One of my friends has terminal cancer. He was diagnosed in January with an inoperable aggressive glioma of the brain. Radiotherapy hasn't worked, the steroids are failing to keep the swelling under control, he's losing cognitive function and the doctors were talking about moving him to a hospice. His wife has done everything in her power to bring him home instead, to where he desperately wants to be.
Why write about it?
Because I'm angry. I'm filled with an unmanageable rage that this is happening. Fuck cancer. I want to scream and rage and fight to stop this happening. It's not right, it's not fair, it should not be happening. This is a good, kind, gentle man with half a lifetime ahead of him that is being stolen from him. This is the one of the best, funniest, most loving, wonderful women I know being robbed of her beloved husband when she deserves so much more time, so much more love, so much more life with him. And I know it would be awful even if they were horrible people, but they're not, and they're my people. They're my friends. They're nearly family, and I don't want this to happen.
Which brings me to denial.
Even through the red mist of rage, there's part of me that refuses to believe that it's actually happening. That D is actually going to die. That one day, probably a lot sooner than I want, I will go to visit them, and it won't be "them" any more, it will be only be her. If I don't think about it, it's not real. In my own mind, in the memories I can conjure up in the blink of an eye, all is still as it's always been. D is still the same wry, softly-spoken man he always was. In my own mind he hasn't lost any memory, or cognition or speech. I haven't seen him since his most recent seizure and therefore it hasn't really happened. It's impossible to imagine a world where he is no longer there. I simply refuse to accept it.
Except when I do.
And then I start wanting to know what I can do. What bargain I can strike. What battle I can fight. How I can make this NOT HAPPEN. Surely there's something? Something I can do or say or change or make or offer or sacrifice that would make everything different. It can't be this simple. It can't be that this just happens. That one days the doctors simply say, "Sorry, there's nothing we can do". Surely something can be done. What do they need from me? What do they need from the world? What is there that can change this? Please, someone, tell me what the magic thing is that I need to do, and I'll do it...
And then I'm back to helpless rage that there really isn't anything I, or anyone else, can do. That this crap just is. And sometimes the tears well up as the reality sinks in, and the rage flows away and I'm left feeling empty and despairing that life is hard, and cancer is vicious, unseeing, unknowing, uncaring and sometimes incurable.
One day I will probably reach the "acceptance" stage of grief. In the meantime I shall continue to oscillate between anger and denial and bargaining and despair.
I came across a really good description of how to interact with people who are grieving or bereaved or terminally ill. It's based on concentric circles, with the most deeply affected person at the centre. Your own position within the expanding circles is determined by your closeness to the central figure. You can scream and rage and sob to anyone further "out" on these circles, but should only ever pass comfort and support inwards. I would never tell D's wife how much his illness tears me apart, only tell her that I love her and to try to find ways in which to show that love, and to offer my support.
|courtesy of http://www.lifehacker.com.au/2013/08/use-the-ring-theory-to-know-how-to-comfort-someone/|
I know that there may be people reading this who are closer to D and his wife than I am. Who are on an "inner circle". And for that reason, I've hesitated to write any of this, because D's cancer is not about me, or how I feel. And I don't want to dump my shit on anyone else who is hurting. To those who know and love D, I hope you read this knowing that I love him too, and that all I can offer is my love. There is nothing else left.