I recently read a couple of blog entries that really resonated for me. Both talk about dealing with cancer in your family: one with cancer in a child and the other with cancer in a parent.
Julie, in a post called The View from Over Here, talks about becoming a “cancer family” when one of the children is diagnosed with cancer. Cancer becomes, and remains, a factor in everything—and it stays that way even after the cancer is “gone.” As Julie has said so well, “It leaves an indelible mark, and you’re never absolutely sure that it’s really gone. You keep a watchful eye on every member of your family, watching to make sure it’s not hiding somewhere, lurking in the dark. Cancer and paranoia are best friends.”
In The Clouds Have Lifted, Nicole writes about not recognizing how much her father’s cancer had affected her life until receiving the news that it was in remission. I had the same experience with my daughter’s cancer. She lives on the other side of the country and my wife and I went there to help with whatever while she had chemo treatments, but, while that helped her, it didn’t seem to help me very much.
I think I went into full parenting mode—SuperDad. I wanted to protect her from the world and fix everything. Sadly, that is not possible. While I was able to help and comfort her and help smooth the stresses in her family, I was not able to fix all of her problems. That feeling of helplessness remains. As she nears the end of her radiation treatments, the feeling is less relevant, but it still remains.
One of the things that I find a little odd is that her cancer affected me much more strongly than my own cancer. It has occupied a much bigger part of my emotional landscape than my prostate cancer did. Of course, I was busy deciding on a course of treatment, making the arrangements, undergoing the treatment, and recovering, and I wasn’t involved in that way in her treatment. Nevertheless, one would think that your own life-threatening illness would engage you emotionally more than it seemed to have engaged me. But, I never had any doubt that the treatment would be effective, and I would return unchanged to my previous life. With her, however, I wasn’t quite so sure—didn’t have the same level of confidence. That makes for greater fear and less certainty. And, as Julie says, the doubt lingers in the dark corners at the back of your mind.
But, the sky is clearing. I can see the clouds thinning and the sun breaking through, and I think my daughter sees this, too. I know a woman who had breast cancer at 41 and is now 80. My daughter is very fit and much younger than most of the women that get this particular cancer. She is at the top of her career doing important work that will benefit many, and has a beautiful, loving family—all of the things she needs to speed her recovery. We have started talking about doing another half marathon together next spring. The darkness made it hard to see far ahead, but now I see many happy and productive years ahead of her.