Tuesday, 18 November 2008

What it is to be a carer

I seem to be writing, slantwise, about Christine's cancer. I realise that I have been avoiding what is actually on my mind, which is about being a carer, about what it means to care for someone who has cancer.

Christine's cancer story, briefly, is this. We met virtually through the website everything2.com - I lived in England, she lived in California. We met in real life four years ago today. She was diagnosed with infiltrating ductal carcinoma in February 2004, following a trip to England. I flew out to be with her, to help her through the start of her treatment, which we hoped would be simple. As things turned out, she would be needing a mastectomy, chemo and radiation. I wound up staying here, as she was clearly going to need more than a little moral support. We were married on 1st May, 2005.

Since then we've been nursing her back to health. This is not as easy as it sounds. Cancer is no joke, neither for the patient nor the family - we've often said that cancer is a disease that affects the whole family. The patient is affected in fairly obvious ways, the family in ways that are not always so obvious. And each case is, of course, different. In this case, the difference was, and is, twofold. Christine has a daughter Tess, now aged ten. Her husband (me!) flew six thousand miles to care for, leaving behind his family, friends and support, to be with her.

Now the cancer has reared its ugly head again. That it did so made me angry at first. I came to realise that I was grieving. This grief is real - after all, there's a chance I might lose her at lot sooner than I'd like, and that's rather annoying, as it took me all this time to find a keeper. I also lost both my parents last year, Dad to cancer, Mum to a broken heart. My sister I lost because she feels I let them all down. I don't intend to let Christine down, or Tess.

I want to talk about my feelings, and I hope I don't bore you, or drive you away. I know I'm not alone, but I feel alone. It's not that I have no-one close, I do. I have Christine and Tess. There are thousands of people, millions, going through similar processes during their caring journey, but that's not the alone I feel. Our family is surrounded by people who love us, and bend over backwards to help us, but again, that doesn't address my alone-ness. It's the being alone inside my head with all the hopes and fears, no matter how reasonable or unreasonable, rational or unfathomable.

There are too many things worrying me right now. Things I can barely express, thoughts and feelings that are a knotted jumble. I need to get them out, and I hope that there is someone there who can help me make sense of them. Of course, along the way, maybe I will be able to help someone else. I hope so.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Autumn, Fall, whatever. Still my favourite season

Going into Autumn is complex for me. It always was - the "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness" used to fill me with a desire to flee England's dismal shortening days for milder weather and above all, daylight. Living in California now means that I don't have to fear the coming winter, miss the light, bright days or plod around in wet-weather gear just in case it rains.

Now, it means the season of abundance at the Farmer's Market. We're just out of the best bit, with the piles of tomatoes and peppers, but apples are beginning, so just as I start to miss one crop, another comes along to excite and delight me. How can anyone not shop at the Market? All those Safeway shoppers don't know what they ar
e missing by buying their "fresh" produce in bags and boxes, shipped from God-knows-where and treated in dreadful ways that a man ought not wot of.

Now, of course, it saddens me because my Mum died last year, in late October. This year I'm also dealing with Christine's cancer and the grief that's attached to that. But it's not about to drag me South with the autumnal emigre birds.

A final note on autumn, for my many English or British friends who enquire after my dealings with "American English". "Fall", they say, "is an Americanism best done without. Use 'autumn'".

Sorry to tell you this, but the words fall and autumn are relatively new words, dating from the 17th century. Before that, the season was known as "Harvest", and both words were used alike in America and Britain (or at least, England), though in time, each country had its own preferences. In fairness though, most Americans know what "autumn" means, and few Brits fail to understand the "fall" season. Of the two, once again, the Brits are the ones who gripe most.

I still love you, Harvest season, by any name.