My Breast Cancer Journey, part 3

… Support is vital — and deserves it’s own post.

It’s not easy being the one who loves a cancer patient.  There are multiple doctors office visits, tests, stress and worry.  Not only is the person you love sick, but you’ve got to be the one thinking in practical terms… will the insurance cover it?  Can we pay the bills if she can’t work?  Is she going to die?

The ex was with me when I got the first bit of cancer news — so I didn’t have to tell him.  As I soon found out, telling people was the hardest part.

The worst part was telling mom.  Pam had been gone for about 7 years and now I had to tell her that her other daughter had breast cancer.  She’s a nurse, she knows what that means — she’s also someone who has lost one daughter already and she knew what kind of a special hell that was.  That was probably the most difficult phone call of all to make… of course Mom handled it with her usual grace and kindness — but I could tell by her voice that she was shaken.  I just hated that she had to face the possible death of her other daughter — that really wasn’t ok with me.

I also had a decision to make — about how open I should be at work.  My college is a very supportive place.  We’re colleagues and friends.  There is little competition between faculty and almost no jealousy or back-biting.  We really are kind of our own dysfunctional family, and now I had to decide how much to tell and to whom.  In the end, I decided to be very open about it — not because I felt the need to tell everyone, but rather because I didn’t want there to be questions or concerns that folks wouldn’t want to share with me.  I also didn’t want the “who knows what” stuff to be in my head — so before school started I wrote an e-mail to the whole department telling them what was up and that I’d be coming back to work bald as a cue ball.

As an extension of that decision, I had to decide what to tell my students.  It was clear that there was something wrong with me.  It wasn’t clear how I would react to the chemo, if I’d have to cancel classes or even get someone to take over some or all of my teaching duties.  I wrote a letter explaining it all and put it on the front page of my syllabus.  I wanted to let students know that if they had a problem with it — if it brought back bad memories or whatever — that they should choose another course right away because their philosophy prof is also a cancer patient that semester and there was no changing those things.  Their reaction was amazing.  They were concerned for my health from the first day of class — they offered all kinds of “herbal” supplements  (wink wink) and were kind and considerate of my time and energy.  They were outright amazing and kind and I’ll always love them for that.

A few people were extra-special support for me — of course, the ex because he lived with me — and mom, because she’d have it no other way.  They helped in many ways I saw and didn’t see…

My tutor and friend Sara was especially helpful.  She was taking my 7:45 ethics class at the time and outright said that if I didn’t come to class, she’d better hear from me or she’d be breaking down my door by 8:00 AM.  My colleagues were also quite helpful, offering meals, rides and other practical support in case I needed it.  The ex, mom and I were a pretty tight little team, so I didn’t need much but I knew the folks I could call if I needed something.

During my Cancer World experience, Andy wasn’t in my life — but as we’ve become best friends ever, the subject of my cancer returning comes up.  Today was the third PET results appointment since we’ve been best friends ever — and it was interesting to see how things changed.  During the first one he was waiting to get my “normal” text — and we went out for coffee afterward.  The last time he came in for the results and then waited for me outside — this time he was right next to me from the waiting room to the end of the appointment.  We had a good conversation with Dr. W — and I’m sure that if it comes to it, Andy and Dr. W will get along just fine… kind of a weird concern, but it’s important that my main support person and my oncologist get along.

The scary thing about going from having hubby to hubby being the ex wasn’t concerns about money or my future, but what would happen if my news wasn’t good during one of these appointments.  Last night Andy and I had a long talk about that — what if… and I’m not scared anymore.  Sure, I don’t want to die — and I’d hate to end my beautiful friendship with Andy, but I also know that if the cancer returns he’ll be right by my side until the end.  period.  He’ll make me food I can eat, he’ll take care of the details and hold my hand when I need it.  We’ll go out as a weird bald pair and have fun, take photos and live life until it’s over.  As someone who has faced cancer before, I can’t ask for anything else.  Medicine can only do so much to make a cancer patient’s life better, their support system has to fill in and do the rest.

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