Newswire » Your Say! » Cancer truly is a big C.

Cancer truly is a big C.

Cancer truly is a big C – In this piece, Tony Kennedy speaks from the heart as he tells us of his own troubled experience with a loved one diagnosed with terminal cancer.  A powerful piece. 

I lie here awake at 5:50am consumed by a whirlwind of emotion. I never really understood that phrase before; a “whirlwind of emotion”. And even now it is hard to put into words. But I know it to be a true phenomenon as I am experiencing it at present ; fear and anxiety one moment, overwhelming sadness the next, occasionally peppered with moments of acceptance and resolution.

You see, I just found out on New Year’s Day that my Father has terminal cancer. He has been sick for quite some time, entering hospital on my birthday (10th of December). In the month before his health had been steadily declining, though it seems both he and to some extent, I had convinced ourselves that the problem wasn’t that bad. And that’s the first thing about Cancer that makes it so nasty. It doesn’t come on in dramatic fashion. Some weight loss here, some fatigue there. It’s subtlety is especially dangerous to those of us disinclined to face things head on. On it goes, silently wreaking havoc, until it will not be ignored any more.

It was around mid November that I realised something was significantly wrong with my father (though still never expected cancer). He started falling a lot. He also stopped eating. His mind would suddenly go blank and he would wildly change his thought patterns. At 71, I was starting to suspect that perhaps it was dementia.

So I started asking my father to go to the doctors, which for a long time he refused to do. Making totally irrational and stubborn protestations that “he would be grand”. Eventually however, after his last fall  in our bathroom  (one which could have been really nasty), and his unwillingness to get out of bed AT ALL convinced me that I needed to take responsibility and, against his wishes, I called an ambulance.

Waiting for the ambulance to come was a very clarifying experience for me. As I sat taking to my father, gone was the stubbornness and belligerence, and in their place there was nothing but fear. Its a scary thing to see your father in fear, when you recognise for the first time that parents aren’t supermen with all the answers anymore, but rather just vulnerable people, like you. It’s truly terrifying, yet almost immediately, roles switch and you become the reassurer, summoning strength from somewhere to utter the timeless spell “it will be OK”.

In any event, the ambulance took my father to hospital. Initially, the doctors weren’t sure what was causing his symptoms. For a couple of weeks they ran batteries of tests and treated secondary infections that he had. However eventually the consultants spoke to him and told him that he had advanced bowel cancer and that he was too weak for chemo and that palliative care and symptom management where now his best options. Which is doctor speak for “you’re fucked”.

I think my father knew for about a week before he told me. And on News Years Day he eventually broke the news to me. Again, I seen that fear, and again I responded by pretending to be confident as I reassured him that things would be OK. It broke my heart though, when, with tears in his eyes he said that his biggest immediate concern was how I would take the news. He told me he thought I was going to crack up. And in fairness, my previous history would lead most people to assume the same.

My mother died in front of me when I was 13. Psychologists have a theory that when a young person experiences a significant trauma they create a shield around themselves in order to function. And that shield is really really useful..initially. However as you grow, you keep yourself in that shield in a state of existential alienation. You grow and mature physically and intellectually, and you may be able to share some emotion with others, but in general you don’t. You exist in the world, you may even seem to participate in it, but you remain isolated internally.

Not only that, as you get older life tends to throw more and more obstacles at you that try to break that shield. When faced with this the shielded have but two options, allow the shield to break and face life head on, or resort to more and more desperate tactics to protect that shield. For me, I happily chose the latter. I developed OCD, I would ruminate for hours trying to block out reality and using magical thinking to prevent anything bad happening. Then of course came the chemical crutches.

I started drinking at about 17/18 and I found that, when I was intoxicated I forgot about my troubles and could at least play at being “normal”. However, I found that alcohol wasn’t really for me as an emotional anaesthesia. I didn’t enjoy drinking heavily after a while, and with hangovers found that the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze as they say. So I looked to pills. I have had intermittent insomnia for years, and would occasionally get sleeping tablets off the doctors. And they really worked. But, they worked too well. Some days I’d wake up, feel anxious and instead of dealing with it productively,I’d say “fuck it, I’m  writing this day off” and take a couple of pills to sleep the day away. However,  didn’t like the fuzziness of the pills and stopped taking them. And I functioned OK for a while, going to University and being able to do quite well. However, I was still alienated and not dealing with the shield.

Then I found codeine, and pissed away most of my 20s in an opiate haze. Doing nothing productive, dealing with crippling anxiety, hiding from all responsibilities and totally isolating myself. It brought me worse mental illness, bleeding ulcers,and made me dangerously suicidal at times.

This digression is to demonstrate that, indeed my father worrying about me was based on fairly good Intel. But something weird happened when I heard he was dying. Of course on one level, it is utterly devastating. But my shield shattered that day. I realised that all the anxiety, the OCD, the addiction was rooted in trying to block out the idea that anything bad could happen to my father. And now that something terrible has happened to him, I realise that such behaviour on my part, is all for naught. It has awoken me, and while it is still terrifying to consider the future, I’ll run from it no more. Freud once opined that a man cannot truly be a man until his father dies. Carl Jung refined the theory to argue that the “death” is symbolic. By that he meant, when your father ceases to be a parent, and becomes merely a “human” not only is their an opportunity for the son to become grown up, but it is imperative that they seize that opportunity, for both the sake of their father, and for their own sake also.

My father moved up to the hospice this week. Another reason why cancer is such a C is because no other disease inverts morality like it does. If someone has a heart attack, no one says “ah sure as long as their comfortable”. They fight and fight to cure the patient. But not cancer. When you see someone ravaged by advanced cancer, your mind stops thinking “cure” and starts thinking solely about easing suffering, by whatever means. Don’t get me wrong, the staff in the hospice are amazing and they are really trying help him live as normal as possible. And I hope he holds on for as long as possible and, dare I say, enjoys himself up there. Its just that cancer truly is a big C.

Leave a Reply

© 1991-2014 Fountain Resource Group Ltd. · Registered Company Number: 193051C · RSS · Website designed by Solid Website Design