The club of cancer patients, is one that no one really wants to join. It is also one that I never want to have to welcome anyone into. However, there are hundreds of people diagnosed with cancer on a daily basis, so it’s only a matter of time until someone you know becomes one of those hundreds.
On October 26th, it was the final day of my Caribbean cruise. I was blissfully sitting in a lounge playing cards and enjoying a cocktail, when my phone buzzed. It was a text from my friend K. She wanted to let me know that her husband, M, had been diagnosed with a brain tumor, and they suspected it was cancerous. I was shocked to say the least. Apparently, it had all happened very quickly and he was scheduled for brain surgery the next morning. My mind began spinning with thoughts, mainly revolving around being there for K and M, and questioning what could I possibly do to support them.
I’m not an amateur at this cancer diagnosis stuff, but I’m so used to being the one diagnosed. Being the one on the outside looking in, I’m less accustomed to. I’ve known K and M for the better part of 20 years. I was at their wedding, vividly remember the birth of all three of their children, had worked with, attended social events with, traveled with, and been good friends with them for what seems like a very long time. They knew me when I was originally diagnosed with breast cancer, and again, of course, the second time around.
When hearing of the situation, I felt pretty helpless. I tried to balance sending messages of support and giving them room to breath. K and M are such wonderful people and they have a large network of support. That also means they had a lot of people to communicate with while simultaneously processing this earth shattering diagnosis. I know it consumed my thoughts for the better part of most days, so I could only imagine what they must have been going through.
It took about a week for the tumor pathology to come back and it wasn’t exactly great news. M was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a very aggressive and difficult to treat form of brain cancer. I had done some initial research even prior to the pathology, and I had my fingers crossed that it was anything BUT glioblastoma. Unfortunately, it was not to be.
This is the tough part of being diagnosed. The doctors give you a poor prognosis and it takes awhile to wrap your mind around it. I think it’s like you quickly have to move through the 5 stages of grief…denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally….acceptance. I would even argue that you move back and forth through the stages in no particular order. Each day is different. One day you’re angry, the next day you’re in denial. There simply isn’t an instructional manual and trust me, you REALLY wish there was. My heart hurt for K and M, but I knew I could only be there when and if they were ready.
I can’t believe it hasn’t even been two months. It somehow feels like a lot longer. M has begun chemo and radiation. I’ve been fortunate enough to get to take him to a couple of radiation appointments. It has given us a chance to talk, cancer patient to cancer patient, and I’ve tried to share my limited wisdom with him. Yes, I’ve been dealing with this for a long time, but every case is so different. Not only are our cancers different, but life situations are different as well. I can share my experiences, decisions, feelings, actions, etc….but there is no guarantee that any of it will apply to him or help him.
But here is the ironic thing. Spending time with M, has ended up helping ME! It’s been almost 8 years since I received the “stage 4, incurable” cancer diagnosis and I think I have forgotten quite a few of those early feelings and lessons. Talking with M has brought it all back. We’ve discussed how painful it is to watch those we love suffer through this with us. We’ve talked about how you leave a legacy for your children, just in case you’re not here very long. We’ve talked about the delicate balance between reality and hope. We’ve talked about the roller coaster of emotions and how it can change so drastically from day to day. He shared how quickly his priorities changed. Suddenly there is no time for drama, toxic people, boredom, or meaningless activities. It’s been really good to be reminded of these things and these feelings. Sometimes, I think I’ve slipped back into that “denial” stage. Especially since being on my chemo break. When they keep telling you you’re terminal, but you just continue to press on, you sometimes forget. Most of all, this has been a huge reminder to not take anything for granted.
K and M still have a very long road ahead of them. I’m amazed at how strong they are-both as individuals and as a couple. They’re doing the best they can in the midst of a crappy situation, and I admire them immensely. While having lunch with K the other day, she said to me…”I’m sorry that I never really got it.” to which I replied, “I’m sorry that you get it now.” No one really gets it until it happens to them, and I don’t fault anyone for that. I only wish that I could take away the pain of “getting it.”
Anyway, less than a month until my next scan. Each time I start to worry about it, I stop myself and come back to the moment. Today, I’m not on chemo. Today, I feel good. I’m focusing on those things and trying not to get ahead of myself. Wishing everyone a very happy holiday season and all the best in the new year!!!