Cancer Is Sometimes Harder on Loved Ones Than on Patients
We patients have our plans of attack and are engaged in the battle, leaving those who care for us feeling helpless on the sidelines.
This is a new thought that entered my consciousness last week. It was one of my exceptionally trying days in my new Lupron-induced reality. I was physically exhausted and the fatigue was pounding a battering ram at my seriously weakened emotional gates. One look at me must have provided a full and unedited communique from the front line.
It was then that my wife confided that she wished she could do something for me–to make it all better and relieve me of this challenge. At least following my surgery, she was able to do something to make me comfortable and aid in the healing process. But, in dealing with the side effects of androgen deprivation therapy, she is feeling powerless to make a difference.
This was an epiphany. I thought back to when my sisters were voicing their anger that this should be happening to me. I have never felt angry. I didn’t have the time to be angry. My mission was to beat the cancer.
I am beginning to believe that in our journeys, we patients are so focused on executing on our plan of attacks, passing milestones and moving forward that we don’t have the time to focus on much more. It is a kind of blessed distraction. However, our loved ones and friends, are forced to observe from the sidelines and watch in dismay.
Think of any movie about a prize fighter. As he takes the beating in the middle of the fight he goes on, driven by adrenaline to receive blow after the blow, but he doesn’t seem to notice. He may be a bit dazed, but he has no choice but to continue reacting or lose the fight. It’s the spectators who have the vantage point to actually see the consequences of the fight. They react but can’t do anything to change the events that are playing out before their eyes. Their champion is in danger and they feel helpless.
This weekend I had the pleasure of meeting one of this blog’s readers at the Us Too advocacy meeting in Chicago. His name is Craig P. I shared my new thinking with him and he heartily agreed. On Monday he wrote back on the subject.
“First of all,” Craig wrote, “I completely agree with your hypothesis. I can give you two examples. My wife, Susan, remarked that on the several occasions she accompanied me to the radiation oncology center in Spring 2009 were times of immense loneliness as she sat in the waiting room while I was being treated. She stated that, “I could feel loneliness permeate the room even though the small waiting area was filled with people–some of them chatting with each other while their loved ones were being treated, others staring off into the distance.” Even though she was geographically very close to the room where I was lying on the treatment couch, I may as well been a million miles away, because being in that waiting room without me was a dramatic and tangible reminder of the permanent separation she knew she would experience if my cancer were to prove fatal. Happily, that day has not come, but there’s no question it is a heavy psychological burden lurking just below the surface of our quotidian lives.”
Craig continued, “My second example comes from reading many posts at the advancedprostatecancer.net board (sponsored by Malecare), where it is the wife or daughter writing about their husband or father as he experiences the end game of metastasized prostate cancer. Behind the words of care and concern that these women express for their men as they seek answers form other members of this board about who to see or what to do next, I can hear wounded sighs and latent hopelessness as they, too, experience loneliness—and often exhaustion as the sole caregiver—all while presenting a brave and optimistic face to their men. The psychological toll must be enormous. One wants to reach out through the Internet and hold these brave women in an embrace, if only to provide a moment of succor.”
It’s true that cancer affects everyone in one’s family. How could it not?
But the truth is that no matter how helpless our loved ones may sometimes feel, they are giving us the most powerful medicine we can take at this point in our lives by just opening their arms and letting us pour ourselves into them when we need them most. We can continue fighting buoyed by cheers of encouragement from their hearts.