In 2009 my husband was diagnosed with colon cancer. Five years later, he’s cured, healthy, cancer-free. And yet, he will always, forever, be a cancer survivor; and we will always forever be a survivor family. The side effects will always be there, and that feeling of mortality will never go away. Over the years we have learned to live with this new life with a fair amount of adjustment and a lot of patience on all accounts. Every cancer is different, every survivor is different, but I think we can share a few things about loving a cancer survivor.
It’s Not Your Cancer: I know that cancer effects your whole family, and we attack it as a team, but at the end of the day… this is not your disease. There’s been countless times when I’ve watched Ed pop open another beer or order a burger and fries and I know that there’s no way that’s a good idea. There are moments when I’ve wanted to chime in, make a suggestion, tell him to suck it up or take it easy. And yet, I keep my mouth shut.
Because it’s not my cancer, they’re not my symptoms, it’s not my health. I’m not the one that lost a foot of my colon. I’m not the one that needs to monitor my food, and schedule my day, and deal with the discomfort. It’s been a struggle for Ed to live a normal life with no health problems for 30+ years and then wake up from surgery with a host of chronic side effects and health problems. I can have empathy, I can try to put myself in Ed’s shoes. But, at the end of the day, I’ll never know how he feels. My concern is appreciated, I think. My advice, maybe not so much. And sometimes, the survivor just wants things to be normal again. To ignore the discomfort and the ramifications of making poor decisions.
That is, unquestionably, unequivocally, their decision to make. You will never know what it feels like to live in their skin. Your job as a partner is to be there for the journey to hang in there and love them unconditionally.
Things Will Never Be the Same: The cancer is gone, all the scans are negative, it seems like a distant memory, and yet things will never be the same. And, it’s not just the side effects, the ones that can be chronic and life-altering. It’s the way things are just different then they were before. How a stomach bug can become a much bigger thing. How the fear of reoccurrance is always there. How you hold onto health differently then you did before.
So, You Might as Well Laugh About It: For us, humor has been everything. Empathy is huge, it’s important to try to picture yourself in their shoes. But, it’s also important to have some levity; to realize the fact that things could be so much worse. We try to laugh as much as possible, to lighten the mood, to make a joke about it. The kids are in on the act. They understand that dad was sick, and now he’s not, but his gas really stinks sometimes. It just is what it is, we might as well laugh about it, it’s vastly better than the alternative.
And, Celebrate Life: The fact is, Ed’s still with us. We’re lucky and grateful and so blessed that he caught his cancer early and has amazing preventative care. We’re lucky that the kids will be screened early and we’ll pay close attention to their health. And, we hope that others can get the same quality care.
That’s why we started The Get Your Rear in Gear 5K three years ago. We decided that we wanted to celebrate life, raise awareness, collect money for the cause. My brother brought the Get Your Rear in Gear 5K to Boston to celebrate Ed’s health and every year more and more people join us to celebrate their loved ones.
And this year, we’ll celebrate again, on November 8th in South Boston, with our friends and family and hundreds of other people. Please join us if you can or please donate to the cause (The Bum Rushers). Please join us in celebrating Ed’s rear for another year!!!