It is never easy to accept the diagnosis when a loved one is found to have advanced cancer. My mom has been recently diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. I knew something had been wrong with her for a long time and doctors had even said several time they did not think it was cancer, but they didn’t know what else it was either. Now, she is in the ultimate fight for her life. Here’s what anyone who’s never faced this type of challenge should expect.
It means that it is a life-changing diagnosis. No two ways about it. But it does not just alter the life of the person afflicted; the entire family and all loved ones are going to be changed by it as well. If the person who has the diagnosis is a direct, immediate member of the household, the family’s diet, financial status, and even ways of cleaning the home may change drastically. People may come and go into and out of the household who are there to assist. And if the loved one afflicted goes into remission and recovers, they will never be back to normal in the sense they were before their illness. They and everyone around them will have to adopt a “new” normal for the circumstances, because they will have “battle scars” from the treatments that may include blindness, deafness, or the inability to walk or talk.
It means that sometimes you will have to accept bad news to be good news. For example, the side effects of some chemotherapy drugs can leave a patient sicker than what the cancer makes them. But they may be alive and deaf, and you take it as good news as you’d rather have your loved one here and deaf, than not here at all.
It means that the best way to fight the battle is hour by hour and day by day. The smaller milestones are sometimes easier to get over.
It means that you will see your loved one be strong in mind but weak in body.
It means that you will sometimes have to adopt an impromptu nursing career.
It means you will sometimes hear the wrong things being said by well-meaning friends and families, and hear stories about how they knew someone with the same type of cancer your loved one has and you will receive a play by play account of how they suffered for a long time and had an unfavorable outcome.
It means that you will be often made to feel like an outsider from members of your own family.
It means that you will often receive lectures about things you have absolutely no control over and sometimes receive a lot of blame and be fed seeds of self doubt, in regards to your loved one’s health care. You will receive guilt trips about totally unrelated things. I have personally experienced this…I’ve been told my mother’s cancer is my fault. Well I am here to tell you that it is no fault of anyone’s! It is not the fault of the doctors who missed it, it is not the fault of the person who has it, it’s not the fault of the dog for shedding. Furthermore it’s not God’s fault either. But you will hear people who play the blame game, and tell you it’s all your fault because you went to the store and bought them a pack of cigarettes back in 1982 and used a wood stove for three decades. Just know that sometimes that these people say these things because they cannot themselves process the news in a constructive way and they play the blame game because they think it makes them feel better. I would love to be there more than I am, but someone has to take care of things at home, like getting kids off to school, going to work and making ends meet. Yes, the loved one afflicted is the most important thing right now, but you should never be made to feel guilt for not being as involved in it. Guess what? You ARE involved in it, and you ARE helping your loved one when you are keeping things together. And by the way, what’s in the past is in the past. There’s nothing you could do to change it, even if you could and there’s nothing anyone else can do to change it either. So what’s important is focusing on the now and concentrating on encouraging your loved on to get better and keep fighting, and doing what you have to do in order to keep your household together. And keep praying!
It means your faith will be tested. Big time. But it means you have to encourage the person who’s going through treatments, feeling worse than anyone ever could imagine, to keep theirs. It is very tiring for the person to go through grueling treatments, being in the hospital a long time, and being away from familiar surroundings and activities they once enjoyed. This can depress the loved one with cancer and have a domino effect on everyone. This is why now more than ever, to not deviate from the faith or give up hope.
By the way a diagnosis of advanced cancer does NOT mean an automatic death sentence. Doctors will of course tell you to prepare for things like hospice (and they may refer to it as “end of life care”) and to make funeral arrangements, which are things nobody likes to think about if they are encouraging the loved one to fight and try to beat it. But it’s better to have that stuff and hopefully NOT need it than to need it and not have it. Doctors pretty much know from dealing with other patients, just like your loved one, what is likely to occur, but sometimes despite the degrees on their walls, they don’t know everything. Even the most textbook cases who from their standpoint, look the same as anyone else’s, sometimes take unexpected turns. Since no two people are alike, there are often miraculous and complete turnarounds. These are rare, but they happen. Likewise, just because hospice is needed, it does not mean your loved one is doomed. Yes, hospice is requested by a doctor for a patient with a life expectancy of six months or less, but a hospice nurse friend of mine who I called for words of encouragement, told me that she has often dismissed patients because they went into complete remission even though they were never expected to.
Keep in mind that the outcome might NOT be as favorable for your loved one. Realistically you know deep down that it’s a 50/50 shot. Everyone wants a favorable outcome. This is normal. It should not be thought of as false hope. Desiring a favorable outcome and telling your loved one who’s afflicted so, actually might be what it takes to get them over it. After all, there are survivors out there who were once thought to be on their last legs too. Your loved one may be inspired by them. Don’t let anyone make you think you’re just in denial. Denial is not accepting that the person has the disease at all. There is a difference. But if the outcome is not favorable, one should not be discouraged in any way.
It helps to be as informed as possible, even when some of the terms you read may be scary as hell. But beware, there is false information out there, so be careful to do your research on legitimate sites and cancer charity sites. Remember too that the person fighting the cancer is not fighting the cancer alone. They may express feelings of their own that they disrupted the lives of their loved ones with their illness and blame themselves for a lot of things, but they must be reassured that this is not the case. Remember. It is nobody’s fault. Me personally I don’t mind the drastic changes in my own life to work around this, because I know it’s the right thing.
It helps to seek out friends, clergy, and activities that will help everyone cope. Even if you don’t feel like talking about it, you will do better and your loved one will benefit if you are not strong for them but with them.