Monday, January 3, 2011


Back in 2009, I spent a great deal of time wishing the year away. It was the year Michael was diagnosed with cancer, very early in the year, and he spent the entire year going through cancer treatment, and our family was put through the wringer. Michael dealt with the awful effects of chemo and radiation and surgery, while still holding down a job to support his family. I watched my husband's spirit erode and his body diminish, and was utterly helpless to bear any of it for him or to lessen the impact for any of us, all the while still having a house to maintain and six children to care for. Over time, the kids began to respond to Daddy being sick and Mommy being depressed with their own high emotions. It was a very, very difficult time, and I wanted nothing more than to put the year behind us so we could get back to life as we knew it before we had a relationship with cancer.

The truth is, though, that there is no going back. Life does not return to "normal" after cancer. Yes, life goes on, and we engage in most of the same activities that we used to, and our day-to-day routine is the same as before. But we are changed. Forever.

Some of the changes are good, and some unsettling. I remember when Michael was going through treatment, one day I ran into a mom at the kids' school whom I was acquainted with. We exchanged pleasantries and I asked about her husband, who I knew was in the military. She told me that he had been deployed to Iraq. And I remember thinking, "Yes, that's what it feels like. It feels like my husband is off to war." And like the men and women who come back from war with physical and emotional scars, so, too, do people who fight cancer.

Cancer, it never goes away. Even when the scan is clear and the blood work looks great, it's there, with its hooks in you, holding on, trying to take your peace of mind and your sense of safety and your ability to believe that there is still a whole life ahead.

I won't attempt to speak for Michael, as the experience of being the one who actually has cancer and goes through treatment is a unique experience in itself, and one I am not arrogant enough to think I understand. But speaking for myself, as the spouse of someone who fought cancer, I know the experience has wrought changes in me and my whole family.

I am filled with gratitude for all that I have . . . and an ever-present fear of losing it all. In some ways, everything about life feels more vivid . . . the highs are higher, and the lows are lower. I now live with the conviction that I will one day have cancer, that there is no escaping it - cancer is everywhere, lurking, silent, waiting to take everything away. Often I feel sapped from being swallowed by other people's needs, without having a proper, conventional safety net of support for myself.

I am angry - very angry - that the people who should have been saying, "What can we do to help you guys through this?" - if only by virtue of the obligation that is born out of the love, commitment, and loyalty they profess - have all along been unable and/or unwilling to put their own feelings and needs aside, leaving us adrift without proper support. That those people think they can speak for me and my kids in telling the world that we are all so very happy that Michael's recent scan was clear, when in truth, they have no fucking idea what we are feeling or what we have gone through, or what we continue to go through, because they can't seem to see beyond themselves. I am angry and bitter that I have stood by my husband through thick and thin, through the joys of good times and the ugliness and horrors of bad times - purely out of my love for and commitment to him and our kids - and yet I am still barely acknowledged as anything more than an incidental nuisance by the people who profess love and loyalty to him. I am angry that we are still trying to heal, after all this time, and those people don't have a clue.

I am scared that we are never going to heal completely. I am scared that cancer, in the end, has won, and has stolen something from us permanently.

Life goes on, and for the most part I purposefully go with that and am grateful for it. But every once in a while, the fallout is brought sharply into focus.


diane rene said...

both of my parents were diagnosed with cancer during my childhood. my mom with thyroid cancer in her mid 30s, my dad with bladder cancer in his early 40s.

both rocked my world. when my mom was diagnosed, it was considered an easy cancer ... find it, remove it, radiate it, done. no chemo, no risk of it returning. we know better today.

my dad has suffered with issues resulting in that very first surgery 20+ years ago. as late as the summer of 2009, he was back in the hospital trying to fix yet another complication. we know we're not out of the woods with him, and what breaks me into a massive pile of worthlessness is, there is NOTHING we can do about it. more than that, my dad is done dealing with it. he'd rather die than undergo another surgery. I've been with him through it all and I can understand why.

in 2009, while my dad was being treated for his newest issue, I went in to have my thyroid removed. I had a golf ball sized tumor on the front of my thyroid, that bulged noticeably from my throat, and 3 popcorn sized tumors on the back.

for 4 days I had cancer, or that is what I can laughingly say today.

while 5 pathologists confirmed the tumors were cancerous upon dissection in the OR, 1 "supreme" pathologist overturned them 4 days later.

do I consider myself lucky? nope. because I know I will have it at some point, and now that this opportunity has passed, it means I will be looking towards the day when it is confirmed.

to say that cancer is on my mind daily is untrue. but it is on my mind a lot. every new freckle, skin discoloration, odd lump and even headache creates the thought in my mind. I study my girls necks, because thyroid cancer is not supposed to be hereditary, but what are the chances my mom and I both would have massive tumors on that particular gland? most days I laugh it off, some days I just wish I hadn't seen/felt it.

I am sorry that it has it's grips on your family as well, Lisa. I miss the day when I could say cancer hadn't touched my family. and I am sorry that people that should have supported you and Michael were not there. It's unfair, it's brutal and it's heart wrenching. It also separates the weak from the strong. I have seen people touched by cancer become pillars of strength and support, and I have watched others run away in horror. I know in my family, it brought out those we wanted to keep closest.

sorry this became so long, delete it if you want. I just wanted you to know that you are not alone.

Cinoda said...

Sort of rambled on the last comment. I guess I read your posts and a bunch of unrelated stuff just came flooding back.

Some people just can't get out of themselves enough to touch yours.