Guest post: "When someone you love is diagnosed with cancer"
Steph Douglas explains why cancer affects families as well as individuals
Steph founded Don’t Buy Her Flowers: an alternative gift site for new mums
Posted on: Fri 20-Oct-17 15:45:50
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It still feels like my husband being diagnosed with cancer happened to someone else. When I’m moaning at him for stepping over the washing on the stairs or not replacing the empty toilet roll, the shell shocked couple that sat before a consultant seven years ago feel like very different people.
I was in a haze of having just told everyone we were pregnant with our first baby. I thought I was ever so clever and he was having a few check ups but I didn’t pay that much attention to be honest. He was 30, had been a professional rugby player, never smoked. Then on the day he was getting the results of various tests, I mentioned it to my boss and he said ‘er, do you think you should go with him?’ and I said ‘oh, yes. Good idea. I’ll be in a bit later’. The idea that Doug could have been told he had cancer while on his own haunts me sometimes.
The diagnosis is just the beginning. The thing with cancer is there are a lot of tests and after each one a lot of discussion, and the ‘plan’ changes a lot with each lot of results or appointments being put back, and all the while you’re having to communicate what’s going on because, understandably, everyone around you wants to know what’s happening.
Talking about it over and over – with each other, to friends and family, is exhausting. Especially as at the same time you’re trying to make sense of something that isn’t actually logical. And the treatment often makes the patient feel considerably worse than they did before it started. And you don’t know. There are stats and depending on how your mindset is that day, you might favour the positive or you might only be able to focus on the % of people with the same prognosis that will die.
How other people react varies wildly – some can’t help but focus on their own emotions and others are there with a meal and a massive hug and no expectation for you to do anything but sob in their arms. Others will appear when you need them to get you drunk or make you laugh at inappropriate jokes.
"Most people want to make it better. Sometimes, you need people to get in the dark hole with you and just say ‘this is really shit and it's really unfair'."
Most people want to make it better. Sometimes, you need people to get in the dark hole with you and just say ‘this is really shit and it’s really unfair’. Their tales of ‘I knew someone that had thyroid cancer…’ mostly didn’t relate anyway because there are different types of thyroid cancer and the one Doug has is a rare, currently uncurable one. You wouldn’t know – it has no physical effect on him currently except for his annual check ups, which are a strange old time because both of us are anxious but not really saying anything, and when the results come back OK we collapse a bit from the exhaustion of pretending not to think about it while thinking about it a lot.
In December last year when I found a lump in my breast, my reaction surprised me. I’d thought after what we’d been through I wouldn’t hang about. But I suppose when life is busy it’s easy to put it off. And then of course there’s the fear – if no one has told you something is wrong you can just pretend it’s not, and that feels preferable to what might be. When I tried to casually mention it to Doug a couple of weeks later, his face looked understandably ashen and I was marched to the doctor the next day. I had a short while of anxiety and then the all clear. There was nothing to worry about. Lucky me.
Except I’m an idiot. When Doug went to the doctor because of night sweats and loose bowels, they initially dismissed it as anxiety and mentioned that he was only 30. He had his hand on the door to leave when he turned around and said ‘Do you know what? I know I’m not right, please refer me’. His cancer was stage three and had started to spread so the diagnosis and treatment came just in time. The idea of him with his hand on that door handle about to leave is another thing that haunts me. There are thousands of stories like that and if you think something is up, you may need to push it. Huge progress has been made in cancer treatments, and the difference of receiving an early diagnosis is massive so don’t put it off because it might feel preferable not to know. I promise you whatever the results, it won’t be.
When we were told Doug’s cancer wasn’t curable, they told us that new research and treatments were being developed and essentially not to worry about it. At the time it felt like a bit of a booby prize if that – what about NOW?! But the information and research has indeed developed rapidly and if we need it, the outlook isn’t as it was seven years ago. The progress made in recent years is mind-blowing and I truly believe we will see even more massive developments in our lifetime. But for the sake of the millions of people that have already been diagnosed, we can’t afford to slow down.
I’ve recently started working with Stand Up To Cancer, who raise money for the kind of ground breaking research, trials and developing treatments that so many people owe their lives to, including that of my little (about to get one bigger with baby three due!) family.
This week we launched the Stand Up To Cancer Care Package, with 5% of the retail price of every package going to the charity. The package has over 40 products to choose from in any combination, and it’s based on the idea that every person’s experience of cancer is different, but the knowledge that everyone involved – patients and their loved ones – need some TLC.
By Steph Douglas