First published February 16, 2012 on facingcancer.ca
A vigorous debate was undertaken prior to writing this post. The debate happened completely within the enclosed walls of my cranium. Eventually, passion overcame prudence so you may have to indulge me a little bit with temporary suspension of disbelief.
Imagine if you will the two most pacific people on earth. Two people seldom moved to anger. Two people in perfect harmony with the universe and completely understanding of their inner selves and motivations. No. Not my wife and I. We could never claim that lofty position. Think instead in terms of Gandhi and Mother Teresa.
Activate your suspension of disbelief now please.
In a parallel universe Gandhi and Mother Teresa are married. You can imagine what a typical day might involve. Gandhi out quelling the masses with his message of peace. Coming home for tea, kicking off his sandals and asking Teresa about her day bringing succour to the heaving boil of suffering humanity. They sit down to a humble modest meal and share the great peace of two souls functioning in complete synchronicity with their worlds.
Their lives unfold in the same manner day upon day until Mother Teresa learns that cancer has come calling. Great shock and disbelief ensues. Even with her profound faith and belief the worm crawls into her life and spreads the anxiety, angst and anger. Everyone though comments that if there is any couple in the world who can survive, maybe even flourish in the face of this challenge it is they. For the first little while, very little while, it appears that common opinion is on target.
One day, Gandhi comes home. He’s forgotten the rice and he’s failed to remove his sandals immediately upon crossing the threshold. Teresa descends upon him like the screaming Valkyries. Befuddled and bewildered Gandhi at first tries to defuse the situation with a little joke. He quickly realizes the error of his ways as Teresa mounts a new attack revolving around his complete insensitivity to the gravity of ‘her’ situation.
Now, suspend your suspension of disbelief and rejoin me in the real world.
If you’re a caregiver some of what I wrote above, for all of it’s poor man’s Swiftian satire, may resonate.
My personal physician informed me shortly after Kate’s diagnosis that the divorce rate among couples with breast cancer in the family was abnormally high. I frankly couldn’t believe her. Surely, when the trials and tribulations of life come along we gather together and jointly retreat to the all-healing power of love. How could one possibly even find it possible to contemplate even a few moments apart, never mind, separation, never mind, divorce from the person around whom one’s total being revolved? It just sounded crazy to me.
It became crystal clear how that scenario could eventuate. This disease plays havoc with everything from your soul to your appetite. And, until you learn that lesson, until you recognize that anger – balls out, vituperative anger – is part of the package you’re in trouble.
So what to do?
Well, acknowledge the reality first of all. Then immediately find a way in which to manage it. Whether through some of the excellent lessons provided by the folks who created the Healing Journey (www.healingjourney.ca) or getting support from the beautiful people at Wellspring (www.wellspring.ca) or indeed getting your own personal shrink, you owe it to yourself to do something.
For a time, if I had one more person hand me the “well, Don, remember, it is very important that you have time for yourself. Your health and well being are critical” I was tempted to hand them back a “gee, that’s great advice…now, how about you look after my two-year old and four-year old; how about you do the shopping; how about you make the interminable number of journeys to various hospitals, clinics, doctors’ offices, pharmacies…actually, how about you just plain and simple pound sand!”
We all know it is well meaning and frankly, we have been blessed to have wonderful support particularly from Kate’s parents and her workmates. But ultimately, at 3:00 a.m. you are left alone with your thoughts and what the Healing Journey recommends is practical methods to go somewhere peaceful with yourself. Now, there will still be the blowups and all I can recommend to people new to this is – brace yourself caregivers and suck it up. As you will be told, I promise, “YOU DON’T HAVE CANCER. YOU CAN’T UNDERSTAND.” She’s right. So ask her to teach you.
Another blogger on this site gave me some great advice too. We guys like to think we can fix anything and everything. We can’t and we shouldn’t. We can take the punches though. We can find good places to go (between our ears) and we are all blessed to have such capacity to love in our lives. And, finally, realize that the vows you made were more than words. They represented a genuine commitment and if that means we take a few more shots to the head than we’d ideally like – so what.
Good luck y’all.