It’s probably a good thing Donna-Lane taught me a few cooking tips when we were first married, because lately I have been doing much of the meal preparation for both of us. I say ‘probably,’ as my cooking repertoire is still rather limited compared to hers, and not only do we like different things we prefer them cooked differently (she leans to rare, I like my meat moyen bien ou bien cuisiné).
Cooking, clean up, and grocery shopping are perhaps the most time-consuming unanticipated aspects of dealing with D-L’s cancer. Before her diagnosis / operations / chemotherapy, we had established a rhythm in which we shared kitchen duties – one cooked, the other cleaned up, and we alternated days of the week.
Sometimes (okay, oftentimes) when it was my time to cook and I didn’t think I had the time for shopping & cooking, we’d go out to eat. The restaurant owners knew of our routine and would ask, “Rick’s day to cook?” when we showed up for lunch.
But since summer, and especially this fall during her chemo treatments, there are many days when D-L simply doesn’t have the energy to stand in the kitchen for an hour, slicing veggies, cleaning and boiling potatoes, monitoring meat or soups. So I’ve taken on much of the food responsibility, except for a few days we spent in Argéles-sur-mer when she was feeling stronger-ish and I was swamped with writing deadlines.
The other unexpected time factor has been trips to the hospital. Not just the now-weekly chemo treatments, which last 2 ½ - 3 hours, plus the 30-60 minutes driving each way (depending on time of day traffic) but also the prior day trips so she can give a blood sample. Mercifully, for the next three weeks, they’ve scheduled the blood draw and chemo drip the same day of the week.
For the longer visits, I sometimes take my computer with me, find a place where I can sit and work, and check on D-L’s progress every hour or so. She says I could go home and return to pick her up, but I’d rather be close by. Not that I can do anything, but I want her to know I’m there just in case. I’d say perhaps half the women we see in the waiting room have companions with them; about one-third of the companions are male. I feel sad for the women who are unaccompanied and facing their trauma alone.
I write this not as a complaint. I don’t care what is required for Donna-Lane to get rid of the cancer and prevent its recurrence; that’s what we’ll do; and I’ll do what I can to ease her through that experience.
Rather, I write this for those husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, family members, close friends who are going through the crisis of cancer with a loved one – to let you know that
(1) it can take a surprising amount of time you hadn’t planned on
(2) you may end up in temporary, even long-term, roles you didn’t expect, and
(3) both are irrelevant because the only thing that matters is that your loved one gets better and suffers as little as possible in the process.
It can be a long process, too. Prepare for much of your ‘normal’ life to be on hold for several months. Again irrelevant.
I am fortunate that we have our own business and work from home. I cannot imagine how difficult the process would be for a husband who has an office job or who has to travel frequently. Or someone going through cancer who has to fit chemo treatments around job requirements.
We have the liberty of setting our own hours, aside from the hospital appointments, so I am able to get my work done around the trips downtown, cooking, and, oh yeah, laundry.
Right now, Donna-Lane is sleeping. It’s late afternoon, and we spent the morning at the hospital. As typical, she still has her glasses on because she’s liable to come awake at any time and resume reading a book. I’m about to start a load of wash. Then I’ll start work. After which I’ll switch the clothes to the dryer. And resume work. Perhaps past midnight (a habit which long predates the cancer).
From time to time, D-L asks me, or one of our friends asks, “How are you holding up?”
I’m not going through any of the surgeries, the frequent needles, the toxic cocktails, the anti-nausea meds, dealing with hair loss and itchy wigs. My angst is only that my wife is suffering, and I don’t like that for a second.
I don’t mind the time- and role-shift that have become a necessary routine. I like doing whatever I can for the woman I love.
I do mind that Donna-Lane is not 100% her usual vibrant self. She’s still incredibly positive. She’s tuned in to world events and issues. She’s in touch with friends in her very caring way, including women she’s befriended who are going through a similar experience.
She just can’t fire on all cylinders all day every day in the way that she has for most of her life. I know that frustrates her, and part of my role is to calm that frustration. And not add to it with any petty annoyances that I might have. (Cursing at Microsoft automatic updates is allowed.)
We both take great pleasure in simple things. A 5-minute walk to the lake to soak in the sun and laugh at two dogs jostling for the same stick. Taking photos of objects that fit the colour scheme of the week of a Facebook group of people as equally silly as we. Watching a current British television mystery or an American drama re-run. Sharing a Ben & Jerry’s strawberry cheesecake ice cream cup.
Or maybe a new ‘normal’ that we don’t yet know about. Whatever life has ahead for us, what matters is dealing with it together.
(Note From DL: This is why I adore this man.)