It has been a very long, manic and hectic eight years since being diagnosed. From a health perspective, I have had my ups and downs, like anyone else. In my case, advanced metastatic prostate cancer, which is a life-threatening disease. Like some, I have posted some of my woes, lows, and highs on social-media groups within the likes of Facebook in a bid to help others.
But this chapter isn't about me. It is about my wife, Grace, my caregiver. My wife is a highly intelligent, quiet and beautiful woman. She greets everyone with a smile and is extremely polite. However, do not mistake her demeanour, for there is under all of this a lioness, protective of her cubs. She is the person that interacts with me daily, subsequently having to deal with me when I am at my worst. When my confidence is at rock bottom and my frustrations are off the Richter scale. When the false smile that I have painted on for the rest of the world leaves my face, she becomes the unintended target of an abrupt mood swing. I do try to isolate myself when I feel that moment coming on, but sometimes I fail miserably. When we are supposed to have an entertaining evening out, I am excusably tired. But she is unsure of which type of tired – the ‘long day at work tired,' the ‘physical exertion tired,' or the ‘cancer fatigue tired'.
She is the one left to watch TV by herself because I have gone to bed early. Again! I wish I could have stayed up a little later, but I was completely exhausted. Again, I meant to ask her about her day – and listen empathetically – but I forgot. Again, again and again, it continues. As cancer patients, we become very selfish when our entire focus turns inward to shut out the rest of the world. We also do this to deny feelings we can't deal with or examine why our bodies have betrayed us; tunnel vision then becomes the result. At the initial outset, I did not share with my wife my feelings of grief, anxiety and being overwhelmed because I thought it would be adding to the misery. But when I did, I found out that we shared many of the same feelings and it opened my eyes to how deeply she cared for me.
So far on this journey, I have taken pride in the fact that I have not had to give up any of my daily activities. Working, walking or family time, I can and still do them all (well, sort of ) but it comes at a bigger cost each time, and requires much more effort and recovery time on my part than it used to. And once again she winds up paying a lot of that cost. I know I need to make some adjustments on that and I do try; I try my utmost, honest I do. So let me be crystal clear. Grace, I love you with all my heart and cherish our life together. I could not make this journey without you by my side, and I sincerely apologise for those times when I seemed to take it for granted. I am looking forward to our cruise holiday over the forthcoming months.
For a while in my journey, the desire to take the wrong road registered in my head, but in the end, I listened to her advice and took the right road. This ultimately made all the difference not only to my outcome but to our relationship. I am a realist. I have no vision of changing the entire world by myself, hence the need to listen to the invaluable advice that is given to me. Throughout, she has prepared the right foods and encouraged me to stay in some sort of physical shape as best as I can. Often, she would revert to her scholarly remarks. She would say that I must be both physically and mentally prepared for the road ahead. She would often refer to the concept of ‘a sound body and a sound mind'. She would say a strong body would give me confidence, but it would mean nothing without a strong mind. It was her urging that led me to the point where I despised alcohol.
Alcohol and strong drugs do not mix; having witnessed it personally, I can attest to that fact. I no longer wanted anything to do with that which altered my conscious state. I wanted nothing in my body's system that made me less prepared to deal with what was going on around me daily. Grace was my happiness; being with her brought a smile to my face. I had the best of all worlds in her. She is loving, strong and knowledgeable about the medical world. She has a sincere interest in seeing my mission of remission evolve, not because I am a dad, the head of the family, but because she truly loves me. She sees in me the strength needed to face the task at hand, the strength to stand up to this disease! I would often stare into her eyes and put one arm around her and run my other hand through her hair. I could tell she worried that I might not make it through, as I would often grimace in obvious discomfort from the pain that the cancer was causing.
On many cold winter evenings, we would cuddle up together and kiss and I would whisper into her ear, ‘Baby, I'm going to fight and beat this disease, don't you worry now.' I am thankful for the woman I know as my wife, for in times of sickness and dire situations, we have been there for each other. Upon my cancer diagnosis and journey to date, she has kept me going when I wanted to quit and give in.
She has paid attention to every aspect of my physical and mental wellbeing, often surveying me to ensure I am still physically whole, for she has already taken time out to ensure I am spiritually sound. She always ensures I keep up the fight because she knows that a broken man would mean a broken family and that is not happening whilst she has breath in her body. We found each other in our later years in life and helped to build each other, and over the years we had become one in the body. Divorce or separation was not in our vocabulary. It was not our way, though some would wish to break down that which was strong and good and see us fall apart. However, our very union was dependent on our ability to see past these façades. There could never be a parting as we would let no one or nothing divide us, not even cancer. Often I have thought we had missed our vocation as marriage guidance councillors. We have never needed psychologists to sit down with us and work things out. That is not to say ours is a perfect marriage, because it is not. What it is comprised of, though, is honesty, openness, trust, friendship and love. This was more evident when I was hospitalised when her every visit I yearned for. Around me, as I lay very ill, were those even sicker than I. Some we're dying and I felt myself slipping into their abyss.
Then my angel would turn up to save me and brighten up my day and so it continued until discharge date. My partner has never portrayed to be the acts of someone ‘not being there' for me, nor being selfish and delegating duties to others. She has always said that all she wants to do is be there for me. The bottom line is that she is truly an amazing woman!
In retrospect, I tip my hat to all of you who are caregivers. God bless each of you who have set your life apart to take care of the many of us who cannot care for ourselves? I recall, in the first year of my diagnosis, going from being a very active male with an active partner to almost an invalid, pigeon-stepping male unable to walk short distances and crippled with pain… My wife, who had been an active part of my life before, now had to deal with my emotional transformation to that of a cancer patient. Accepting help from her was extremely hard as I still tried to do things for myself, for I had always been the rock in the family; now I was a mere pebble. As time progressed, though, I was ever so mindful that she could end up with health problems of her own, making it physically and emotionally harder for her to take care of me further.
On reflection, I do believe that she took too much on to herself, although accepting help from others wasn't always easy. We received lots of support, and some of it came from people we expected it from. But a lot came from those we didn't know very well. And others, whom we did know well, stayed away. We wondered on many occasions why some close family members wouldn't offer to help us as they were well aware of what we were dealing with. You just never know with people. So the tendency to just get on with it became the ritual. Through our meaningful conversations, I know we both felt resentment and stress building up within us over the years. But as time progressed, we both learned to just let it go. It wasn't worth the energy expended on it.
Fortunately for me, I have a partner who fully understands my prostate cancer medical situation, as her father had succumbed to the disease. Thus, I always felt confident that she was in control. It was hard on many occasions to find the positives, as we journeyed through, but I constantly thanked my wife for all she has done and continues to do. After all, a simple thank you and thoughtful gesture at times made her see how grateful I am as we continue down the feel-good-factor road. We firmly believe that we have been given the chance to build on and strengthen our relationship as a result. This doesn't mean that caring for me is easy or stress-free. But finding meaning in caring for someone can make it easier to manage.