Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Sometimes it's like housework...

"It's not all beer and skittles", they say, and it's true. Sometimes, life is harder than we'd like it to be, the cards we are dealt are not the cards we'd like. I was talking to a poker-playing friend once, and I wondered aloud how the heck anyone could want to play a game where the odds are apparently stacked against you. His response was fairly simple. He said that in poker you get to fold, take a little loss, and come back in the next hand. That and you can work out the odds, or you can bluff and still win with a poorer hand.

The hand I currently hold doesn't seem to be entirely a strong one. I have an Ace of hearts in Christine, a Queen of hearts in Tess (who is 10½), but for the most part, I feel that I have dross in the rest of my hand. Not that I'm going to fold, not that I'm going to lose entirely, but playing the hand right is important for me and the rest of the family.

Christine is treatment-weary, the chemo is hard on her both physically and mentally. I'm treatment-weary too, just in a different way. One of the things that I am finding as a carer is that I feel I should always be doing stuff. If it's not making drinks, or meals, or juice, it's laundry or housekeeping or shopping. If I'm not doing one of these things, I tend to feel guilty. I fret if I'm sitting and relaxing. I agonise if I sit down to write.

I was talking with my sister-in-law a few days ago, and she came up with an expression that I'm going to share here. To put it into its proper context, we were talking about why some doctors really seem to enjoy their jobs, and some don't. Part of her reply was this - I think lots don't enjoy it because it isn't what they thought. They thought they would make people better. But it turns out to be messy and complex and the person gets sick again, damn it. It's like housework.

Well, what do you know. That's just like looking after someone with cancer. You do a thing, and do it well, only to have to do it all over again soon afterward. Chemo is like dusting. While it's going on, it seems never to end. There's always more tiredness, always more painful and inconvenient symptoms, always the fatigue. What respite there may be after a few days is too short-lived. The dust will be back on the bookcase all too soon, and out comes the feather duster once more.

This is how it is - if Christine stays in, I stay in unless there's an errand to run. Once she goes out, then I feel free to go out myself.

That's the tiring bit, that doing it all over. So why do we do it? I don't know about doctors, but I do know this. Looking after Christine (and Tess too) is a lot more rewarding than you might think. We know right now that Christine has no evidence of disease (NED, nice acronym from her oncologist), and the last round of three sessions is an insurance policy. Whilst it's expensive (in terms of the short-term suffering), it's worthwhile in the long term. Even if all this means just a few years (and we're hoping to beat all the odds), it will be worth it.

I am starting to realise that the way to tackle this is not to try and do it all at once. Vacuum the living room carpet, have a cup of tea. Tidy those books away, sit and read a few chapters. Make the bed with clean sheets, treat yourself to a wee snooze, not forgetting to set an alarm. For the love and the pride and the honour and the joy, I carry on. I just need to remember to take some time to look after me, too.

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