It must be a nightmare to be close to someone who is going through, or has been through cancer treatments. My poor hubby J developed the starting symptoms of a head cold recently. A direct gift from me in all likelihood. As he started to sniffle and descend into misery (as I had done just a few days previously) he looked to me for sympathy. And what did he get? I think you probably spell it P-A-H. Pronounced PAH! I heard myself think “what you have a little teensy headcold? Pah! Just a head cold? Are you complaining? How can you complain, when I have been treated for CANCER? Pah! Pah! Pah!!!!” I might not have said these words out loud but I am ashamed to say that they most certainly flitted into my mind.
No matter what type of cancer diagnosed, it calls for gruelling treatment and a massive and unwelcome emotional impact . Many have been through a triathlon from hell (surgery, chemo and radiation). We have heard the dreaded “you have cancer” words. We are and have been subjected to the most degrading and challenging treatments even though often we didn’t feel ill in the first place. We have lost much, including often our hair, immune system, taste ability, dignity, use of limbs and experienced impaired digestive functions. And the special chemo delights – nausea, vomiting, loss of taste and appetite, complete refusal of the digestive system to function, that appalling constipation/diarrhea alternating combo, weakness, loss of sensation, acquisition of foul taste to name just a few of the side effects I found more memorable. Now that was a challenge, that was as about as horrible as you can get. And this is not over in a matter of days. Our thorough treatment plans span for weeks and months ahead of us, into an unimagined, unimaginable far distant future. So what happens? We seem to find ourselves elevated to a new level of respect for the grossness of the effects of treatment added to having to handle that mind altering bonus of “face your mortality” that cancer brings. Compared with a head cold that is just mega trivial. Isnt it?
Now let’s re-wind to those pre-cancer days. I remember well that horrible miserable feeling when you feel the first signs of a head cold. The dreadfull sensation of suffocation and general malaise. It might be common but it doesn’t make it any the less miserable. And a nasty cold can really floor you. Rationally, I know that I am being unfair in ranking ill health, but emotionally those pangs of cancer superiority filter through.
What about our long suffering partners and family when we are going through gruelling cancer treatment? They support us. They listen to our pleas for a particular food, only to have to eat it themselves when we can’t face eating it. They hold our hands when we wake all hours of the night by a sudden need to vomit. They comfort and reassure us at those unexpected times when the fear grips us. They sit beside us listening to the complicated words of our specialists as we try and absorb what they are telling us, a hand on our shoulders to try and comfort and reassure us that we are not alone. We are in this together.
So this is an apology. I know that I hated chemo, was terrified of surgery and struggled with radiation. I know our partners would all do the same. This does not make me superior. It is another example of just having to deal with something when we are faced with it. It is also an illustration of perspective. Now when I get a headcold, it is almost a laughable relief. But that does not make it any the less miserable. I should not have any grand sense that I have got through the triathlon. For most of us, if we are faced with it we know we do not have much choice but to get on with it. But before this horror, I was just as miserable with a headcold, as scared with the prospects of a needle stick, and as repelled with the thought of surgery. And let’s be honest, I still dread the unpleasantness of medical procedures.
It might be easy to say “Pah!” to a head cold while I am on this side of treatment for cancer for now, but I completely respect and acknowledge that I can not be complacent or snobbish about the degree of illness.
Cancer and a headcold might not be equal cousins as illnesses, but any ailment must be respected, particularly in those care for us and see us at our lowest. Our carers must be equally respected and supported when they are sick.
Even if it is “just” a head cold!