My husband John was diagnosed with colerectal cancer on 31st July 2009. It was hot, sunny day and I sat in the car reading a magazine (such a luxury for me !) waiting for the call to go and collect him and drive him home after his colonoscopy.
John had been " fast tracked " for tests by our lovely GP, but we thought she was being kind rather than suspecting something horrible lurking. John had had symptoms for months but couldn't bring himself to tell me. He had feared " the worst " all along.
When I got the call from the nurses, I went to the ward, all smiles, not expecting to be called into an office, to sit with John, a couple of nurses and the surgeon who had performed the colonoscopy. My stomach did a somersault as realisation dawned. Then we both heard the words everyone dreads. John had a large tumour at the top of his rectum. Biopsies had been taken but there was little doubt about the malignant nature of the tumour. Explanations, treatment plans, more explanations......surgery not possible at this point....too dangerous....radiotherapy and chemotherapy....I could see that John had stopped hearing... or listening ... and eventually, laden with booklets we walked back to the car. John ate chocolate, still slightly woozy, very relieved I'd understood what had been said because he "didn't want to hear", and I drove home, feeling sick, full of dread and trying to keep smiling.
And so began our new life, John... so strong, well, healthy...suddenly deemed to have a "killer disease", and me, who was supposed to know how to cope with everything which that disease might throw at us. I wished it had been me who had been diagnosed....I could have coped with that much easier. I would gladly have gone through all the treatments, all the didtress if he could have been spared. I would have given my life to save his. All John wanted was reassurance that everything would be sorted, cured, kissed all better, like a grazed knee. All I wanted was to fall into a big black hole and not to come out 'till he WAS all better.
Eventually John told family and friends about the cancer, what he was going through treatment-wise, and how he actually felt about it all. For my part I had never been so scared in my life, scared of the treatment not working, scared of him becoming ill, and even worse, feeling ill....how would I ever be able to help ? I wanted to scream and cry and not be the strong, capable wife I was seen to be by all and sundry.
I joined the Cornwall Bowel Cancer Support Group very early in it's existence and at our first meeting in The Knowledge Spa adjacent to the hospital, I met people who were well, no so well, scared, brave, cheerful....and I met those caring for them, many going through exactly the same nightmare as me. At last I wasn't alone. , I was among friendswho understood the role of a carer, drugs disoenser, taxi driver, and anything else required, while maintaining a calm and serene disposition !
Over the next six years untill John died, I found strength in helping John cope, and (hopefully) helping others in the same position as we'd found ourselves. Researching diets, supplements, talking to complementary practitioners was easy for me due to my full time job, and John remained very fit, strong and healthy right up to his last six months. John's oncoligist and our GP wanted to know what he was "on" to keep him so well. But helping someone cope with, even speak of, their emotions, their fears, theor concerns is very difficult and, dare I say especially when it's a man.. who has always been so self contained, so dependable and strong.
Respecting the right of someone NOT to speak of their vulnerabilities, their own dreads and nightmares, even when you love them more than life itself, is very, very hard and I gradually learned when to keep quiet and stop asking questions. Handling the physical, the pain, the indignity of some of the effects of colorectol cancer is simple in comparison to trying to understand how someone feels.
Everyone is different, but caring for somone you love is the most amazine "job" ever, and keeping oneself fit and healthy is important, but the last thing on ones mind ! I continue to try and support carers in any way I can and would do anything to make it even a little bit easier.