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LucyGransnet (GNHQ) Thu 17-Apr-14 10:05:43

For the love of books

How reading and her love for her grandchildren helped Heather Reyes come to terms with a serious illness.

Heather Reyes

For the love of books

Posted on: Thu 17-Apr-14 10:05:43


Lead photo

Heather Reyes

I was completely taken by surprise by what it was like to be a granny. My own parents, true, had always enjoyed my children - though the chief pleasure of grandparenthood, according to some, is "being able to hand them back when you've had enough". But the fierce, almost visceral attachment I felt towards our first grandchild wasn't something I'd ever imagined I could feel. It was equally strong when the next two came along, and I wanted to be an important part of their lives forever.

But the problem with reaching grandparenthood is that it can coincide with the age when serious health problems tend to emerge. Round about the time my third grandchild was born (the other two were those delightful ages of five and three), I was diagnosed with bone-marrow cancer and initially told I could only expect to live for another four to five years.

During the sleepless night after the diagnosis, I thought mainly about all the important events of my grandchildren's future I would be absent from. If the survival predictions were right, I wouldn't even see the eldest go to secondary school.

Reading was one of the things that got me through, psychologically, helping me keep a sense of proportion, of perspective on my own life and situation.

Happily, thanks to new treatments (I'm on "clinical trials" at the moment), I am still here - and have just heard that my granddaughter has a place at a very good secondary school for September.

During my first period of chemotherapy I had a hard time and couldn't do much more than sit on the sofa and read. And reading was one of the things that got me through, psychologically, helping me keep a sense of proportion, of perspective on my own life and situation. Most of my life I'd been involved with books - as a teacher, editor, writer - and they came to my rescue.

Making notes on what I was reading led to notes and thoughts on reading in general, on the part it had played in my life right from childhood - as it was already doing in the life of my granddaughter who was clearly born with bibliophilia in her blood! By the time that first round of treatment was over and I was in remission, I had the outline of a little book about reading.

The book is now on my children's bookshelves and I hope that, when they are older, the grandchildren might read it and, even if I'm not around in person, find me again in the book.

My main dilemma now is how close I should allow myself to be to my grandchildren. Knowing that I may leave them before they're adults, my love for them is so great that I wonder if I should "pull back", deny myself the joy of the closeness we currently enjoy, so that if I do leave them (though I'm working hard on not doing so), it will be less traumatic than when I lost the grandfather I was very close to.

For the moment, though, I am allowing myself the possibly selfish pleasure of grandmotherly closeness.

Heather Reyes's An Everywhere: a little book about reading, paperback original £8.99, is published by Oxygen Books

By Heather Reyes

Twitter: @Gransnet

Grannyknot Thu 17-Apr-14 20:49:58

Interesting how often illness can galvanize someone into action. I'm about to become a gran for the first time (at 65), and a good friend recently was describing that same visceral reaction.

I really feel for you Heather. What a lovely photograph of you, and thanks for writing the blog post.

Nanaonthego Fri 18-Apr-14 00:36:48

Dear heather
You must not deprive yourself or grandchildren of your love. You must not waste the precious love you have. Live for today no one knows what will happen tomorrow. How ever long you have it is never enough. Your grandchildren need your love and the joy that will give them and the memories that will last a life time. X

Deedaa Fri 18-Apr-14 21:26:07

My husband has the same cancer, and after four weeks is actually in slightly better health than he was when he was diagnosed. I think the time limits they bandy about are fairly meaningless. If you find a treatment that suits you the outlook can be much better.

I'm sure your grandchildren would far rather have a close, loving Granny to remember, rather than a detached one who kept her distance. I know it's a cliché but any of us could walk under a bus tomorrow. Enjoy the relationship you have now!

NanKate Fri 18-Apr-14 21:46:23

I agree with the other Gransnetters take and give every bit of pleasure you can from being with your grandchildren.

I have to admit my love for my grandchildren is almost overwhelming. I had bad post natal depression after my son was born and his first few years were very rocky and I did not enjoy them. I feel I have been given a second chance in life and I am experiencing now what I didn't 40 years ago.

I am glad you are responding to your treatment and making the most of your life, especially with your grandchildren.

Finally I, like you, love reading and I intend to pass on that pleasure to my 2 little lads.

Grannyknot Fri 18-Apr-14 22:47:34

I agree with Deedaa, I sometimes think the clinicians are a bit quick with their prognosis in terms of 'time left'.

Give grannydom your all, I'd say. flowers

janeainsworth Fri 18-Apr-14 22:58:59

Heather you sound such a brave woman, but I agree with Nanaonthego - don't deny yourself, and your grandchildren, the joy that comes from your relationship with them.
Your unconstrained love for your grandchildren will be a legacy that they will treasure forever.

penguinpaperback Sun 20-Apr-14 18:18:03

I just wanted to say Thank You, So Much, I bought a copy of your book and have been reading it these last 2 days. What a find. After eleven years of chemo I was suddenly diagnosed with a damaged heart a few days ago. I am hoping I am now going to get better and still have more time. I am enjoying your book enormously. I wish you continued good health.

liminetta Tue 22-Apr-14 08:19:50

Heather, I just want to say that the giving and receiving of love is the most cherished and blessed gift we humans can experience.My grandma died when I was 12, and even now, at the age of 67, I sometimes think of her with a smile.You see, she taught me how to love, unconditionally and we, as grandparents, are given that talent to share wholeheartedly.
So good luck, and go for it! flowers smile

Daisymay1 Fri 02-May-14 22:21:34

Heather you must not withdraw from your Grandchildren ,the love you share with them will stay with them always .
Your story has really made me think ,I have always said that I would not have treatment for cancer should I be diagnosed with it , but since I now have twin grandsons I have changed my mind.

I pray you continue responding to treatment xx

Ruby6918 Sun 04-May-14 13:35:05

thank you for sharing your story, i wish u every bit of health and best wishes for you and your family, my mum died of cancer aged 44 and she never got to see any of her four grand children and one great grand child, my grandson leo, she would have loved him, i do remember going to the library for her regularly to pick books for her when she was very poorly,and she always had books at the hospital,her love of books has followed on with me and my sister we love reading, good luck and god bless, cathy

willsandco Sun 04-May-14 22:22:29

I can identify with this. I have a wonderful grandson (13), granddaughters 13, 21 and 28 and I have been just diagnosed with bulbar onset motor neurone disease. I know it is life limiting and I am unlikely to see two years out with every possibility of less time. I struggle with the fact that I wont see the young two leave school, or grow up, nor be in a position to look after my two daughters. I am determined to try and keep the keel as even as possible. They all call me Grandma Happy and I want them to remember me as that. But it is all very distressing (although I do try not to think about it!)

Aka Sun 04-May-14 22:46:53

So sorry to read that Wills

papaoscar Mon 05-May-14 04:38:25

Good memories of Grandma Happy will stay with your grandchildren for ever, Wills, Good Luck!