I don’t have cancer, my husband does, but it feels like it does not matter at all who has the cancer.
Cancer has been a part of our lives for a little more than two years now. Looking back, I realize every aspect of my life has been impacted by it. Looking around me, I realize that while in this day and age we hear the word “cancer” almost daily, few really understand what late stage cancer involves.
Take treatment, for example. It seems to me that most people assume that treatment makes the patient well again. In reality, that is not the case at all. Even if the treatment is efficacious, be it radiation or chemo or surgery, there are all kinds of side effects, both immediate and long term, to contend with. Radiated skin, for instance, must always be protected with a strong sunscreen because it is extremely sensitive to the sun’s rays — and that’s for the rest of one’s life. That may be a minor inconvenience, but cancer patients can also develop deep vein thrombosis, sleep apnea, neuropathy, and countless other serious health problems. My husband’s cancer treatment closed his esophagus permanently and he depends on a G-tube for his life; his food, liquid nutrition supplement.
In many cases, treatment does not cure. The best that it can do in those situations is to keep the cancer manageable. Chemotherapy can be a way to buy a bit more time. However, the last time I said that to the medical oncologist, her response was, “If it even does that.” She was not heartless or cruel, just realistic and I appreciated that. As a caregiver, I need to be told the truth so that I can prepare myself for what may eventually transpire.
When friends call up and ask, “How is he doing?” that, I find, is the hardest question to answer. It is also an unfortunate fact that people do that a lot. What they would like me to tell them is probably something along the lines of, “Oh, he’s doing so much better!” or “The cancer’s all gone!” But cancer is not the flu, one doesn’t take to one’s bed for a couple of days and get back to 100%. I find it unimaginable that even when I have told our friends that the cancer has metastasized, they still seem to expect a miraculous cure. I refuse to lie and tell them what they want to hear and yet, my husband is not on his death bed. The decline is slow and it eats away his days without his even being aware of it. The best that I can manage is, “Well, he is stable.” There was a time after we were told about the metastases that we were told no treatment would be ordered because there were no symptoms. It’s another way of saying the cancer had got to another part of the body but it was not acting up. I could fully understand the doctors’ rationale; here you have a patient who is capable of living normally, why put him through the misery of chemotherapy just yet? That, as one can imagine, was a concept that I could not get our friends to understand, tried as I might.
Today my sister remarked in an email to me, “Visiting the very sick is an art form.” Unluckily, not very many people are aware of that and even fewer would even take time to work on the “art.”