Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Better you than me?

When Christine was newly diagnosed with cancer four years ago, we talked, as many couples must in such circumstances, about the injustice of it all. One of the things she found so hard to deal with was that, after years of looking after her body so well, it nonetheless rebelled against her. The body she'd honed through being active (she was a firefighter and forest ranger) and fed (lots of good fresh food) let her down. I remember saying that it would be more just had I had the cancer, having abused my body with drinking to much, smoking and not exercising. But we play the hand we're given, and play it as best we can. "If wishes were horses", the saying goes, "then beggars would ride".

So it goes. Christine suffered the indignities and discomfort of chemo and radiation therapy, and I stood by and watched, supporting her and Tess by doing shopping, cooking, laundry and all those little things. But it's hard to be a carer. It exacts an emotional and mental toll that is seemingly unending. Worthwhile? Of course. But a toll nonetheless.

The worst part of it was watching her pain get worse over the long months. Spring meant recovery from surgery, watching violated tissue knit, heal and scar. She mourned the loss of her breast and I could only watch, in my widow's weeds, crying my own silent and hidden tears over her poor lopsided body. We married in May, the weekend her hair really fell out, so our wedding pictures are of my scraggily-bald bride and I together.

Summer was for chemotherapy, and trying to keep her mind and spirit active and healthy while the poisons stripped not just the rebellious cancer, but her hair, skin and energy. When she couldn't face a full meal, I'd cook up rice, potatoes; bland foods for easy digestion. When she could barely stir from the couch, I'd hold her and comfort her with touch and words. She'd cry as she watched Tess and I playing and forging our relationship in the heat of the California summer; crying because she no longer felt alive, shackled in the house, separated from the real world by a veil of pain and fatigue.

Autumn meant radiation, the third dreadful blow. This was the cruelest time for me, watching her go every day for treatment. Each day a new horror on her tired flesh, each day the burns flushing brighter until they wept. And we wept too. She with the pain of happening, I with the pain of watching. She'd cry in her sleep each time she turned, a childlike whimper that belied her daytime stoicism; she'd cry, and my heart cried with her.

Our honeymoon had been the baptism of fire. Of course, we still talked; talked of how things should have been, how we wished it had been otherwise. I of course talked of the injustice I felt, and oft said that, in the words of the song, "it should have been me". But the cards were dealt, and Christine would often say that we had the right cards, that I would have been a far worse patient. I don't suffer well.

Now, years along, that is still true. At this moment I'm in bed with a cold, and I hate it. I hate being weak and in pain, and I'm assured that I'm a poor patient. I moan and make demands, and Christine, despite her own problems, fusses over me in a reversal of roles that she adapts to far better than do I. She of course, reminds me of this whenever I moan about my poor, pathetic lot. I may have been a hero to come and support her years ago, but now, struck by my own viral Kryptonite, I have to admit that she's right.

1 comment:

Tor Willy said...

I think I know roughly how you feel, having taken care of my quadriplegic son for 12 years now. But as they say in the airlines during the security demonstration: put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. The poorest patients, in my opinion, are the ones who think they don't have the time to be ill. Cheers, and "god bedring!"