Pain. I had been dealing with it for nine months. Excruciating pain. Pain when I walked. Pain when I slept. Pain when I ate. Seriously. Do you know how freaking hard it is to order the Combo #2 Platter at Schneithorst’s and only be able to stomach a wing and a ring because it literally hurts to eat?
For those of you unfamiliar with the Combo #2 Platter, it is a delicate assortment of onion rings, chicken strips, chicken wings, mozzarella sticks and toasted ravioli. The result of my not being able to eat it: panic. Oh no, where is this pain coming from? What if I can never eat it again? What if I’m allergic? Why, God?! WHY?!
So I subconsciously thanked God when I found out that I had Stage 3 Testicular Cancer. Hey, at least I knew what it was. That’s half the battle. Once you know your enemy, then you can figure out how to annihilate it.
The other half of the battle is quite a bit trickier. The emotional side of the fight doesn’t really register on the list of side effects. Let me explain.
When I went through chemotherapy, I knew the drugs I would have to take: Cisplatin and VP 16. I knew that I would lose my hair. I knew that I would probably vomit up my own shoes at some point. I knew that there was a distinct possibility that I would not be able to poop for three weeks. And don’t get me started on my first “sit down” after the hiatus.
What I didn’t expect, though, was that emotionally, everything got really goofy. And when I say everything, I mean everything. There were times when I was a literal example of pure love and euphoria…wanting nothing but to throw my arms around the world and hug everyone for the support they were giving me.
And yet there were times when I was the epitome of the word “anus. ” What made it worse was that I knew that I was being an anus, and was powerless to do anything about it.
When the words “You have cancer” are uttered, several feelings explode all at once. These may include fear, rage, panic, frustration, numbness, and even relief. The one thing that almost all people directly affected will say is “Things are abnormal enough… please don’t treat me differently.”
For people who are supporting the patient, no matter what type of cancer is involved, they silently, almost always, think that their loved one isn’t going to make it, which sets off an interesting protection mode. It’s almost like “I am making sure that nothing else bad will ever happen to this person on my watch…ever.”
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why this is a losing proposition. Things can and will occur. Hair loss happens. Constipation happens. Bone pain happens. Hot flashes happen…even to men. Not only do you look like a stunt double in Lifetime’s “The Return of Kojak,” but now you also resemble Ted Stryker trying to land a plane. It’s quite a scene.
Yet the physical is the easy part. Sadness happens. Depression happens. Wanting to be left alone happens. It’s a pivotal moment for all involved when the patient finally says, “Enough.” Not only is there a sense of being smothered, but it also leads to wrenching guilt from the inevitable “LEAVE ME THE HELL ALONE!” that always comes.
Cue awkward silence on all sides…here.
But, it will get easier when you know what to expect. A person battling cancer will feel more love and more anger than maybe at any point in his or her life…and that’s okay. It’s natural, and it will be part of the new “normal” for a while. The important thing is to recognize what’s going on, and to let yourself feel how you’re going to feel, good or bad.
For those who fight from outside, prepare yourself for what’s coming and then accept it, regardless. Bask in the good times, and blow off the rage. Anger is only temporary. Love lasts a lifetime.
And no matter what, don’t forget to laugh at the absurdity of it all. It really is the best medicine.
– Dan Duffy
Co-Founder, The Half Fund