When someone we love is diagnosed with a terminal cancer, life as we knew it changes forever. Suddenly we enter a new world, a world filled with helplessness, despair and fear of the unknown. We no longer walk aimlessly around shopping Malls; we walk the Hospital corridors and sit in chemotherapy waiting rooms and are shocked by the number of people afflicted by cancer. We cannot help but wonder if one day we too may be a patient and we fear for our own mortality.
Sitting in a Chemotherapy ward is an experience not to be forgotten. Cancer has no respect for gender, age or wealth. There are people from every race, colour and creed; rich, middle class and poor; and none of this makes the slightest difference. They are all united in their suffering, fellow human beings on the same sad journey.
One cannot bear witness to the incredible courage of those who have cancer, without being deeply affected. My husband’s courage in the face of his terminal mesothelioma cancer held me in awe and I decided to do everything within my power to help him.
I learned about the stages and symptoms of his disease; the pain he would experience and ways to bring it under control, so that I could work with his doctors, to achieve for him, the best possible quality of life for whatever time he was granted. It was incredibly hard to wake each day with the knowledge that my husband was dying; my anticipatory grief often overwhelmed me but somehow, I managed to carry on. One day a lady said to me, “You are such a strong woman.” and I wondered what had made her say that. I didn’t feel strong, I felt like I was breaking.
Despite a prognosis of three to nine months, my husband survived for two years and was not bed bound until three short days prior to his death. My journey beside him as he travelled to the end of his life, has taught me many things, above all the true meaning of love and the strength of the human spirit.
Deep within us, there is strength and courage to sustain us in times of personal tragedy. I have come to realize that during my husband’s illness, I was indeed strong. I may have staggered with the burden of my grief but I did manage to help my husband achieve a quality of life few thought possible considering the nature of his disease. And, thanks to the expertise and dedication of the Palliative Care Team, I was able to fulfill my promise to him that he would not die in hospital. His death at home was as loving, sharing and peaceful as anyone could wish for.
I have witnessed courage; that of my husband as he battled his disease and my own as I stood beside him, determined to improve the quality of his life. The knowledge that I was successful in this has brought me much peace. My husband’s illness and death have wounded me deeply yet I have emerged far stronger than ever before and gone on to achieve things I never thought possible.
My experience has taught me not to take life for granted and to live each day with thanks for the wonderful gift that it is. I have witnessed death; my awareness of the fragility of life, despite the strongest of wills strengthens my determination to grasp everything life offers me, with both hands.