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Triple Whammy or How to Cope with Multiple Cancers: Part II – “Dearly Beloved” – by HD

Post Published: 15 August 2010
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Category: Guest Bloggers, Managing Multiple Cancers
This post currently has 17 responses. Leave a comment

Last week I talked about how therapeutic it was for me to learn all I could about my cancers and their treatment options.  It gave me a feeling of actively “doing” something to fight back, and it enabled me to make a few important decisions regarding my treatment.

Today, I like to write about the importance of having a support system.  What do I mean by that? – Well, one really should not fight cancer all alone. It is such a monumental task that I think we all need help with that.

Of course ones own spouse/partner is probably the most important person in your support system. If your spouse is not part of the team, than fighting this illness becomes so much harder. If you don’t have a spouse, maybe you have a good/best friend, or a brother/sister, or other relative that can fulfill this vital and important role for you. – For me, the support of my wife was absolutely crucial, I could not have gone through this without her.

What does one expect from such a support person? Well, that is a really good question and rather hard to put into words. – Loyalty, optimism, physical help, emotional help, friendship,  guidance, protection, comfort, care and love, – all these words come to my mind when I try to describe this important role.

It is a very stressful and emotionally difficult job.  Seeing someone you love suffer is tough enough as it is, but being cheery and optimistic around that sick person, when you perhaps feel down yourself, can be a tremendous burden.

Unfortunately sometimes the stress of a life-threatening illness is just too much for a relationship; and, sadly, I know of cases where the marriage or relationship broke apart because of a bout with cancer. (Usually the relationship was already weakened before the illness struck)

Right from the beginning of my diagnosis, my wife accompanied me to all my doctor visits. She came right into the exam rooms with me. One of the people I interviewed suggested to create a note book with all the relevant information, so my wife became the secretary to write things down for me. Besides, four ears hear more than just two, and it was really helpful when I asked things like “did I hear the doctor right when he said he wants to do such and such with me?”.

Also, as the medications started to pile up, she kept track of the prescriptions, whether they were to be taken on an empty stomach, or with food, or had interactions with other medications; or if they were to be taken only on nights with a bright full moon, or only if a certain party was in power in Washington. DC – As you can see, it became complicated fast, and she sorted through all this, and the notes helped greatly.

She also thought of good questions to ask the doctors, questions that I didn’t think of, or which would clarify things that were said before.  And, when a doctor started to speak “medi-gibberish”, neither of us were too shy to ask to please translate that into regular English.  I found it helpful to paraphrase back to the doctor how I understood what was said, that way he/she had a chance to correct me when I was wrong about something.

When you are fighting cancers, you have your plate very full,  and there are things that you just don’t want to deal with at that time. Insurance worries come to mind. The good folks at our insurance company wanted to send me to a radiation facility that was 100 miles (160 km) away, one way that is.  All only because this clinic was “in their plan”.   Well, the good wife, with the help of our wonderful local cancer center in town (who agreed to accept as their payment whatever our insurance would allow), was able to fight the giants and change their minds; and I had my radiation sessions locally.  That was a huge relief. Can you imaging the trouble and cost for staying seven weeks at a hotel in a strange town (that is how long my radiation sessions to my neck lasted).

The folks at our local cancer center were really magnificent. Not just the radiology oncologist doctor, but also the nurses, the receptionists, the business people, and of course the radiology technicians. I don’t know whether this center screened these people for having great and passionate empathy when they hired them, but they really made me feel welcome, and knew exactly how a patient and their family feels when they walk through their doors. – Unfortunately I cannot say the same of some of the other doctor offices I had to visit. Some of their reception staff (not so much the nurses) were bordering on rude; they certainly gave the impression that I as a patient was intruding onto their turf.

Besides my wonderful wife, friends and relatives were also great sources for moral and often practical support. – I already mentioned this physician who is our friend. She is also a accomplished musician, and while I was in the midst of my treatment, she and another musician come up to our house (a 110 mile drive) and performed a classical guitar and violin concert; imagine, just for me!!. – Even better, yet another friend had a piece of classical music just newly composed, and he gave permission that it might be performed for me for the very first time.  A world premier.  Needless to say that I was speechless and very, very touched by this show of  extraordinary compassion and friendship. Well above and beyond the call of duty, I’d say.

The neighbors were wonderful, and the people of groups that I am associated with (like the arts center here in town), they all offered their help and support.  If you belong to a religious or spiritual group, those also are great sources for support and comfort. So please, make use of your connections, it might be useful in pulling you through this crisis.

I didn’t make a secret at all of my illness. Right from the beginning I spoke openly and candidly about the cancers. It helped me deal with it while looking another person straight into the face.

The internet was a good source for additional support as well. One site I am active in is called www.sparkpeople.com, it deals with weight-loss and healthy life style. As soon as I mentioned something in this chat group about my medical problems (like, “I think I will stop the calorie counting for a whee while”) this great little group became part of my support system, they really rooted for me throughout the treatments, and made sure I checked in with them regularly.

As some of you know, I am from Germany, and all of my family (and many friends) are still over there; so, I had the problem of letting them know long distance what was going on with my health. After a while it became too cumbersome for me to write emails and do phone calls with each and every one them, so first I created an email distributed letter (one in English, another in German), and soon after that, I moved the set of letters onto a website and sort of transformed it into a bilingual blog. You can read it here.

With this website I now was able to give them all frequent updates and let them know what was happening to me in this fight. Great tool!

And, like the Dear Thyroid letters, writing about my illness was also therapeutic for me.  Sometimes I was writing more for my own good, than for the sake of informing others. – I was also told by some other cancer sufferers that they started a blog or a good old paper diary about their own struggles.

—————

Somebody described the fight against cancer(s) as a walk through a gloomy, dark, and unknown valley. The path is strenuous, often uphill, and sometimes very windy; and you never know what lurks around the next corner. I liked this analogy very much and now can well related to it. – So, being able to “lean” on a dearly beloved person, or group of people, during this tough journey was very comforting and reassuring.

What are your most important support systems? What advice can you give to fellow cancer sufferers?  We want to hear from you, please chime in by writing a comment.

In the next segment of this series I want to write about positive thinking, motivation, and attitude to keep on fighting!  See you then!

Here is to your health!

HD in Oregon

Triple Whammy – Dealing With Multiple Cancers Part I.  Triple Whammy – Dealing With Multiple Cancers Part II

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17 Responses to “Triple Whammy or How to Cope with Multiple Cancers: Part II – “Dearly Beloved” – by HD

  1. Donna says:

    Beautiful HD, thank you. Your wife sounds amazing. Good luck.

  2. Diane E. D'Angelo says:

    Thank you for this post. Very helpful.

  3. Lou says:

    Dear HD,
    You are indeed very fortunate to have this wonderful wife.
    In any illness we who are sick and can’t do for themselves all the time and the mental clarity it takes to keep track of what and when and how we do our medicines and keeping track of appointments and noticing changes that we ourselves might not it is woonderful to have a “wife”!
    I have often made the comment to my husband, I wish I had a wife! Often men cannot take on this roll of nurse. Many men will leave because they are not able to be the often considered “female” role of caretaker.
    Don’t misunderstand, you do realize her value. It is not your fault that men cannot fill this necessary role in reverse.
    Many women suffer alone. The loss of her hair and the gaining of weight and other changes make her feel very unactive. Loosing her spouse may not be these reasons but trust me, she will think so.
    I’m sure men have there unique set of problems only known to men but certainly loss of hair is not one of them, so many men do anyway and it’s so in fashion now that many men are shaving their heads.
    So be grateful as you are, and bless the men in this world that are able to put on the cap and be a nurse to their loved one.
    Thanks for sharing, I hope you heal from all your suffering. Take care, and kiss your wife.

  4. Melissa Travis says:

    Beautiful post. I’m in tears. Traveled the path alone and with friends… lost my spouse — I think that you are underestimating what a spouse can do. Most men cannot handle their wives getting sick, while women CAN handle their husband’s getting sick.

    Research indicates that a LARGE percentage of men usually either check out of their marriages (by divorce OR by socially acceptable ways like working 70 hours a week) when their wives or children get cancer or illnesses… and then divorce years later after the illness is in remission… but they started the checkout process when it was begun.

    A group of men right now are in the process of trying to sustain themselves emotionally while their wives are sick and are asking themselves – WHY IS THIS EMOTIONAL CARETAKING SO HARD? and they are realizing that they have never been given the emotional caretaking role. They have never BEEN forced to do the EMOTIONAL LABOR. They have always been asked to do the MANUAL/FINANCIAL labor- but never the crying, the holding, the EMOTIONAL STUFF… the stuff the rips your heart out of your chest and rings it a thousand times… BUT YOU ARE CAPABLE.

    And – through your own illness – YOU ARE FINDING YOUR OWN SOURCE OF IT. you are seeing WHY IT IS NECESSARY.

    I myself try not to question why I have dealt with multiple cancers or auto-immune illnesses. questioning only brings the unanswered.

    So your letter is beautiful. And powerful. And shows the beauty.

    But there are many women (and some men) who do not have the SOCIAL SUPPORT THEY NEED. And what they find (we find) is that within ourselves we have more strength than we knew… and sometimes less. Sometimes we have less … and we throw ourselves on the compassion of anyone who gives a damn. And someone will come along and do nice things – like take the garbage out once in a while. And mostly – you drive yourself to chemo.. ALONE. And YOU ARE OK. YOU DEAL WITH IT.

    And you learn to LOVE the people and have GRATITUDE for those who give you ANY support at all. And THAT is what has driven me to give back – TO GIVE ANYTHING to people who have nothing or very little… to open my heart and arms to people who are lost and sick. BECAUSE I HAVE BEEN THERE… And sometimes I fancy myself still there.

    Thank you for sharing. Thank you for your beauty. Thank you for writing in.

    much love!
    Melissa

  5. Monica says:

    HD,

    Kudos to your main squeeze. You are very lucky have a wonderful wife.

    I, too, feel lucky because my husband picked up the slack when I could not deal. He accompanied me to all of the doctors’ appointments/tests/surgeries, took notes, and supported me as best he could. Of course there were times when he got on my last nerve and I wanted to bite his head off when I wasn’t feeling well. But, he stuck by me and never once complained. Boy, if I could have been a fly on the wall in his brain I’m sure it would have been interesting to really know what he was thinking!
    🙂

    One of my concerns was could he understand what I was saying when I would share a thought, feeling, fear, whatever with him. So I had him read some of the stories here on DearThyroid so he could get a glimpse into other people’s lives and he would know I am not crazy or overreacting or being a total maniac when I would say off the wall comments or react in a way that was deemed inappropriate by his standards.

    At the same time, I have been extremely disappointed by the lack of support from my family outside of my husband. My mother didn’t even come see me in the hospital after surgery, nor call me or come visit me after I got home from the hospital to see how I was doing or if I needed anything. I’m still not over that and no matter how I try to justify why, it’s not a good enough reason.

    Now, because I have had two opposite reactions to my situation with “family,” I now wonder who I can really count on and question the old cliche “blood is thicker than water” because I was told family are the only people you can count on and trust. But now I get that DNA does not make you a family. It is kindness and compassion and genuine connections that are important.

    Sorry, I went off on a tangent. I haven’t been able to really talk about this so I needed to put it in writing what I have been feeling.

    As always, I love and appreciate that you share so much with us. Looking forward to Part III.

    ☮ ♥

  6. Gina says:

    hd
    this is wonderful, i know the importance of the support system, ive lost a link in mine. not for good but my hubby had a breakdown and is now trying to heal himself so the one i once called my rock is not available for the time being. ive relied on friends and very few family members to get me through this journey. thanks for the insight your wife seems amazing as well a your friends. thank you for your words of encouragement as well, you and my friends here at dear thyroid have been priceless, i mean that from the bottom of my heatrt. keep writting these peices they surely have helped me as im sure they have helped others, cheers and best wishes to you and your wonderful wife in the future…
    gina

  7. HDinOregon says:

    Hello Donna and Diane,

    Thank you for your kind comments.

    HD

  8. HDinOregon says:

    Lou,

    Very interesting comment. — No doubt that men might be having a much harder time be emotionally caring, but I do hope that there a few that can be of comfort to their wifes in times of crisis.

    HD

  9. HDinOregon says:

    Hello Melissa,

    Yes, it is sad that there are many women who do not have the social support they need. – Compassion is so important in a time when cancer strikes.

    Sure men are not only physically, but also emotionally, different – but I do hope that some (may be only a few) can rise to the occasion and provide real help and comfort to their suffering wifes.

    And, as you say, ANY support is welcome!

    Thanks for commenting.

    HD

  10. HDinOregon says:

    Hello Monica,

    I am glad that your husband was up to the task (for a moment I thought most men are incapable judging from the previous comments).

    I think, even if your guy cannot cook at all, he still can order in pizza. And even if he does not clean house like you do, at least he can try his best. And if he doesn’t know which shelf the bargain brands in the supermarket are, at least he can do some shopping for the family. – As long as he makes an effort!

    Good that your husband was able to support you!! I’m glad!

    HD

  11. HDinOregon says:

    Dear Gina,

    So sorry that your husband had to take some time out. Supporting someone with cancer is tremendously straining, on both, the sufferer and the main support person. – I hope you have good and caring friends that can give you some help.

    I am so glad that you got something out of my writings. Makes the effort so worth it.

    Thanks for the great comments!

    HD

  12. HDinOregon says:

    P.S.:

    Fighting one cancer is bad enough, but when fighting either a complex and difficult one, or multiple cancers; – it becomes so much more stressful (for all involved). – Not only does it take much longer to treat; it also, unfortunately, provides more opportunities for emotional and relational cracks to develop.

    I wish all of you, who are in such a situation: much patience, and solid strength, and, above all, lots and lots of compassion.

    {{{Hugs}}}
    HD in Oregon

  13. Lolly says:

    Great post HD so glad you have such a beautiful wife who is so supportive of you, that is half the battle won. Dealing with cancer is bad enough multiple cancer even harder but having to deal with alone must be devestating no-one should be alone when dealing with a life threatening disease.

    Some great points you made about taking someone with you 4 ears are better than two. And have a good support network.

    Lolly

  14. Lou says:

    I bet you have a beautiful painting of your wife HD, could u share it with us?

    • HDinOregon says:

      Lou,

      Unfortunately I don’t have any paintings of my wife. She is a very private person and never agreed to model for me.

      HD

  15. Lou says:

    I didn’t mean a NUDE! {embrassed}

    • HDinOregon says:

      Lou,

      No reason to be embarrassed. My wife prefers not to model, nude or otherwise.

      I on the other hand like to draw and paint people.

      Take care,
      HD

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