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.


Tracy said...

Ahem. Keep writing. We are here, even if it is too far, and we love youse. Lots. Also, through the magic of time change, 5 in the morning your time is 8 our time, and while I may not always be coherent then, I can be awakened to listen. THIS ALSO MEANS YOU, INSOMNIAC SUGAR-MOMMA.

Love, love, love.

Anne Orchard said...

Hi Kevin,

You are on a rollercoaster journey, just like your wife. I went through my journey when my Mum was ill many years. I didn't think to write about it at the time, but have done so now in an attempt to share what I learned. Writing is a good way to help you move through the grief you have recognised that you are experiencing. There are stages to grief (anger being most definitely one) and you can help to move yourself through them. Some people even write a letter to the cancer in order to express the violent emotions they have and stop hanging onto them.
You can download a free chapter of the book at the website (www.familiesfacingcancer.org) if you are interested and it is available in the US as well as the UK, where I'm based.
Feel free to get in touch.

Anne Orchard
Author 'Their Cancer - Your Journey'