It’s been two years since I finished chemo, which means that I’ve had the opportunity to chat with lots of ladies who are going through it themselves since then. Chatting about all the trips to chemo and the appointments with the oncologist and surgeons, many ladies have commented that their husband is coming with them to every single one. I don’t usually offer anything at this point, but inevitably, they ask. “Did your husband come with you to every appointment?” I think they are all shocked when I answer no. He did come with me to the appointments where they suggest someone come. (That’s never good when a doctor suggests you not come to the appointment alone…) He was there at the first appointment after the diagnosis with the surgeon, the “big” appointment with the oncologist where we discussed treatment strategies, and the appointment where we talked about surgical options. And of course, he took time off anytime I had surgery. But otherwise, I went solo to the appointments and took a friend to chemo.
So this is not the point in the story where you should feel sorry for me because my husband didn’t care enough to take the time off to come with me. In those first “big” appointments, he came along and the doctors talked to both of us, encouraging us both to ask questions. But breast cancer is my thing, I already speak that language. What they were saying made sense to me, there were no surprises because I was expecting it all. I didn’t need him to take notes so that I could look things up later (that’s a great reason to have someone come along, by the way!) and he knew that I would remember the details that I needed to pass along to him. I dragged Sally along to a couple of the early diagnostics, but quickly learned that she mostly would have to wait a long time by herself. The waiting areas for mammograms, MRIs, and especially PET scan keep the patients separate, so there would have been a lot of sitting solo– probably not worth burning sick leave. And I have been blessed to have so many wonderful friends, it was easy to find someone to come along with me to chemo. Clay always offered to go, and I know I wouldn’t have had to ask twice for him to leave work to join me. And yet, I always assured him that I was fine to go on my own.
There are a lot of “what ifs” in cancer. What if chemo made me really sick? What if it was too hard for me to keep up with the kids? What if it was too hard for me to take care of myself? And of course, there was always that lingering, always unspoken, “what if.” What if the treatments didn’t work and I finally ended up with my body as a battleground, managing the effects of ever increasing treatments while the cancer wreaked havoc on my vital organs? My liver, my bones, my brain? Then I would need help. Lots of help.
I can remember years ago being in the choir room at church, where federal workers were asked to consider donating leave to a member whose husband was nearing the end of his life. She was running out of paid sick leave, but other employees could transfer theirs so she could continue to be paid while she stayed at home with her dying husband. That memory floated in and out of my mind all throughout my treatment. There might be times when I would really need Clay to drive me to appointments, to keep track of medications, just to help me through my day. I hated the idea that he might feel torn between being able to provide for our family and being able to care for our family. I wanted him to go to work while he could, so that he didn’t feel like he had to if I really needed him.
Didn’t mean for this post to be a downer. I was happy going to the appointments on my own. I was caught up on local interest stories, the latest fashion, and the newest makeup trends thanks to all the magazines I read in waiting rooms. (I’m a bit behind the times now, I’m afraid!) I really liked all my doctors, and was happy to chat with them. As soon as I left, I would call Clay, my mom, and Sally to give them all the latest updates. And then I would usually make one more call to whomever I was meeting for coffee or lunch to let them know I was on my way. Because even though I didn’t mind seeing the doctor solo, hanging out with a friend is always my favorite thing!
One thing to remember, though, especially if you are going through treatment– everyone is different, so we all “do cancer” differently. I loved taking a girlfriend along to chemo– three or four hours to chat and catch up, discuss Downton Abbey, look at magazines, and giggle like girls do. I’ve had friends who loved spending that time with their husbands, looking at it almost like date time. Maybe not the most romantic, but time is time, my friends. And I’ve had friends (mostly those with toddlers at home!) who cherished being able to go to chemo completely alone. We don’t all have to do it the same to do it well.