My Husband is Battling Cancer, But His Response Reveals a Great Way to Live

Opinion   |   Rachel McKenzie   |   Dec 1, 2014   |   10:39AM   |   Glasgow, Scotland

I’ve always liked Bob Dylan’s song ‘One more cup of coffee for the road’. With it’s yielding images of warm kitchen tables and loved ones wanting you to stay a while longer. These days it would have to include mint or rosemary tea!

elderlypatient21This summer was one for huddling at tables. My husband was diagnosed with advanced cancer in June.   It was a total shock. Inevitably with all that’s involved it took eight weeks for the full picture to emerge.

As bad news goes it wasn’t the best nor the worst. Eight weeks of anxious waiting and suspecting it was terminal took its’ toll. An overwhelming feeling of loss and a huge cavity where once there had been certainty.

I have worked as a cancer nurse so I knew cancer affects us all directly or indirectly. It wasn’t the cancer that shocked me, though my hill-walking, swimming husband has always been described as very fit. What I could not comprehend was the time we would not have together. The time, that is, that we all assume is round the corner.

 Initially it felt like an unexpected relationship break up. The mind often sources for past experiences to mitigate current ones. In reality nothing earlier in my life mirrored this new experience of time being stolen.

I read around the internet sites as you do and found two very useful insights. Friends, relatives, colleagues worry about what to say. The online advice was ‘not to worry about what you say’ as the person wrestling with a new diagnosis only wants to hear ‘I am sorry it has been a terrible mistake – your results are actually clear’. My husband really liked that internet gem!

The second insight comforted me a great deal. This surreal feeling of utter un-preparedness is normal. When you love someone hearing life shortening news, like cancer, is always too soon, and they are always too young. My uncle expressed this beautifully recently at my aunt’s funeral. She died at 92, too soon, simply too soon for him. Time is linear but experienced as cyclical: `surely it was only yesterday we met for the first time?’ is our attempt to bargain with the pain.

Eight weeks of waiting. The results were not good as the cancer had advanced. However, there was, and is, good odds that radiotherapy will work. Time is a great commodity even when what is NOW on offer is reduced from what you considered to be your entitlement.

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Brittany Maynard, the American woman who announced the date of her assisted suicide through You Tube, has been a media sensation in the US and around the world. Some say Brittany left her family a ‘gift’ by choosing the time of her death. Maynard’s diagnosis was a harsh reality for her.

I wonder if she had any time to work through her pain and anger, knowing that at 29 she had an incurable brain tumour, before Compassion and Choices, formerly the Hemlock society, capitalized on her vulnerability. Was there time to contemplate breakthroughs in medicine? Like the experimental device which slows cancer growth and prolongs survival in people with the deadliest type of brain tumour, researchers are now reporting. This is not a cure but can add a few months of life – no small thing in the face of death. After all what’s to lose?

Apart from the illusion that assisted suicide and euthanasia gives you power over death. A profitable illusion for suicide advocates such as Compassion and Choices and media moguls behind them. Orchestrating the portrayal of Brittany’s death to her family as a `gift’ – her beauty immortalised, her dignity thus intact.

Crikey! Irritable bowel syndrome is neither life shortening nor terminal yet it can fairly alter someone’s bowel habits. Teenage acne sometimes occurs when someone is in their forties! Therefore no longer smelling nor looking like the fresh faced person you married! Dignity is `an inside job’, objectifying it leads to disastrous consequences such as defining a life worth living and a life that is not. I will always thank a former patient, who became paralysed at 40, for the valuable lessons he taught me. Like reminding me to check that the birds, who gathered at his back door daily, had enough food in their feeder.

Maynard’s assisted suicide was not big news in Belgium, where the Health Minister is now battling to tighten up guidelines. Perhaps Belgium is weary of planning death, of trying to tame Leviathan. Seventy three per cent of euthanasia cases is cancer in Belgium. For my husband and me, we just look forward to `one more cup of coffee for the road’ and that’s a great way to live, with a cancer diagnosis or without.

LifeNews Note: Rachel McKenzie is the Policy Officer for Care Not Killing Scotland.