A person who has to deal with cancer, is dealing with one of the most difficult things to threaten their life. Changes occur to both the body and the mind. Cancer changes the way our body feels and reacts. Cancer changes the way we think, permanently. For some, the thoughts that are changed are life changes… “I’m going to live a better life” or “I’m going to do things differently, for the good”, not taking anything for granted. But for some, thoughts are dominated with paranoia, about dying, about the cancer coming back after remission has been declared, and thoughts about mortality.
One thing I wish my oncologist would have told me, is that I would never be done with cancer. Sure, I have survived it 24 years. But after all those years, I am still dealing with cancer and the late effects that have developed in me over that time. Then again, two and a half decades ago, I, like many others were simply lumped into a “survival rate” of five years so I am sure the thought never occurred to him that I would be around all these years later, dealing with the ramifications of my survival.
Besides surviving the cancer battle, the most important thing to a cancer patient is being able to talk about their issues: how they feel on a particular day, concerns for their future, experiences with their appointments. This is part of the process. We need to be able to talk, and not just a psychologist or therapist, but to those closest to us, family and friends, and perhaps some trusted acquaintances. But just as the cancer patient has no experience in dealing with cancer, most non-cancer people have no idea what it is like to deal with cancer, physically, or emotionally. Perhaps, they may even have some experience, but have been left unable to face yet someone else dealing with cancer.
My father passed away earlier this year from lung cancer. But it was me that he turned to for support and wanted only one thing from the doctors, to be a survivor like his son. Yet when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, my father was nowhere to be found. We talked about this years later. I was unaware until that moment, that my paternal grandmother had died from cancer of the gall bladder. My father had been lied to about her illness (it was not cancer), only to watch her erode away, suffer, and die. Eventually he was told it was cancer. My father did not want to watch what happened to his mother, happen to me. I do not fault him for that. He carried that his entire life, no one to talk to about it. That is, until he was diagnosed himself. I wore many hats with the care of my father, but none was as important as being an ear to listen and a shoulder to lean on and vent. In the end, it was comforting to him, that he was understood about what he was going through.
We never get over cancer. Fortunately for most today, unlike survivors like myself in longevity, protocols now require lifetime following. I can only imagine if that would have been applied to me. Instead of disappearing off the planet once I hit the magical five year mark. Had I been followed more closely, my heart, lung, and other issues would have been discovered and better managed than what I am left with today.
I do not blame her, but what did not help was my first ex-wife did not really discuss anything with me at all. From the moment of diagnosis, and through all but one of my chemo treatments and none of my radiation treatments, she never spoke of my cancer. And when I was finally done with my treatments, she would express frustration that I would continue to try and stay involved in the cancer world, telling people what I had gone through. I do not fault her for this. She did not want cancer in her world. My cancer was gone, and so should any conversation about it.
My second ex-wife (to be), also had issues with my survival of cancer. She got to enjoy a lot of healthy non-cancer years with me, knowing that I had cancer, but was simply not having to deal with it in the form of appointments. But when I was diagnosed with a major blockage to the main artery of my heart, and it was discovered that the radiation therapy was the cause behind the “widow maker” blockage. And with that, it was discovered that my cancer was coming back, but in the form of late developing side effects from both the radiation and chemotherapy. Cancer was once again, controlling and dominating my life.
While her concern originally was genuine, I would soon realize that she too, would expect me to just move on once I was recovered. And perhaps, had that been the only issue I had to deal with, or even at the least, had nothing to do with my treatments, then perhaps it might have been possible for me to just “move on.” But with the knowledge that long term cancer survivors like me have the potential to develop severe late side effects even decades after treatment, once again, it was back in the forefront of my life.
I will say that the reasons for both of my divorces were not caused directly by my cancer and late effects, but cancer definitely had something to do with lighting the fuse.
I will not post about my divorce in this post, but will do so in a few days. But long story short, both of us have moved on into other relationships. For me, it is no longer an issue to mention I had cancer 24 years ago. But now any relationship I begin, I am up front about the mess that my body has become on the inside. While I look quite fine physically on the outside, on the inside, it can become quite unnerving being with someone you know has the potential for multiple emergency situations. I have found someone who understands what I have gone through, and accepts me. She also watches out for me, to make sure that I do not overextend myself physically unlike in the past when I pushed myself beyond limits because I felt it was better than to sacrifice.
I do not know why my two ex-wives felt the way that they did. Perhaps they were afraid. Maybe they were in denial. I suppose we should have had some sort of conversation about their feelings. Only then, would I have been able to figure out if it was me, or them. If it was them, then perhaps they might have been able to talk to someone. All I know is that I found a therapist to deal with my cancer issues and clearly, it was normal not to be able just to move on.