As a special thank you to all those who have helped me in my journey I have decided to publish the 1st chapter of “Cancer Bravehearts”
I hope you enjoy it!:))
© mark nouillan
My Father’s Fight
My first introduction to cancer came when I was a fresh-faced 17-year-old photographer, certain he knew everything that there was to know in the world.
I considered myself pretty smart and I believed I had an advantage on most of my fellow teenagers because I knew what I wanted to do in life. I’d always known.
The reality was of course very different – I had no idea what I was talking about, even although I’d always felt more mature than others around me. This was due to the fact that even when I was just 14, while most other kids were out playing on their bikes I would be listening to my grandfather’s wise advice.
I was sure this would give me a distinct advantage over my peers as I could learn from the mistakes my maternal grandfather had made in life; it was my assumption that I wouldn’t make similar mistakes and therefore this upper hand would propel me on in life ahead of my peers. Most of my friends and school mates had been thinking of college and university without having any real idea or passion for anything in their life, except of course getting drunk and catching the attention of girls.
I was different, I wanted to be a photographer, but not just any photographer, I wanted to be the best. I’d studied for years independently of school as it had appealed to me as a young artist realizing I couldn’t paint worth a darn, but enjoyed exploring my artistic tendencies with a camera. The idea of getting into photography was inspired by my uncle, who I considered to be one of the most talented painters I’d ever known. He would recreate portraits of Hollywood stars from his favourite scenes in movies, in black and white directly onto his living room wall.
They were some of the most stunning paintings I had seen as a youngster. He was very humble about his ability as a painter and had been unable to make his art pay. He decided to pursue photography to pacify his need to create beautiful images. He gave me some tips and invited me along to some of his shoots, which inspired me to try using a camera to create my own art the way he had done. Off I went eager to learn more about the art form.
I started studying photography in Glasgow’s Mitchell Library, voraciously devouring every book on photography I could find, spending my weekends and time off school learning all I possibly could about my new passion. I was spellbound and bewitched by the beauty of the black and white photographs created by the American heroes of the medium, like Ansel Adams and Edward Weston.
I marveled at their dedication and drive for the ultimate in beauty and quality. It inspired me to follow in their footsteps because I had found something I really adored and had fallen in love with.
The majesty of their work and the passion within their images of this wonderful land, America, appealed to me in a very spiritual way. The way the spectacular images leapt off the pages inspired me so much that I wanted to one day visit these stunningly beautiful places and photograph where the great masters had once walked. While most of my school chums had no idea what they wanted to do in life, I felt very safe in the knowledge that I knew exactly where I was going and what I wanted to do.
Just as I had embarked on my new career as a photographer on a national newspaper, ready to take on the world and armed with all the information and knowledge anyone could ever need, my world would change into something I could not ever have imagined. A chain of events was in motion and was about to shake my very detailed and structured future beyond anything I could have ever foreseen.
My mother had been having difficulties with my father in their marriage to the extent that they had brought the relationship to an end. Many of the issues were as a result of my father and his attitude toward me, his eldest son. He had always struggled in his relationship with me and as I’ve heard many fathers find this issue with their eldest son. He felt a level of jealousy that was unjustified. I always seemed to get the brunt of any injustices being doled out and my father felt the need to punish me with violence and other methods that would simply not be allowed today.
The strain caused the marriage to break up and I moved away with my mother and two younger brothers. During the following months my brothers saw my father on a regular basis and eventually moved back with him. I never saw my father again after we had left, a situation I was very grateful for, as my fear had got to a level that I was terrified being at home when my father was there.
Things were different now and I was beginning to enjoy my life, it was just my mother and I and I was quite happy getting on with my life. It had been almost two years since my last dealings with my Dad and I was sitting in the house with my mother when the doorbell rang. It was my father’s eldest brother.
I was surprised to see him, but it never occurred to me that anything was wrong, until my uncle dropped the bombshell that my father was stricken with esophageal cancer and wasn’t likely to live out the week.
Now as I’ve mentioned, my father and I had never had the best of relationships, but I guess deep down somewhere inside we always do love our fathers. It seemed impossible to hate him who gave me life, no matter what they’ve done….good or bad.
I, of course, was stunned to hear this news and it instantly melted away any sense of injustice that I had felt before. After the shock of this news I took some time to digest it, but I knew that if I was to ever see my father again I would have to forgive him now. I was incredibly nervous at the prospect of seeing my father again, but my uncle agreed to arrange for me to meet him the following day.
We had lived in a large house my father had built in the grounds of a large estate; it sat on a perch and looked very grand amongst two acres of land. As a family we had spent every weekend at this place long before it was built. No matter what the weather, we were there without fail. It was scrubland and was thick with trees. My father made us all work there to prepare the site for building.
I hated being there, as we never got to spend any of our weekends with our friends – we were even there midweek after school. By the time it was eventually built I had come to despise everything it represented, as my father had become totally obsessed with it, and he demanded that it look like some kind of show house every minute of the day.
It felt impossible to even relax in and enjoy due to my father’s fixation with perfection in the property. He used to arrive home and check every room for cleanliness, every detail was inspected, even down to whether or not there were fingerprints on the gold plated light switches, which if discovered would cause him to become enraged.
My mother was a nervous wreck every night he arrived home and we all faced his wrath if things weren’t as they should be.
I lived in fear of the regular beatings, as my father seemed to direct his displeasure in my direction. My mother was unaware of the punishments that I received and my father made it clear what would happen if she ever found out.
I arrived at the very modern structure with two levels; below were the garages and work rooms and above was the living accommodation. I used to spend most of my time in my room when my father was home, it was the only way I could avoid being in trouble. Returning to this place was not going to be easy.
As I walked up the flights of stairs that wrapped around the house I felt shivers as I passed the garage doors, behind which my father secretly doled out his violent punishments to me. It was a place of tremendous fear for me, it always had been, and today was certainly no different.
I arrived at the top of the stairs and stood outside the huge glazed entrance area and rang the doorbell. My nerves had by now built to a crescendo, as just the mere arrival at the long driveway had filled me with dread and had already knotted my stomach. I had never anticipated returning to this place, ever.
My father eventually answered the door. I was utterly shocked to see this frail skeletal figure with one eye covered by a black patch, and wearing a jogging suit that looked 10 sizes too big on his now skinny frame. My memory of him standing on that very spot where I’d last seen him, was as a strong and very intimidating figure. This surely was not the person I had called dad.
He was so very fragile in every aspect, a very far cry from the father I had once known and feared. He invited me into the room where we had often watched TV as a family, but his demeanor was very different on this occasion. He spoke to me as an adult and more importantly as an equal. This man bore no resemblance in any of his characteristics to the man I once knew.
It seemed that maybe my father had finally grasped what is important in life. He asked about my life and seemed genuinely interested in what I was doing. I knew he realised, without being able to verbally express it, that he’d made mistakes. Let’s face it, we all do, but there seemed to be true remorse and sadness for his actions and words. Even though I could only see one of his eyes – because the cancer had made him blind in the other – I could see the sadness behind this now bloodshot window to his soul.
He must have known that his time to express his true feelings was evaporating rapidly and that this would be probably his last chance to talk with his eldest son with any kind of lucidity. My father was not able to verbalise his emotions, he never had that capability. I did sense he had regrets about things that had happened, and I told him it was ok. I hope he felt released from any guilt he had.
I can’t really recall what we discussed – I guess it was just chit chat, nothing earth shattering. When you know your time on this earth is short, it doesn’t really matter what you say, but probably more important to heal the sins of the past and reunite with loved ones.
I think in all honesty he forgot about his plight and for the first time in his life he was just happy to have me there with him. It seemed so sad to finally meet my father on a level I’d never before seen, someone that I could have looked forward to being close to, but knowing there was no possibility of such a relationship; and having to talk to this new version of my father for the first and last time, knowing that I was saying goodbye forever.
It was so difficult after finding this man with a wholly different attitude to life, and how filled with sadness I was that he finally came to this realisation when it was simply too late.
I wipe away the tears, as my memories are still so real and painful. It really brings it home how important it is to view life and the way we live it with the knowledge that we never know when our time is to come.
We must live life to the fulest every day that we have the breath to do so….there really is nothing more important. I often look back with the knowledge of what was to unfold and wondered how different both our lives would have been had he survived….because five months after burying my father I would fall ill and receive the news that I too now had cancer.
© mark nouillan