Just recently I have noticed that all my experiences of the past twenty years are suddenly befalling my younger friends – be it looking after elderly parents and raising teens at the same time, or being diagnosed and treated for breast cancer.
I guess the good news with the cancer is that I am still here to “tell the tale” and to share some practical advice on how to manage the surgery and subsequent treatments. My first round with this disease was when I was just 39, so I didn’t really have any friends who had been through it all.
The second time was fifteen years later, so to say it was a shock would be an understatement. I guess I had got a bit complacent. Being a member of the cancer club I should have remembered that your membership never really expires, and I had to pay my dues again.
But it does seem like there’s an epidemic. I learned about two friends within a week of each other. Why is this? Part of it I am sure environmental – the food we eat, pollution, pesticides, who knows. We also live at a faster pace which creates more stress in our lives.
One of the other reasons, is with modern medicine, tumours are more easily detected. Lastly, we are much more open about a diagnosis. Back in the day, cancer was very much the “C” word, and it was very much viewed as a death sentence and so never discussed.
Truth is life is messy. We can be cruising along quite happily when life happens and throws us curveballs. I remember when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in her seventies.
Suddenly, my UK trip was extended from ten days to twenty-one. Suddenly, this was no longer a holiday but a mission to help her cope with the diagnosis and get her through the surgery and the aftermath. Suddenly, I was reliving the same fears and demons I had had to face with my own diagnosis, but this time the patient was my mother.
Despite the obvious stress and anxiety, those three weeks were special. Our roles were reversed. I was the one giving advice, cooking the meals, laying out her clothes, and tucking her in at night, just as she had done for me so many years ago. It brought out tenderness in me that I hadn’t felt since my children were little.
And it wasn’t all doom and gloom. We shared a few laughs along the way and enjoyed each other’s company.
I also had time on my own, an unknown commodity for a busy working mother. Eight whole days. Eight.
But I missed my family. Funny, when you are with your kids, you fantasize about a day to yourself, but when you get several days, you miss them, with their constant noise, interruptions, and mess.
But one of the books I read, End the Struggle and Dance with Life, truly hit home. In this book, author Susan Jeffers pointed out that so often we look at what’s missing in our lives instead of what’s there.
I’ve always found that it’s better to find the lesson to be learned from a difficult situation. With my mother’s illness, I was reminded of what was precious to me. And it wasn’t a job, a house, or other possessions, it was people — family and friends.
While we can’t control what happens to us, we can control our attitude, and I determined to change mine.
It will be my friends’ attitude that will help them get through the weeks and months ahead. Both sound positive, and while I know they are scared, they also know that people care and are there to help. The trick is to “do vulnerable” and that can be hard, but maybe that’s one of the lessons to be learned from this experience.