The Big C

This is a more serious post this week so you have been warned. Cancer is in the forefront of my mind recently. although it is always in the background. My family has quite a history with this vile illness. My father, grandfather and sister died of cancer and my mother had two bouts of it but she actually died from a heart attack. I suspect her mother whom I never knew may have had ovarian cancer.

So, I do think quite naturally about cancer. I’ve been visiting a friend who is in care in a nursing home. I’ll call her Sue which isn’t her real name. Visiting Sue reminds me of watching my father and sister die. Their experiences have prepared me somewhat for my visits to Sue.

The first thing that strikes me is the helplessness of the situation. Sue was given weeks to live so by the time she was diagnosed, the doctors were helpless to cure her. As a friend, I kept asking what I could do to assist her. She eventually gave me a task which I completed the day before she went into care. Since then, I inquired about doing other tasks. In fact, all Sue\s friends bugged her about wanting to help. One day Sue said that she was tired of hearing this question. If there was something to be done, she would mention it. Then she asked me for a needle and black thread.

I’d like to say that I came back a day later with a needle and thread. But I didn’t. In fact, I forgot all about the task. When Sue reminded me, I felt extremely guilty and went home immediately to thread three needles with black thread. The moral of this little tale is that it is very easy to offer help but rather harder to carry it out. I’ll be more careful next time.

Sue is often in pain and the medication makes her sleepy. Sitting beside her bed gives us time to talk and me, time to sit and think while she dozes. I hope it is comforting for her to have a friends beside her bed, even as a silent visitors. I count it a triumph if I can raise a smile from a story I’ve told or a joking comment.

She is drifting away from us but not peacefully. I am reminded of the Dylan Thomas poem about not going gentle into the good night. As I did when I watched my sister and father, I wonder how I’d cope with terminal cancer. Would I behave as Thomas suggest and rage against the dying of the light? I suspect I might moan and complain and drive everyone nuts.

I greatest wish is that Sue may have what she wants: a quick death.