Now don’t get your knickers in a twist. Before you get all defensive, let me start by telling you this: I have always been more of a birthday wisher than a cancer carer myself.

Right, now let’s get on.

Friday was my 46th birthday. I awoke to the dulcet tones of Joshua vomiting. Chris wished me a hoarse happy birthday and then asked me to check his temperature. Thirty seconds later we confirmed he was running a fever. I didn’t have too much time for sympathy because I needed to dash to the loo to celebrate with my own bout of diarrhoea.

I’ll try again next year.

I lay in bed, nursing my misery and hanging out with the lifeline that is social media. Messages had start pouring in from my Oz and New Zealand friends before midnight. They kept coming long after I went back to sleep. It got me thinking.

Its easier to send a birthday wish than support in troubled times

I got lots of birthday wishes. Thank you to Facebook for reminding everyone. It was lovely. And I noticed that lots of people who have sent the good wishes have been silent during our cancer journey.

“They don’t know what to say.” Josh said. I think he’s right. Until this year cancer has always been a slightly sordid word for me. It got stuck in my mouth and came out muttered or garbled: Smmcanther.

There’s a piece of me that still worries that either cancer or the misery it brings could be “catchy”. I’m much happier sending the birthday wish.

Or maybe it’s the other way round

“Sounds like the food Nazi’s need a good shag,” said Sarah. Sarah was a year behind me at school and always good for that slightly offhand, perfectly timed, cheer-you-right-up comment. So whilst I can’t offer evidence either way on the sexual activities of food Nazis, I can attest to the cheering-up efficacy of her comment. I picked myself up, dried my eyes and got on with the day.

Sarah and I last set eyes on each other about twenty-five years ago. Since then we’ve corresponded with maybe a handful of sentences. Yet there she was “getting me” after all this time. She’s one of the many old friends who’ve crept out of the woodwork to buoy me up in the last few months.

Sarah forgot to send a birthday message. So did most of my ‘old’ friends.  I didn’t mind at all.

Or maybe those awful post-millennial youths that I think are frivolous and obsessed with memes are better at coping with cancer than I am.

Whilst “my crowd” have been sending birthday wishes courtesy of FB, this group of teenagers, who look like a pretty normal group of kids, have, without fuss or nagging or any need for praise, just got on with being the “net” for Josh.


The kid on the right – the one who looks like he needs a haircut? He “went on strike” until his doctor mother turned over her neurology practise to a “reading oncology journals” practise and helped us find treatments for Josh. Josh recently tried to express his gratitude. The response? Hands in pockets, dip of the chin and a “yeah”, before changing the subject.

The short kid in the middle? We tell him he’s possibly the world’s worst wheelchair driver. Aside from driving into the odd doorframe he, and his mates, have pushed Josh and carried his “wheels” up and down staircases on and off for the last six months.

Between them these kids have pitched up to oncology appointments and waiting in ICU’s. They’ve told tall stories to test Joshua’s post-operative amnesia. They’ve played on their phones whilst Josh has excused himself to sleep or vomit.

Mostly though, they’ve talked about PC games and TV shows and the wickedness of teachers. They’ve swapped lunch items and lesson notes. They’ve teased each other, told jokes and defended their chosen lunch spot from older girls. In short, they’ve just been normal. And normal, it turns out, is exactly how Josh wants to feel.

If it wasn’t our journey, I wonder, would I be a birthday wisher or a cancer carer? A meme watcher or a wheel chair pusher?


cancer carer vs birthday wisher  cancer carer via meme