From a personal health perspective, this week has been a very positive one. I have seen two lots of doctors and both agree that my progress is such that my treatment should be reduced further. Meaning that if we continue at this rate I may be off all treatment by Christmas. If this happens, it will be the first time since my diagnosis in 2007 that I will be without any treatment at all! My days of counting chickens are well behind me, but things are finally moving in the right direction for me, and I will take any positives I can.
However, in the work I do, I am never far from reality, and this week, two of my ‘community’ have lost their fathers. I have been with them during the last few weeks, and it has been very difficult. I have been grateful to be there for them, as in both instances there were no other family members able to help, but I was overcome by a terrible feeling of hopelessness as there was nothing I could do, to ease their pain.
When I was going through my first battle for life, and others were losing theirs, I encountered the common emotion of guilt, ‘why me?’ Why was I alive and my friend’s not? I spoke to an expert clinical nurse psychiatrist, who told me that unfortunately in the ‘cancer world’ death was very much a part of the work, and if I was going to continue my path into support, then I must understand that. That felt harsh, but it was a good lesson to learn, and has helped prepare me for not only my own life, but to enable me to effectively help others.
Now, unfortunately end of life is a very big part of my work, and communicating with people who are affected by loss too. My own experiences are now truly benefiting others and all the terrible things I have encountered are enabling me to help people, so I see that as positive too. Like with cancer, I see very little support available for people dealing with loss. But a question I often ask myself is how do we really cope?
When I talk about dealing with loss, it is not only about losing someone. Things can change dramatically, when an event happens in our lives. We may lose our ability to do things, as our brain begins to shut down. As we get older we become less physically able to do things we could before. Maybe we lose something that has a massive sentimental value in our lives. Generally as we get older we are doing more and more things for the last time.
In my own instance, I have lost my ability to work, most of my physical power, my taste, my smell, my ability to sleep without medication, and my reliable health. They say that time is a healer and maybe that is the answer for some? Sure there are very positive days, particularly when the sun shines or there are other distractions, but on many days my mind returns to the things and people I have lost, during this episode of my life.
Those things can be devastating at the time, but somehow we must be able to put them behind us to enable us to move on with our lives. Naturally, everyone deals with things in their own way, and I know many people that have been unable to do that. Of course the time thing is an important factor, and we will all need a different amount of it to help us cope. Can it really be as simple as creating new memories to help us forget about old ones? I know my memory is getting much worse, a combination of aggressive treatment and old age, but there are certain things that are still as clear as they were at the time.
As an older person with cancer, the list of things that I am now no longer able to do is getting longer, and that is becoming harder to take. No more night clubbing and late night partying. Drinking in the early hours means a cup of tea at 4pm! Younger people laugh, but it is tough to accept that slowly you are losing things you always thought you would have. There are times when I feel that I am becoming a passenger in my own life, slowly but surely relying on other people for support.
There is nothing that can prepare you for the loss of someone important from your life, no rule book to help you deal with it. You just have to cope with things the best way you can. We all do our best to support each other in times of problems, but there is always one person feeling the pain more than anyone else, and it is them who despite all the support may well feel extremely isolated.
I would like to reflect in the final part of this piece, to everyone who has lost something to cancer. Those who have lost friends and loved ones, and others who’s lives have been changed, directly, or indirectly by it. In my own case my life has been changed forever but I am grateful for what I do have. I am not the same person I was, but it is only now that I am beginning to understand and accept that I never will be that man again.
How have you dealt with any loss that you have experienced? Please feel free to share your experiences.
I am an official support partner of the Grove Hotel in Bournemouth. The only hotel in the UK specifically for people affected by cancer and other life limiting conditions.