If your husband has cancer, then you’re familiar with the onslaught of follow up care appointments that last for YEARS after your treatment is complete. There are times when these appointments don’t faze me. But, then there are other times when these really knock me on my ass.
Surviving cancer is a triumph, but the post-survival-whiplash is no small obstacle.
Sometimes checking to make sure the cancer hasn’t returned is just as traumatic as the initial diagnosis.
As soon as you (almost) forget that your husband has cancer, you get an alert that his 6 month CT is next week. That’s right, the follow up care appointments begin.
Then, you remember how asleep at the wheel you were when you first got the news. You bask for a minute in how ignorant you were of the train wreck that would be right around the corner. Those were the days…
Then, you take solace in the fact that it all worked out in the end. Everyone survived.
But, as the hairs stand up on your neck, you start to wonder if you’re right back where you were when this whole nightmare began. Could this be THE time it doesn’t work out?
It’s a terrible cycle that we all get as a reward for surviving the initial diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Lovely, huh?
It is truly a veritable whiplash of trauma and stress that you get to relive again and again until you don’t…whenever that is. That’s part of living in the world of follow up care after cancer.
It’s exhausting and beyond difficult.
Earning Your Survivor Patch
Sometimes I think I’m a seasoned veteran. Cancer doesn’t scare me. This is probably due to the fact that we got so lucky. But, then, there are days when I feel the same emotions I felt on the very first day we got the news—maybe even worse and more intense at times.
How could it be worse?
In my mind I have this two sided perspective—WE SURVIVED!….IT COULD COME BACK. A lot of the time, I feel like we’re just waiting for the other shoe to drop.
I understand and appreciate how incredibly lucky we were to escape the first time around. But, every time a follow-up appointment comes around, I wonder if this is the day that we’ll find out we didn’t beat it after all.
Realizing the nightmare may be coming back, or that it may be back with a vengeance—that’s the worst feeling in the world. Thinking of the odds and wondering where you’ll fall this time…This is all the worst kind of torture for a spouse.
But, we don’t typically put those feelings out into the open for our spouses, friends or families to see.
Sometimes I feel like I don’t say anything because I don’t want to jinx it. Other times, I keep it all locked up because I don’t want to freak my husband out before his follow up care appointment. Then, there are times when I don’t say a word because if I do, then it will get too real for me.
Maybe it is a combo of all of the above. Whatever it is—it’s beyond difficult.
Tell Me When It’s OVER
Like many of you, I managed every stage of my husband’s cancer treatment. But, I have discovered that managing his follow up stages is not the healthiest thing for my mental state.
So, in the spirit of redefining our relationship from caregiver-patient back to equal partners, I have asked my husband for one favor: make your own appointments and don’t tell me until the DAY OF.
I want him to wait until the very last minute. (At least at this stage of our lives). Why? Don’t I want to be supportive? YES, but not until the DAY OF the appointment anyway.
I have learned that this is not something I handle well, and I need to keep a healthy distance from it. On the other hand, this IS something my husband handles well, and he carries this burden for both of us.
For example, my husband will sleep like a baby the night before his follow up care appointment—BUT I DON’T. Anxiety and stress run me ragged as I weigh the odds of all the various things that could happen.
But, hubs will almost always compartmentalize his emotions in such a way as to NEVER feel the fear. He finds it pointless.
I wish I could do what he does, but it’s not my strong suit. (I’m working on it.) If you’re in the same boat, try to think of it like this: You took care of him, and he can and should take care of you.
So, my advice: LET HIM.
As for me, I’m told when it’s time—no more, no less.
This helps me avoid reliving the trauma again and again. Well, at least it helps minimize it, and that helps me stay sane. (I only have to freak out for half the day instead of days or weeks in advance).
It’s a win.
Surviving the Survival
Surviving cancer means you have to also survive the years of checking that follow. But, just because many consider it a small price to pay for earning your Survivor Patch doesn’t mean it won’t FLOOR you.
It can throw your life out of whack, and you get to do it every couple of months for YEARS. Which means, you’ll have to find a way to manage the stress of it.
This is easier said than done because it is so hard for us caregivers to take care of ourselves.
Your quality of life IS important, and how you deal with the years following cancer survival can make or break the experiences that you and your husband fought so hard for.
It’s okay to prioritize your own mental health. It’s not selfish—it’s just sharing the load.
It’s not the load that weighs you down, it’s the way you carry it.C.S. Lewis