You don’t know where to begin, what to say. Words are difficult to find. People seem to look at you funny. Or is your mind just playing tricks on you? It could be because you aren’t sleeping very well and when you start to do one thing you end up doing something completely different. Conversations with people are cumbersome and slightly awkward. Or people are too kind and then you just end up crying. Their intentions are good but still, somehow those intentions fall just short of what you really need. Like your life back. That would be good. You know that life, where you lived day to day picking up and going – going to work, going home, seeing friends. Enjoying dinners out, and movies and concerts and shows. Laughing a lot. Real, gut-wrenching laughs. Going on holidays to faraway places. Those days seem so far away now. They seem like another life, another time. Life becomes about the minute, the minutia, the little things. Like breathing.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re one of the lucky ones. A person who has not been touched by cancer. Oh sure, like me, you probably have friends or friends of friends that have had cancer or have it now. Or more than likely, you know someone who has died from the disease. I know you think you know what it’s like. I know, because I was like you before. I knew many people who had been diagnosed with cancer, my father for instance. I also know many who have died from it too. I thought I knew just what they were going through. And then the disease touched me, like so many that I had known before. I wasn’t prepared to deal with what was to come. I didn’t know just how much it would touch me, actually pull the air out of me in such a way that I didn’t know what had hit me. I sure wasn’t ready for that, just as I am sure most people aren’t ready for this kind of thing to happen. Nobody prepares for these things, they just sort of happen. One day life is normal and one day it isn’t.
I don’t have cancer. You may be shocked. It’s my husband Brian that has cancer – lung cancer. His operation is tomorrow. We will know more, of course, after the surgery. Right now it’s wait and see. You know how hard wait and see is? It’s like having a child nag at you to do something, that constant “Mom” or “Dad” coming out of their mouths, over and over again, until you lose it and start yelling, “Stop it! Just wait a minute!” That’s how I feel, like that little child who has to wait. It makes me feel sick to my stomach to have to wait. Why? Because it’s so long. My husband was diagnosed at the end of November. It’s January 2nd today, the new year has begun and we are still waiting.
You might think I’m a spoiled brat, like the child that can’t wait for their mother or father to get it together to make sure his or her needs are met. You might think to yourself, “Wow, this broad is really something. What about her husband? He’s the one with the actual cancer. You’d think she had it.” Am I right? You might think that, and why wouldn’t you? But you aren’t, as they say, in my shoes. Be careful what you say to people because more often than not you have no idea what they are going through. And what you may think is nothing, might be something really awful to someone else. So yes, my husband is the one who is stuck with this horrible disease. But I am right there beside him, one hundred percent. Because he is also my best friend, my love. So whatever he is going through, so am I. We have had a long journey together, he and I, although I didn’t expect cancer to be a part of it. We got through our whole adult life together, holding each other up when we needed to, and we will get through this misstep as well.
So yes, he is ultimately going through something; something that I no doubt will never understand. What he is feeling and dealing with is beyond my comprehension. I am with him as I always have been, through thick and thin, to support him. To be that hand to hold and that comforting voice to hear through test after test, from doctor to doctor. Through sickness and health, that was the vow we took.
My husband is 60. The numbers don’t add up to me. He is still so young, not yet retired. We were planning to work for at least 5 more years and while working, we would travel and enjoy life now that we were moved out of our big five-bedroom home. Living in an apartment was so much less stressful, and we would be able to just get up and go if the mood came to us. Not even 6 months in we find out the news of the cancer.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not feeling sorry for myself. Pity is not one of my strong suits. Or at least, I didn’t think it was my style. Maybe I am feeling sorry for myself just a little? But there seems to be a whole host of emotions I’m dealing with: anger, frustration, sadness, despair…even hope and love. All of these emotions come to mind while going through this with my husband, and we’ve only been at this for 3 months. Our hope is that once the surgery is done we will also be done with cancer; that the tumor will be removed and we can once again return to a normal life. That is our hope. That is what our prayers are for, to return to normal. Remember when normal was so boring and dull and how you hated normal? Not anymore. Give me normal, dull or boring any day compared to this.
And now the surgery is over; the tumor was cancerous and it was removed. And that is all I know in day one of post-op. Not much, right? My husband is in a lot of pain, and was so drugged today that he did nothing but sleep. Granted, sleep can heal the body too. But too many drugs can also hinder recovery. The surgeon said things went well and that he was pleased with the operation. I am not too sure what that means. I don’t really like to second-guess something as brutal as lung cancer. So does this mean he’s cancer free? Does he have to go through more treatment? These questions are now on my mind. So the old questions are replaced with new ones. We are back at square one. Where to begin.
Getting him home is our first goal. Hospitals are frightening places, someone said to me recently. So I suppose goal number one is to get my husband back home where it’s comfortable and clean, where there’s less noise and fewer people running up and down hallways and in and out of rooms, waking you up and taking your blood and your blood pressure.
They took half of his lung and left a huge scar down the side of his back. The pain must have been excruciating when he came out of the anaesthesia. I couldn’t imagine. I really try not to fill people’s shoes, nor do I try to walk in them. I have my own shoes to walk in and even those suckers aren’t very comfortable a lot of the time.
My greatest fear is that this ordeal will never end. I know it sounds selfish, so babyish, like that spoiled child. And maybe I am like a spoiled child, but illness really does take your breath away in ways that are not too pleasant. Illnesses can be debilitating and cause major dysfunction. If not handled correctly, this could really continue to destroy the spirit of both my husband and myself. Just hanging on to the fragility of life doesn’t always cut it. Life is fragile, we know that, but sometimes it would be nice to be ignorant; to be one of those lucky ones who has never been touched by illness or tragedy. Are there people out there like that? Maybe a few, but I think most of us have wrestled with the fragility of life and are holding on to that spirit of hope. Holding on to love, to what this life really means. To experience what it is to be part of something bigger than you yourself.
The recovery continues, and new battles pop up. The coughing is keeping him up all night. I see shadows of my husband in the night, pacing and coughing around the apartment. Finally, he called the doctor’s office and asked why his lung felt like it was on fire. He was told he needed to rest and yes, coughing is good but not constant coughing. So new pain killers were called into the pharmacy. His sleep is quieter now. I just hear moaning instead of coughing. I will definitely take that over the coughing. He tires easily and walks slowly. I used to find it hard to keep up with him but now it’s the other way around. He trails behind me and believe me, I am not that fast on my feet.
Then there is just the reality of life, when not in the illness bubble. There are bills to be paid, rent to be made, cleaning and shopping to do and administrative work to keep up to date. And life goes on. But where do you begin? Yes, thank God we have family and friends who are with us in spirit and in hope. They send prayers and good thoughts and hope for a positive outcome. I’m ever so thankful for those connections, those people that are so kind and true and feel the pain that we are going through. Like our children, who are supportive, so young and so full of life. It seems like they are too young to have to go through this ordeal with their Dad, but such is life. Others have done so and survived, and they will too! They see their Dad as the one who will come through. They see his strength, his love for them. They call and visit and our son brings his young son to visit, our four-year-old grandson, who makes us laugh and brings us such joy.
We registered at a Cancer Wellness Centre. My husband signed up to paint, a passion of his from his youth. We had a tour of this house filled with hope, with love. We will be part of that house now, that cancer centre. It will become for us, in the future, either a haven or just someplace we were thankful to hear about. I pray it is the latter!
I suppose there is nowhere to begin, but we must start somewhere. So we start with each other – being together. That is where we will begin and together we will find solace. Together we will take this journey no matter what is in store, because this is how we have begun everything for the past thirty-odd years.
We have begun together.
Photos courtesy of Martha Farley – all rights reserved