As a cancer victim myself, I have been inundated with all sorts of “support” from friends, relatives and others not so familiar. However, my husband’s reaction to my disease was quite a surprise. There are some, for reasons of their own, who cannot cope with the idea that someone close to them has cancer. Here is my story:
Probably the most devastating part of my first experience with cancer was the total lack of support from my husband. When I learned that I had bladder cancer at the age of 45, I was totally shocked. As a mother of three young boys, I felt that my world had just ended. My husband did not do well with “sickness” and my first concern was his reaction. He “supported” me by totally ignoring the whole situation. When I got home, dreading telling him, the phone was ringing. He was at the local Chevy dealer looking at a new pickup. He was well aware of my visit to the Urologist for testing, yet what was his first query?
He wanted me to come down and look at this wonderful pickup and “help” him make a decision. I was not happy. We could not afford another car payment. His job as a brick mason’s helper was dependent on the weather and I was working, basically to pay for groceries. I told him that I could help him with the decision without even coming down there. I then told him that the doctor found cancer and that I was scheduled for surgery in two weeks and would not be able to help him pay for a new vehicle. His reply, after a brief silence, was, ” Come down anyway. I really like this pickup. ” I went to the Chevy house, agreed that the pickup was nice, but again said that I would not be able to help him pay for it because I had bladder cancer and would be out of commission indefinitely. He bought the pickup and said nothing about my cancer.
When we got home, he had an” I could care less about your problem” attitude and bragged that he had had a serious operation on his appendix when he was 14 and was right back to work in two days. A 6 week recovery period for my surgery was ridiculous in his estimation. I was still trying to wrap my mind around everything that was happening. I couldn’t believe his response, so “vented” to my friend….his bosses wife. She was sympathetic, but had a jerk for a husband herself and was raising four children, so couldn’t be of much support to me, other than lending an ear to my grief. She did offer to help with the children through my hospital stay,which I gratefully accepted. Both types of support were a welcome relief, but in no way substituted for the support I desperately needed from my husband. We had just moved into the area, some 1200 miles from friends and relatives, so I felt all alone and devastated. My co workers were more caring than my own husband was. They asked daily about how I felt and assured me that things would be okay. The one friend who said that she would keep the boys while I was in the hospital and recuperating from the surgery became my solace . Another real source of comfort was my religion. My strong faith in God and His support, no matter what the outcome, helped me cope throughout the whole ordeal. The religious congregation that I belonged to was a boost for me too……but again, the fact that my own husband was reacting to my situation in such a negative way put a great deal of stress on me. I even had to beg him to actually be at the hospital during my surgery. He felt that he needed to be working since I wasn’t going to be bringing anything in to support the family.
My doctor believed that I could be out of the hospital in two days. Actually he had to “talk” the insurance company into allowing two days for the procedure, which consisted of a resection through the urethra…. Imagine my surprise when I woke up from the surgery with my abdomen bandaged. During the procedure, my bladder “jumped” into the resection tool and a tear occurred. I had to be cut opened for the repair to the bladder. My “two day” stay lasted eight days. My husband came to visit four times. What was really disheartening, but at the same time very heartwarming, was the response from my local religious congregation. On the Sunday after my surgery on Friday, I had up to fifteen people in the room at one time and they streamed in all day. All asked where my husband was…I had no clue. Finally, at about seven pm, he came and acted like a jerk when I complained about his absence. His comment was, “Do you think that all I have to do is sit in a hospital room with you?” He actually said that! What had he been doing that was so important? He had been lifting weights with his friend, who was his boss. The boys were with my friend ,his bosses wife. My entreaty to him to bring the boys so I could see them was met with, ” I can’t do that.” They won’t allow the kids up here. ” I assured him that I had asked and was told I could go to the waiting room down the hall to see them and he begrudgingly promised to bring them “soon”. I saw him two more times after that before he brought the boys. His visits were brief and to the point. He was working like a dog so that I could be sick. I cried my heart out every night.
When I arrived home after my hospital stay, the atmosphere at home was very cold. I pushed myself to do the things I could do to make life as normal as I could for the boys, but I was bringing no money in and hospital bills over and above what the insurance paid were coming in daily. I tried to find financial “help” through the hospital, the American Cancer Society and other support groups, but to no avail. I went back to work at a local Waffle House as soon as I was released from the doctor.
I was scheduled to receive chemo treatments every week and had to work that around my children’s schedules as well as my work schedule. They were in school and most of my treatments were scheduled to be in the afternoon to coincide with my first shift job. I would pick up the boys from school, go to the clinic, have the chemo injected directly into my bladder and rush home ( about thirty minutes away) so I could lay on each side for thirty minutes for the chemo to flush the bladder. Then, I had to “schedule” my urination within three hours of my treatment. All this while being a mother to three boys, ages 5, 7 and 9 with no family support at all. One day when I had my treatment, my seven year old was complaining of a stomach ache when I picked him up from school. We drove to the clinic and I could tell he was really not feeling well. When I came out from the treatment, he was laying in the waiting room chair and looked awful. With the help of his older brother, I got him to the car and we hardly got out of the parking lot, when he began throwing up all over the car. So much for speeding home to do my ritual. I stopped at the nearest station and got him and the car cleaned up and took care of him for the rest of the evening. My husband came home tired and exhausted from a grueling day at work and ate and went to bed.
Those were very hard times for us. Before my chemo treatments started, I had two more surgeries in less than six months. The last surgery was done without the benefit of insurance. Because our insurance was with a very small group, the rates tripled and no one in the group could afford them. My multiple surgeries, coupled with my husband’s bosses bypass surgery drove the monthly premiums to a cost that was not tolerable for anyone.. So, the money problems added to my misery….and needless to say, was a real bone of contention with my husband. I was rejected as to any help with the hospital bills at every turn. It wasn’t until three years later that I found out about a program through the hospital that would pay a bill if one qualified. Armed with the name of the program, I went directly to the hospital after work and applied for it. All my hospital related bills qualified for full payment…..except what was left of my first bill….which was not qualified because it was over two years old. I was appalled. I had asked every hospital department I thought should know if there was a program that could “help” with my bills and no one offered me any “names”. I found out about the program from a woman who worked with me at a fast food restaurant.! Who knew that a hamburger flipper had that kind of information when the finance
My next bout with bladder cancer came nine years later and was a much better experience in the support department. My husband, who at the time of my first bouts was under tremendous stress from internal battles of his own as well as other problems at work, made a complete turnaround in his attitude. This time around he was there for me from start to finish and showed great concern for my welfare. My three boys were wonderful. My circle of friends grew over the years and they were all very supportive….fixing meals, and doing chores around the house for me. My hospital stay was shorter, only lasting two days, but I came home with a catheter, which proved to be a very painful experience both during its use and after it was removed. Then, I developed shingles in a very inappropriate area of my buttocks. Through all of this, I survived. With or without support from my husband, I survived. I have been cancer free for ten years and counting. My exams have been few and far between because of money issues, but my last exam, this year, was clear. Going through any severe illness is not pleasant, but I can tell you from experience, that going through it with support….especially from your immediate family, is much, much easier.