I was going to save this post for a special occasion… but I decided to put it in my new book (surprise!). And it’s something I’ve been going through for a few months without so much as sharing a word of it in public. But hopefully this will other caregivers out there. (PS. see below the story for the special announcement)
---Few things invoke a more vehement denial than when your Significant-Other tells you they’ve just been diagnosed with cancer. Yes, denial—not just a river in Egypt.
“Bah, humbug. You’re definitely an Aquarius, not a Cancer, you silly goose.”
But when Significant-Other’s tears didn’t stop, I knew that life had just changed, shifted, and become both a bit more real and surreal all at the same time.
An entire spectrum of thoughts immediately surged to the forefront. What is she going to do? What am I going to do? I’m happy to take care of her as best I can—but damn, it’s gonna be a lot of work. Why her? Why me?
Significant-Other had an especially difficult roller coaster of emotions—her mother had died from cancer a few years back, her lovely but hairless cat had died from cancer the year prior, and her best friend was in the process of dying from an especially nasty cancer, extinguishing a flame that should have shone brightly for at least another thirty years.
However, Significant-Other made a smart decision at the very beginning. She reached out to her friends and her especially Brave-Sister on my behalf, to help me help her. I couldn’t do it all alone, and she knew that the prospect of doing so would break me in two.
The coming weeks were filled with doctor’s appointments, second opinions, paperwork, and scheduling surgery. Finally, the doctors found a small tumor at the base of her tongue.
After a wee bairn of a Scottish doctor resected (fancy word for “sliced out”) a three-centimeter piece of the back of her tongue, she was on pain drugs galore. Many of them made her an irritable, nauseous mess, which then brought on a terrible and persistent anxiety, the likes of which I had never before seen.
I knew how to deal with my anxiety. I speak about it in front of hundreds at a time, after which people will pull me aside to discuss their own anxiety. I get to hug them and be with them one-on-one for a few minutes. But how was I supposed to deal with the anxiety of Significant-Other for an undetermined period of time?
Significant-Other’s anxiety was a true test of my patience, not to mention my mental health. Self-coaching, a call to a therapist friend, and honest conversations with Significant-Other were exactly what the doctor ordered to make my life and caregiving a bit more manageable.
Never once did I think Significant-Other would die from the diagnosis or the treatment. But the emotional baggage that one accumulates in the interim is heavy enough to make some sink for good.
Why do these things happen? Who the hell knows? Spending your life trying to gauge whether God is fair or unjust—or wondering whether the government is out to get you with cancerous crop pesticides—is about as useful as chasing your own tail.
Hindsight does provide a luxury: the ability to wax poetic on any set of circumstances. With the benefit of clearer vision—and with Significant-Other’s successful cancer treatment in the rear-view mirror—it’s a bit easier to see that the whole ordeal was not and still is not easy to understand in the slightest. I have to squint my eyes and focus on the bits I want to see, the ones that help me move forward, to heal and to help others. I get to choose my own viewpoint and my own adventure.
The purpose I take away from things like Significant-Other’s cancer—and my own brush with suicide in the past—is that it’s all about refinement, at least for me. I already won the “white guy born in the United States of America” lottery, so that skews things a bit. I get to learn something from this—or at least I get to try.
I learned how to ask for help, which is something I still struggle with at times. Significant-Other asked for help from Brave-Sister and her friends, which in turn helped me find a way to ask my own friends and even Significant-Other for help while I played the role of caregiver.
I learned about grace and dignity. Three of my grandparents had died from cancer before I was born. I don’t worry about it, but there’s a good chance I’ll probably get it, too (sweet b’jesus, let it be something confined to my pinky toenail, if anything at all). I now have a better idea of how to ask for help for myself and how to navigate the healthcare system.
I learned how to find my funny, even in the face of a s&*+ storm.
I learned how to better love myself, my friends, and my lover.
---That was a sample of my newest book, The i’Mpossible Project: Reengaging With Life, Creating a New You now available for pre-order. 50 authors. 50 inspirational stories of overcoming tremendous obstacles.
Read a few sample chapters HERE.
The first 200 people to pre-order will get a “thank you” in the front of the book, and a free copy of the book The Gospel According to Josh: A 28-Year Gentile Bar Mitzvah.