I don't even know how to begin this blog, but I feel I want to share with you all what it is like watching a family member suffer with cancer. I am going to try and be honest, and some of what I say may startle or upset you, but this is our daily reality and many other families go through this as well.
When a family member is sick it doesn't just affect them, it is as if the cancer is being battled by the whole group. Everyday, from the time we wake up to the time we go to sleep, we are aware of, thinking of, and talking about the cancer. It infects everything you do, everything you feel, even what you say. It is the silent extra household member - the black sheep that you desperately want to leave and yet keeps hanging around. It drains our energy, saps our strength and eats away at our joy.
From the time my eyes open, and sometimes before that, I am wondering how Andrea is. Did she sleep well? Is she in pain? Will we need to visit the hospital today? Each night before I fall of to sleep I am thinking about the next day - what do I need to get done? Will someone always be in the house with her? Do we have any appointments we need to get to? I dream about giving her medication, making her room pretty, pushing her in wheelchairs.
In the crisis moments I find I function well. When she collapsed in the bathroom two days ago and was going in and out of consciousness, I was calm, focused and able to take control of the situation. It is the time in between crises that I find hardest. I can never fully relax, because what if that is the moment I am needed? You may think I am overthinking it, but the last time I went to a personal appointment was the time I was called home because of the bathroom incident. My phone never leaves my side anymore, never gets turned off or put on silent.
In the brief moments I am not thinking about Andrea, I am thinking about Luke. As her only child, my husband is taking his mum's illness hard. He already battles depression and this is sapping any strength he had to get through the days in one piece. I see him struggling to stay above water, and I have no words of encouragement to offer him. "This will get better" is crap when we know it will get worse before then. "It will be ok" means nothing in the face of his mum dying. All I have left is "I love you, I am here with you." I feel guilty that I cannot give him more than that. It breaks my heart to not see him happy and yet I know I can do nothing to make him happy in this time. Between the cancer and the depression, by the end of the day I have nothing left to give to anyone.
I don't know how to do this. I think that a lot as I try and keep everyone moving forward. A friend of mine said I was a rock for my family. I replied that I feel more like a pebble being swept down rapids. My counsellor told me I need to start getting my feelings out or I will end up no good for anyone, but the reality of my grief and pain is something I feel guilty about sharing, knowing it will make people cry, make Andrea feel like she brought this upon me, make my husband feel like he is not supporting me enough. We are all hurting, and we are hurting all the more because we know our pain hurts each other.
I try to focus on the good things. I love this time I get to look after Andrea, and wouldn't change it for the world. I am astounded by the love and generosity of her friends. I am so aware of the love of our small family unit. We couldn't do it without each other.
But we are waiting for the axe to fall. With every other painful part of life, you can put a time frame on it - you just have to get through this few weeks and then it will all be done. We have no time frame. And the end of this road is not something we want to rush. So we wait, knowing what is coming, unable to avoid it, and unable to stop the pain. We are grieving in preparation for grief.
I don't know how to do this. But somehow we all find the strength each day to keep going. We find it in each other, in dark humour, in prayer, in friends. We still find moments of laughter and fun. We appreciate the small wins all the more. None of us know how to do this, and yet we muddle along. We may be limping, but we are still walking this road.
To my mama - I love you more than I can say. You are not a burden and you have not caused this pain. I am honoured to have you in my life and to be able to serve you in this way.
To my husband - you are more than enough. I will love you no matter what happens. You give me strength, even when you feel so weak. I love you with all my heart.