Beating bowel cancer together

Judy Condie, Surrey

As many of us know, being a mother is based on 80% instinct and 20% luck. Being a wife is 80% love and 20% total bemusement.

With your children it is accepted, even expected, to step in and guide them, help in every way possible both physically and mentally, advise and listen and know every detail about their intake and, unfortunately, output!

When my husband, Richard, was given a diagnosis of bowel cancer my love and instinct became a maelstrom and I had to think hard how to handle a situation affecting a 58-year-old grown man who had an equal grasp on emotions as myself.

Actually, that is not strictly true, Richard obviously has emotions, he is a caring, thoughtful, and loving man but, like so many men, these emotions are hidden at the back of some cave somewhere and it has been my life’s work to find them. As things unfolded, this became the hardest part of my involvement.

My initial response was to talk, talk, talk about the diagnosis, discuss the future, learn all about the drug routine and where all the consultation rooms were. It didn’t take me long to understand this was his illness and not mine. His calm response was to say that we would talk about it when we had something to talk about and no amount of ifs, buts and maybes will change the facts.

So, I stepped back and gave him space to learn all the drug dosages and details of MRIs, CAT scans and PET scans. He took it all on board really well and I could see how taking charge of all the small stuff gave him a sense of control over the big stuff.

Over a period of seven years, he has had one major bowel operation, two major liver operations, a couple of other procedures and numerous amounts of chemotherapy treatments. I may sound vague about the details because I am, I have to be as the less I know the less I will instinctively interfere.

This approach keeps me sane, and my role is to be the steady supporter, to pick up the pieces, to be kind, and clean his pic line. His attitude to the entire process astounds me, I’ve seen a strength in a strong man I didn’t know existed, his calm and practical nature, his determination to carry on as normal and not make a big drama out of a big drama is settling to all of those around him. This won’t last, we both know that, but I refuse to look back with regret as I think we have both learned about life and have set an example to our expanding family. When life punches them on the nose, and it will, I can confidently remind them how their beloved Grandad coped.

It has become a way of life now and, to be honest, it’s not a bad one. We have the chance to appreciate everything and each other, I’ve had a chance to think about my future alone and realise there are a lot of people much worse off and, if this is our personal crisis, it’s treated both of us kindly.

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