Good News/Bad News - It’s a Team Effort
I knew it was coming.
My wife was a basket case waiting for it.
I almost forgot it was coming.
I’m talking about - THE CALL.
The call with the results of my bladder cancer biopsy.
I wonder if it is a female thing to project a path that has more problems rather than fewer? That was how our experience seemed to play out. I, a male, assumed until I got the call telling me I had cancer, I didn’t have cancer. In my wife’s mind it was the opposite. I think she felt that until “we” got the call telling “us” we didn’t have cancer, I was dying of cancer in front of her at an accelerating rate. Therefore, the longer we waited the faster I was dying. For me, the longer I waited the longer I was living without cancer. Maybe it was just us. We lived through a similar experience when my wife had a very small shadow on a mammogram and they took a biopsy. She was a mess until we heard the all clear. I, on the other hand, was in a great mood, assuming the news would be good. I was right then.
I wasn’t right this time. But, luckily, neither was she.
I did have cancer. But I wasn’t dying at an increasing rate in front of her.
The call came while I was in my home office just a few feet from the main TV room of our house where we probably eat too many dinners in front of the big screen. I answered the call. I listened to the doctor go through all the specs from my bladder tumor biopsy. I heard my wife mute the TV and start listening in on my call from the other room. I also heard my wife start crying when she overheard me repeat, “stage 2 high-grade?” verifying what the doctor had said. At that point I had little idea of what that really meant. My wife on the other hand had done some hard-core googling ever since the doctor told us bladder cancer was a possible outcome of the biopsies they’d done. She had a much better idea of what I was in for than I did. That’s why she was crying. She knew chemo and surgery were in my future. All I knew was another doctor's appointment was in my future.
See how differently we took the exact same news?
Little did I know that same dynamic would play out every time we had a meeting, test, or conversation about my cancer. I assumed the best until confirmed otherwise. She assumed the worst until proven different.
I think it might be easier to think about worse-case scenarios if the subject of the worse-case isn’t yourself. I also think that always assuming the best outcome is a defense mechanism for those with the problem allowing them to handle the day-to-day life maintenance chores that still need to be dealt with, cancer or no.
It was for me.
I still had to go to work. I still had to go make the donuts as the guy on the old Dunkin Donut commercials said. Assuming the best outcome gave me some mental headroom to process those other life decisions. I’m sure if I had to think about all the negatives and all the possible avenues this journey called cancer could take I would have been paralyzed.
Luckily, I had made a great decision 30 years earlier when I married my wife. She dug into the internet to get educated and I dug into work to avoid the discussion. She kept notebooks with info from my appointments. I kept blissfully ignorant of the negatives, continuing to hear all the positives I could process.
I think I got through the diagnosis, chemotherapy, surgery and recovery without losing it because I focused on the short-term positive steps I could take. I was comfortable doing that because I knew I had someone in my corner I could trust taking care of the big picture - the possibles - the negatives and the undiscussables.
Choose your own story
Some of the advice I’ve given people over the years who have had similar issues with cancer is this: Sometimes the road is easier to travel if you have someone you can count on learn the possibilities, probabilities and problems about cancer, and let the person with cancer focus on the tasks at hand.
Now, I’ll always put this caveat on all my advice.
Everyone is different. Some people who have the disease like to be in charge of the info. Some, like me, don’t. Find the strategy that works for you. Your cancer is specific to you - your treatment is specific to you - and how you manage it should be too.
But don’t be afraid to let someone else shoulder some of the load. It’s okay to be ignorant. I got through it that way.
Cancer is a very heavy load and it is much easier to carry a heavy load when you have more than one person shouldering it.
Have you talked to your doctor about navigating sex with bladder cancer?