Cancer Makes Me Angry!
Cancer. Now I’ve said it. Just saying it tightens up my gut. It makes me want to swallow. I look around to see if anyone can sense the anger, the blind rage that surges through me. I find myself breathing faster. The fight or flight chemicals prompted by fear are racing through my body. Mostly, I try not to think about it because of the instant effect it always has upon me. I don’t know about others, but I hate it. Just the thought of it makes me angry. I just hate it.
To me cancer is like a living presence, dressed up in the image of death, stalking through our lives, the destroyer of health and happiness. It looks this way and that, it looks for those at whom it will swing its lethal scythe. I know it’s really like spores in the wind, poisons in the soil, air and water, or genetic predispositions hiding in our DNA, waiting for the merest provocation to flower like a deadly bloom of nightshade. I know it is like an evil charlatan that smilingly, gives way to our defensive measures, only to strike back with deadly force when we have let down our guard. I know it has so many disguises and tricks that we have to learn the new ones every day that we are alive. It takes some of our best minds to keep us relevant in that battle.
I know about all the new promises, new hopes, yet to be realized. We learn something new every day. But, so does cancer, reacting to counter every twist and turn we make. We are not there yet in spite of all the public promises that are made every day. It is not politically correct to say it, but the same promises were being made during the time cancer was a living presence in my home. So I retain the hate that I learned.
When it struck, we reacted with shock. We changed our life-style. My late spouse gave up her stressful and demanding work. She was simultaneous translation interpreter. She was the manager and creator of her own firm, one that was pre-eminent in Canada, but she delegated her work and ceased professional activity. She underwent a mastectomy, radiation and chemo. We changed our diet toward the completely macro-biotic and a shelf full of recommended natural products. In six months all traces of the disease were eradicated. We declared victory. My spouse became a poster child, a survivor, to rally the spirits of all victims of the disease. After a year we returned to our previous way of life.
Four or five years later two cancer cells were discovered during a regular screening. The number of cells quickly multiplied and a regular regime of chemotherapy was re-introduced, accompanied by multiple discomforts No material effect on the disease’s progress was ever noted. Eventually there were several metastases until the cancer was generalized. No chemotherapy offered appeared to have had the least effect.
My role changed over time into one as a full-time caregiver. Indeed, after years of feeling like a helpless bystander, there was great consolation in being able to play a useful role. I had the feeling I was witnessing a hand to hand combat with the cancer, a living breathing adversary. (Fortunately, I was long retired, and the business created by my wife continued to function and provide us with wherewithal.) I hated the losses we were sustaining on a daily basis. The success of radiation sessions in fighting off the external manifestations of the cancer felt like victories.
At one point the cancer prevented the kidneys from working. The doctors asked if we wanted them to intervene. Although my late wife declined, because she was suffering the effects of uremia, which impairs judgement, my resounding yes won the day. The intervention was successful. We went off on a two week holiday in Italy. I treasure to this day the sight of her dancing to her own music on a sunny balcony in Tuscany.
The medical resort to radiation to eliminate ugly lesions which appeared, time after time, on various areas of the body, seemed like a blessing. But, the ultimate effect of these sessions was to destroy the ability of the body to produce the red and white blood cells we depend on for life. I did not understand that these were a signal that the medical profession had given up any hope of a remission for my late wife, and were offering palliative care. Eventually, these blood cells had to be provided for her by external means.
We learned, after a time, that these infusions of blood cells, enormously costly, were the only way to keep my late wife alive. All the while, various chemotherapy combinations, with all their accompanying distress, were being presented by doctors as the answer and the cure. She followed every prescription faithfully in spite of the discomfort they engendered.
Suddenly, my late spouse was assigned to hospice care in our home and any assistance I could provide was replaced by outside help. The life-giving infusions were withdrawn. She expired in three weeks, ten years after first contracting the disease.
I do not know if the doctors ever confided to my late wife the real state of play of the struggle in which we were engaged. If they did, she never shared the details with me. We never ever spoke of her impending demise. I remain a survivor of the experience, full of anger at the caregivers, anger at my helplessness and ignorance, and full of rage against the inexorability, the implacability, the remorselessness of the disease. Its overwhelming power in the face of our defences, even after once having been initially repulsed, gives me little faith in the claims of any early relief in our struggles against the disease.
I appreciate that there have been some small victories, that some conditions have become treatable instead of fatal. I am grateful for that. I appreciate that we must encourage those who are facing the challenge and the threat. I know that they, and we, have to continue fighting it every day, like soldiers on the front line.
We read in the newspaper every day about our losses on the front line. I hate it!