And at Bushey Spire Hospital. The staff was as attentive and caring as you’d hope. None of us expected that Rosie’s admission to Bushey was to be the beginning of her final chapter. Rosie and I were both perplexed by the deterioration of her condition, and I’m afraid to say so were the medics. But the care that they gave was all we could have hoped for.

Throughout her treatment Rosie’s path crossed with many others; breast care nurses, oncologists, radiologists, geneticists, reflexologist, counsellor, healer and others. All of whom gave their all for Rosie’s benefit. If I started to name everyone now I’d most certainly forget some and so won’t try.

There is one group of people who Rosie connected with in a different way to all of those I’ve already mentioned. The angels (that might seem over the top but they really are angels in my eyes) who run and work at the Elstree Cancer Centre. Since her first chemo in August 2014 these ladies have been Rosie’s nurses, carers, confidantes and friends. I mention one of these wonderful people by name, but this is not to diminish the importance of the others. Veronica, or Ron, connected with Rosie very early on. She had the same no-nonsense approach to Rosie’s treatment as Rosie herself. She was strong, friendly, professional, committed and sometimes dismissive of me! But that’s fine. Her approach to me was exactly that of Rosie’s! In an odd sort of way Ron and the other women at the Cancer Centre helped me through Rosie’s treatment.

I’d now like to turn my attention to two individuals who were with Rosie from the very beginning to the very end.

Mr. Muhamed Al-Dubaisi and Professor David Miles. Rosie wrote about both in her blog. During the past year I was asked a number of times whether I was happy with the care that Rosie was receiving. At every step of the way my answer was always an emphatic “yes”. Mr. Al-Dubaisi, her breast surgeon, was the first person she met at the start of this horrible journey. His approach mirrored Rosie’s. “We’ll deal with the facts as we find them and plan accordingly”. Coincidentally Muhamed was the surgeon who treated Rosie’s mum. So we went into this process feeling very, very positive.  Even when we had serious cause for concern towards the end of 2014 we still felt confident, though maybe slightly less so. The last time Rosie saw Mr. Al-Dubaisi was on 1st June 2015. He planned to remove the tumour from her breast before SIRT began. On seeing her that evening he expressed his concern at her condition. He wanted to admit her that evening, but typical of Rosie she wanted to get home to have a good night’s sleep in her own bed. She wanted the children to see her at home. Perhaps she knew that this would be the last time. Muhamed was happy to allow this on the condition that if she didn’t feel better the next day then he’d admit her. The rest, as they say, is history.

And finally, Professor David Miles. There really are no words to express my gratitude to David. Rosie and David connected on an academic and intellectual level. I’m happy to say that I was often playing catch up during their consultations. Rosie had made damn sure to do all of her research ahead of each meeting. There was very little that David could tell her that she hadn’t already found out for herself. And when she asked questions David respected her all the more. The support he gave throughout her treatment was as important as the medicines being prescribed. I truly believe that the way he spoke to her gave Rosie the energy to battle through the way she did.

And in the final days of her life David was still there. Even after transferring from his private care to the NHS, under the care of no particular consultant (that’s most certainly the topic of a future blog) he was still there for her and for me. He came to Watford General to talk her through her treatment and he sat by her bedside to break the worst news possible. He was at the end of the phone morning, noon and night. In the final days his texts supported me, which in turn allowed me to support Rosie.

To Muhamed and David I owe a colossal debt of gratitude. Of course I’d rather be thanking them for helping Rosie achieve remission, but that was not to be. Instead I have to thank them for having dedicated their time, and dare I say love, to the care of this unique patient. To those of you who were part of Rosie’s final year please accept my most sincere thanks. And the thanks of Rosie Sara Choueka.

Elliot