Terminal Diagnosis: How Do You and Your Family and Friends Cope?
How do you cope with a terminal diagnosis? What do you do when you hear those words, "It's terminal"? I'm sure it must be different for everyone, but one thing I think everyone has in common is that you just feel 'shocked'; it's like it isn't happening to you. You can hear the words, and it feels like everything is just happening around you.
My heart sank
My heart sank, and I'm sure I didn't breathe for a few minutes. My mind was searching through my thoughts, trying desperately to think of something to say, without crying.
I think I managed to say, "Are you sure?", which now sounds ridiculous. I remember looking at my husband Tim and son Ashleigh, wondering what was going through their heads. I remember feeling water falling from my face; I put my hand put to my eyes and realized I was crying, and I couldn't stop it.
There is no right or wrong way to react
I didn't want to be a drama queen, which I know I am; however, how DO you cope with the worst diagnosis ever? There is no right nor wrong way to react.
The thoughts in my head came through loud and clear. I think they contained a lot of swear words, and I remember thinking "Is this REALLY happening to me?" and "Will I wake up in a minute and realize it is just a dream?" Then reality kicked it, and I began to sob uncontrollably.
Still so much to do
So many things that I hadn't achieved, so many things that I wanted to do! How much time had I got left? So many thoughts going through my head. One minute I was as calm as could be and then the next, it would come flooding back and I couldn't stop crying.
My three dear friends were around me, trying to support me, although they too, were having a hard time believing it! It's funny how different they all were. They all kept trying to make ME feel better, and all I wanted was for THEM to feel better. My heart would break every time I had to tell them more bad news. It was their tears that made me cry, their emotions that devastated me.
How my friends reacted
One friend took it in stride and accepted it, another kept sending me lots information of "miracle cures" from the internet, and the other friend was angry, my God, so angry. I had never seen her that angry about anything. Even now, two and a bit years on, she still doesn't like me speaking about "my death". One of them is convinced I will be the exception to the rule and will live forever.
I gave them space to digest all of the news, and slowly we got together and chatted about my treatments. I tried to include my dear three friends and my Tim and Ashleigh. I felt it was like they were going through it with me, and this way they could "help" me.
I didn't want pity
Tim tells me it was so hard watching me being ill due to the chemo, and that everyone felt helpless. I remember trying not to cry in front of them, as I didn't want them to 'pity' me, when in actual fact I should have just cried. What I have learned over these years is that we don't have to be strong or brave all the time. Friends and family want to support you, to hold your hand, to rub your back, because it makes them feel like they are doing "something" when there isn't a lot for them to do.
Everything seems focused on YOU! Quite rightly, however, it isn't just "you".
Cancer affects everyone close to you
We should remember that cancer doesn't just affect "you", it affects everyone who knows you and who is close in your life. So how do you support your friends when your prognosis is grim? For me, it was trying to stay the "same person" I was, still being "me". For a while no one would come to me with their problems because they felt I had enough to deal with, when actually I would have been there for them, as I normally would.
We all had to sit down, and I had to tell them to treat me the same way they had always treated me. I still wanted to hear about their lives and problems, I still wanted to be there for them. I still wanted to "feel" part of everyones life, otherwise all I had was the "cancer". You need light relief when going through treatments, you need laughs and giggles, otherwise it is all doom and gloom, and who could cope with that all of the time?
Learning to accept help
I found it very hard to ask for help during chemo, and would battle on every day as if I were well. It became exhausting. Slowly and surely, I began to let them do things for me, and not just me, but for Tim and Ashleigh, too. Chatting to them now, they all have said it felt nice to actually "do something" useful.
Being terminal does get easier, or at least it has for me, the longer I'm here, the more hope I have. In the beginning, we never dared plan anything, but now I'm looking to the future. I try not to think of my diagnosis, I'm aware there are things that tire me out, and for every "good" day there are a few "not so good" ones, and I can adjust my life around them.
Living in the moment
There is a lot to be said for "living in the moment". It is hard to do; we, by our nature, make plans, so when you don't know how long you have left or how you will be, what do you do? I have now come to the decision that I need to make plans. Plans make me happy, plans give me something to look forward to. Plans make me feel that I'm still part of the human race.
I'm still Anita, the same compassionate person I was before cancer, although much wiser now. I know that I'm fortunate, I know that some people with a terminal diagnosis do not live as long as I have, and I am truly grateful for the rest of my life, however long...