On being a cancer patient partner – Operation Recovery

So following on from my first post ‘On being a cancer patient partner – the start‘ where I talked about when Jenn and I discovered that she had bowel cancer and some of the lessons learned from that period. I have received some good feedback on that post so hopefully this one can be a help to people as well.

February 10th of 2014 Jennifer had the operation to remove what she was now calling ‘the little motherf**ker’ and us being parents of two small children (2 and 5 at that time) that really turned out to be a very hard month that continued into March as well. She spent 10 days in hospital at which time I think the car may well have learnt to automatically drive the route to the Edinburgh Western General from our house, because I do swear that sometimes I would get there and really have no actual conscious memory of doing any driving at all.

The human mind is an amazingly complex piece of evolutionary organic tech really, from a personal point of view I had just been run over by the ‘News and Stress Lorry’ which certainly overloaded the circuits and felt like my mainframe had just shut down. Gone on unscheduled leave. Went to whatever place that wasn’t here. So I found that in this situation the automated auxiliary systems kicked in and started running the day to day things without me having oversee them to any great extent.

Looking back to that time (almost two years ago as of time of writing) I could NOT tell you any details on how I got the normal day to day stuff done: Getting out of bed, breakfast, getting the kids ready for the day, lunch, dinner, showers, kid’s baths, washing, dishes, bed times etc. Your brain and body just does it.

One thing I want to loudly acknowledge is the support I had, and still continue to have. It was something that I personally found very hard to accept at first (see ‘Lessons Learned’ below) but up front and central: my In-laws – they are are pretty awesome. Jenn’s mum who lives just around the corner from us and Jenn’s Dad who came up from London to stay throughout this period really were a tremendous help even though I know that both of them were also hit and run victims of the ‘News and Stress Lorry’.

When Jennifer was released from hospital in late February we realised that we had previously booked and paid for some time away up in Crieff Hydro and were very much in two minds as to still go or not as Jenn, recovering from major surgery, couldn’t lift anything or participate in anything that would strain her and we were very much of the mind to let it slide by. But after some thought and a brief and frank discussion we decided to just do it. This really is testament to Jennifer’s ‘not going to let this bugger stand in my way of living‘ attitude. Something that was certainly going to come to the fore in the next little while. So we went to Crieff and it was a very relaxing time despite the circumstance.

Lessons learned in this period:

Don’t be too proud to accept help:

I am an Aussie Male. I can get things done on my own, cope on my own. I have the strength and size of a mad bull and by golly I can take on anything. I do not ask for help, I do not need help, needing help is weakness and weakness is for wimpy [insert Australian derogatory terms here].

NO.

What I am really saying here is that ‘I am a lunkhead‘ (in my mind’s eye I can see Jennifer nodding…). This is such a debilitating attitude and it is something I STILL have trouble with to this day. What I have discovered is that it is human nature for others to want to help you when they see you in this situation and as humans – basic social creatures –  sometimes we just need help. Whether it be someone doing a load of washing or looking after the kids for a hour or cooking your dinner. We need to accept that help and acknowledge that help but most importantly do NOT let your internal thought processes mark it up on the chalkboard as sign of weakness. Accept that sometimes you have to get by with help and don’t let that fact weigh you down – it’s life. It’s the way we are.

Open and frank communication with your boss/work:

During this whole period I was not at work much. I am very fortunate to work for a company that has some great people in management and my boss told me he didn’t want to see me and indeed if I got on-line at work he would chase me off. But I kept him regularly updated on what was happening at home.

I think a very important part of this process is open and honest communication with your workplace. I work from home, all my bosses are in the States and we communicate via email and AV conferences mostly, and at that time I had not met a lot of them face to face, so being able to communicate effectively within those limitations is crucial.

As stated this was a stressful time for us and my personal reaction to a lot of things at this time was to just sit and stare at nowt, let alone talk about it but of course you should never assume that your bosses know what is going on. You have to make sure that they do know and that you set the expectations on your return to work, after all it is a business they run. They do give you money for you to be productive for them so it’s essential that they understand what your limitations are at this time and what to expect from you in the future so you can work together to achieve that goal.

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