Supporting Those for Whom You Care: Reflections

In June of this year, my wife and I received the word from her cancer specialist that she was clinically in remission.

Fun at a Ren Faire with my wife.

Fun at a Ren Faire with my wife.

No words can express the relief that both of us felt in hearing those words. We have been more fortunate than others who suffer from the debilitating effects of this affliction.

The past year has been a very trying time for my wife.

Her pain and emotions were overcome by her willingness to move forward. There were days when she admits that she was ready to give up and concede to the disease, rather than continue with her chemotherapy treatments. I am happy that she decided to continue her struggle.

Now, I feel that it is time to reflect back on what I have learned.

There is always sadness for the person who is afflicted with cancer.

Rightly so, there is little sadness for those who are the support for one with cancer. There is plenty of sympathy. There are however, expectations of strength and compassion for those we support. There is a lot of stress and pain that goes along with helping a loved one who is dealing with pain and suffering. No amount of advice can prepare you for being that strong, silent person who is there to help the one you love. I am very lucky, that I had support from everyone that I work with and my family.

I was told that I needed to be strong for her.

It was important for me to never give up on her ability to defeat whatever was in her path, no matter how devastating it might be. It was important for me to never show any remorse or sadness about her cancer, nor was it in my credo to allow her to see my fear or sadness at the possibility of losing her to the disease, forever. What kept me going? The thought that there would be plenty of time to grieve if that were to happen. Since I had not lost her, there was nothing for me to become hysterical or cry about. Whenever I would begin to tear up at the thought of losing her, I would employ an old “head fake” that I learned to use on myself when I was in the Navy.

“Head fake” exercises can help your confidence and your morale.

When I was much younger, I was arrogant. The high school I attended in the 1970’s employed the “open classroom” concept. I was one of those kids in school who would ditch my classes, only to show up and take the necessary tests to pass the class. I looked back at my high school grades and noticed that I graduated with a straight “B” average. I would read the books, get excited over the material, yet saw no point in attending the class, which ran at a slower pace that I did. Unfortunately, the lifestyle I had lived in high school, did not fit into my naval career. I almost failed my basic career (not boot camp) training, because of my attitude. I was failing tests, my grades ranged in the 40 to 60 percentile averages for subject matter that I had studied. I felt that I did not understand the material. My career path was going to take a drastic turn for the worst. I was going to be chipping paint and pulling lines for the next 3 years if I did not pass my tests. Fortunately, I had an instructor with a lot of insight. He told me that I reminded him of himself, years ago. He asked me if I had any family members who had given up on me, or told me that I would never amount to anything. I told him that he was correct. Here was his advice, “I’d like you to try this. You might as well, since you have nothing to lose. I want you to say to yourself, “Not now, I don’t have time for you right now”. I want you to repeat this to yourself, over and over again. See if it helps your grade.” He was right. I had nothing to lose. I tried his suggestion, and I passed the test with a 98% grade. Every test I took after that was in the high 90’s or was a perfect score. I carried that advice with me for over 20 years in the service. I even took it with me into my civilian life.

I employed those very words as part of my credo in working with my wife.

Every time I would become sad or afraid, I would repeat those words that I learned so long ago, to the forefront of my mind…”Not now, I don’t have time for you, right now”. That head fake that kept me from failing so much in the past, helped me work through everything from acute anxiety to depression for the past year.

It was going to be necessary for me to become her crutch.

I held her when she needed to be held, and I kept my distance when she needed to think. There were times when I was forceful with her, telling her that we were NEVER going to give up, even when the scans had found evidence of cancer in her lymph nodes.

I would be the person who reminded her that she was not going to die.

When dealing with what seems to be a reality, one must continue to realize that everything is not what it seems. It is not a matter of living in denial, but using every weapon you can muster to fight a fate that others see as inevitable. You have to use a “head fake” on yourself and the person you love in order to help them. Whatever works for you, is important in seeing yourself through the course of your pain.

Our family doctor saw her condition as terminal.

While our family doctor saw her condition as terminal, based on her scans and the tests that he saw, our cancer specialist and her surgical specialist said nothing about her condition being terminal. In fact, they said nothing negative about her condition. It was as if I was seeing their message as, “If you see yourself as dying, then you are in fact, dying.” There is nothing about inevitability that cannot be changed with a positive outlook.

I believe that the human mind is an amazing organ.

It has the ability to control many parts of the body. The mind can be taught to ignore pain. Though this train of thought may not be the best to follow, the fact that the mind is able to thwart many levels of pain is extraordinary. I have read documentation that meditation and the power of positive thinking can cause physical changes in the body. My perception, therefore, has become one of hopefulness and positive outlook.

We do not last forever.

I lost my oldest son in an automobile accident in 1988, when he was 9 years old. I learned then, that in our short lifespan, it is important that we make the best of our time, and not focus on one singular moment of grief. I cannot stress the importance in looking at all our memories, good and bad that we have experienced. I understand that though my wife is in remission, that cancer could return to make things worse for her. I have however, spoken to many cancer survivors since her condition was diagnosed. What every survivor told me, was that you must have faith in yourself, and that should the inevitable happen, it will happen. It is important to take solace in the thought that every waking moment that I have on this earth with her, is very precious.

It is important to not waste one moment while we are alive, which includes worry about any inevitable disaster that may befall us.

I for one, feel fortunate that I knew someone who helped me prepare for any inevitability and that I have known someone who has affected my life so positively as my wife. She is my life. I accept whatever fate is written for me, and I will strive to better myself and learn to value and enjoy who I am permitted to know, as I savor the time with the person that I love, during my time on this earth.

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