On being a cancer patient’s partner – The Start

So this here blog does have a real purpose, well more of an idea when I first set it up, and that was to write about what it was like to be the husband of someone with cancer and the things that it entails. Not exactly a cheery subject I admit, but something that I feel I’d like to write about.

This I’ve found, is not a very easy thing to do. Getting the words out onto this screen is actually kind of tricky for a few different reasons.

One: I want to write something useful and meaningful – something that will not only help me but also might ultimately be encouraging or inspiring to others. On the other hand don’t want to sound like a self serving, condescending twunt or develop a serious case of FIGJAM “This is what you should be doing…as that’s what I did so it must work for you too – aren’t I terrific?!”

Two: writing about it obviously makes me remember and think about the situation in a lot more detail and sometimes – well, most times – it’s a really hard thing to square up to without my chest feeling like I’ve fallen under a load of bricks.

I’ve decided I’ll just start at the beginning and see where it goes. I’m not going to try to be funny, although that may happen and I’m going to try to be truthful even though that might be hard.My hope is that someone will find it useful.

I’m not going to write about the whole last two years at once all in one post, I don’t think that’s practical and would probably be quite draining (not to mention an overload on the reader) So I’m going to bite off some chunks and chew for a bit.

January 2014

Jennifer was first diagnosed with bowel cancer at the age of 39. She had been sick for a little while before that. Inconsistent pain in the stomach area had been plaguing her for about 6 months or so beforehand but she had really starting feeling it about the end of October where she was sometimes off work to just lay in bed all day as the condition was that debilitating at times. At this stage we were trying to figure out whether it was an allergy to something she was eating or drinking as we had noticed that when she drunk even one glass red wine it got a lot worse and on the food side tuna or salmon seemed to make it flare.

She had gone to the local GP practice who were not treating this with any real sense of urgency or gravity and she had some blood tests that weren’t really showing up anything unusual. Possibly, unfortunately looking at the red herring that was our own allergy theory. Looking back that is one of things that I am scratching my head at. Obviously they were taking blood for targeted tests and not an umbrella test of sorts, therefore not picking up signs or counts that would indicate cancer.

Now as people know, I love my wife to bits, but she’s stubborn and not one to go running to the doctor at the first sign of sickness or trouble. By the Gods I reckon that she could lose her right leg and she’d still baulk at going to see someone about it. It’d seem like she was bothering someone. <SCOTTISH ACCENT>Ach naw, it’s just a wee scratch, I’ve got another one there, dinnae fash yersel</SCOTTISH ACCENT> (edit: My wife would like me to point out to the reader that yes although she is Scottish, no, she doesn’t actually talk like that) so Jennifer was at that time quite content to let the GP do what they were doing. But after an excruciating Christmas (2013) and another fruitless GP visit or two later I come to the conclusion that we had to change tact. One of the GPs had even dismissed Jennifer and told her to ‘just take some Panadol’; this wasn’t getting us anywhere.

So I had to do something that was not usually very effective in our relationship. The foot came down. By this time I was having troubling recollections of my dear step father who had painfully and sadly succumbed to cancer and I told her to get her ASS back down to that practice, demand to see DIFFERENT doctor and get them to investigate whether it could be something more serious. She actually went, although I suspect it was not because of my tootsie planting (I’m sure that I only said ‘ass’ in my head – not out loud) but more of a sense of weariness and wanting to get to the bottom of this issue. Enter a doctor that agreed that something wasn’t right at all and immediately lined her up for a CT Scan to check it out.

Although I’m very much all for the free hospital system that is the NHS and I know they are doing a stand-up job within the constraints they have got, one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my entire life was to take up the private family medical insurance scheme when I was first employed with my current employer. Due to that scheme we were able to get a CT Scan at a private hospital that next week and what turned out to be terrible results, the very next week. The appointment for the initial CT scan from the NHS didn’t come through until about the end of March – by which time I’m thoroughly convinced would have been far too late.

Sitting in that private consultants room in Murrayfield and receiving the news that Jennifer had a tumour the size of a tennis ball in her lower colon was a moment when I felt that my mind became separated from my body for just a little while. I was trying very, very hard to concentrate on what the nice but quite matter-of-fact man was saying but all I could hear was very reminiscent to a teacher in Peanuts. It was like I had cotton wool in my ears. I felt like the ground was rumbling and things were falling. Jennifer told me later that she felt pretty much the same. Well it’s not something that you’re really expecting when it comes down to it. Even if you were suspecting it you don’t really think that it was true. Not at that age. Not with two small children and a life ahead.

But there it was. Clear as day on the screen in front of us. Just under two weeks later she had an major operation to remove it. That of course was not the end of it, there was recuperation and then chemotherapy to follow. But I think that this post is long enough for now.

Lessons that I learned from this period:

Doctors don’t always know what they’re doing.

If you think that your doctor is giving you the brush off or doesn’t seem interested then get another doctor. I’m looking at you Panadol Lady. It’s always an option and it’s not ‘disloyal’. It’s your health and if you genuinely think it’s serious then for the gods sake get a second opinion, and quick.

Sometimes you have to step up and put your foot down.

By that I mean get involved in some well meaning, gentle ‘bullying’. If you think that something isn’t right and you want your partner to take a look at something from a different angle. I’m not talking about forcing your partner to perform unnatural acts – ‘make me coffee with sugar’ – ugh {{{shiver}}} – but where a previously not thought of different course of action can prevent an actual LIFE threatening situation – then do it.

If you have the chance to get private medical then take it.

This sentence speaks for itself and needs no further expounding. My wife wouldn’t be here today if not for that.