how Chelsea made me smile again

Exactly 18 months ago, Chelly and I arrived in Cardiff to start a post-graduate diploma in broadcast journalism at Cardiff University.
I say Chelsea and I, but she spent all the time endearing herself to everyone we met.
A man from our course had arranged for a few of us to go out a few nights before term started so we could all get to know each other.
Chelly was the centre of attention, which in turn made me feel a little embarrassed as I’m not normally happy to be at the forefront of things.
The first term was brilliant.
I made lots of friends and settled into a pattern of studying, exploring Cardiff and working my way through the various cafes in the city.
However, my world was absolutely shattered by a phone call to Mum shortly before the end of the first term.
Dad had been ill for some time, he’d had cancer, and even though surgery had removed the tumour, he suffered from awful depression and anxiety.
The specialist was concerned none of the tablets Dad had been put on was making him better.
He was taken in for tests and Mum was told he had secondary lung cancer.
During the phone-call she told me Dad had weeks left.
I don’t remember what happened during the next few days, only bits, mostly I cried.
Dad died two and a half weeks later, four days after Christmas.
I made a promise to him that I’d return to Cardiff to do an exam I was due to sit on the 14th of January.
I did a week of half-hearted revision when I got back, but all I wanted to do was stay with Mum.
My friends on the course seemed to change towards me when I returned. It’s difficult to explain how death affects you. It sort of made me different, very few of them understood.
There were only a few people I could talk too, my best friends at university who weren’t on my course, but were, and still are a big part of my life.
I hated uni though! I reeled against everything and everyone.
My tutor asked me where the old Nicki had gone and I said:
“I’m here because I have to be, not because I want to.” It sounds harsh, but I meant my heart just wasn’t in it.
My tutor understood.
Chelsea was amazing. She had never been into Dad’s room when he was ill, but shortly after he died she walked in to where I was lying on the floor crying.
She lay next to me and put her paw round my shoulder. I genuinely think she thought: “Well, I’ve seen humans do that, so that’s what I must do!”
One day I had a huge panic attack in the bathroom at uni. I felt so scared.
Chelsea came over to me and put her head on me. I was shaking and crying so much that I was quite concerned something might be wrong.
She just sat next to me and allowed me to stroke her till I calmed down.
I went straight to the office and said I didn’t think I could stay at uni anymore.
Mum had come to visit me and we chatted over dinner that night.
Mum has always been a fantastic role model and support. She still is.
She persuaded me to stay; we both knew if I left, I wouldn’t go back.
Part of the course involved four weeks work placement at a local television or radio station.
I went to BBC Wales Bangor.
I loved every minute of it. I was put on air twice, after two voicers *clip during a news bulletin explaining more about the story* were used.
But the strangest thing happened.
I really missed Cardiff.
It was weird. I’d never considered it while I was there. Yes, it was a nice enough place, but so was the place where I lived.
I realised that for the last few months though, I’d hated it for being the place I had to go back to after ~Dad died.
I knew I’d feel this way about anywhere though.
I went back with renewed vigour.
I stopped running away and embraced the course and everything else again.
My tutors were delighted and really noticed a change.
I also knew I owed it to Mum and Dad to do my best.
I had to resit the exam I took after Christmas as I failed it.
I passed all the others and my overall mark was better than I could have imagined.
Now, 18 months after we first arrived in Cardiff, we’re moving there again to look for work.
It’s going to be an adventure, and no doubt I’ll feel anxious at times.
But, like last time, I’ll have Chelsea by my side – with her, I know I can achieve anything and everything I want to do.

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