“I sustain myself with the love of family.” Maya Angelou

..But who looks after family?

Upon the recommendation of a lovely friend, I started to watch Jane Campion’s Top of The Lake, the first series is set in picture perfect New Zealand. There’s this sort of soothsayer-ey character in it called GJ, played by Holly Hunter. She’s an interesting character and she’s given some incredibly poignant lines. In one scene a cancer patient visits GJ with her partner to admit that she is scared. She’s looking for advice. The script goes a bit like this…

GJ: Does it ever end? Does it? Are you dying?

Woman: Yes, yeah.
GJ: Nothing wrong with that.Very natural.The body knows what to do. Just go with the body.

GJ: Are you frightened? Because you’re not going to experience this death of yours. [GJ points to woman’s partner] He will.

Woman: I’ll be dead. (sighs) What about the pain?

GJ: The pain will never be too much, but when it is, The body goes unconscious.But you guys have drugs, yeah?

Woman: Yes, morphine.

GJ: That’s not good. Find some heroin. In nature there is no death. Just a reshuffling of atoms.

Bluntly, the woman is told that grief will be experienced by those around her, not by her herself. This is undoubtedly true about everyones final scene, but the general everyday experiences of trauma, emotion and fear that are caught up in serious illness are not just experienced singularly (by the ill) either, but those around us too. I read or heard somewhere (and I can’t remember where, otherwise I would be able to credit it) that when someone has cancer, the whole family has cancer. It’s 100% true. It deeply affects and changes life for the husband, wife, significant partner, child(ren), brother, sister, mother, father, aunt, uncle, cousin, second-cousin and on and on the list goes. Also of course it affects and hurts close friends, the groups of people that we would choose if we could choose family (the ‘choose’ bit is a joke, before anyone gets offended 😉 ).

Bear in mind then, that these people surrounding the unwell person, they’re struggling too. But the focus of concern is sent so firmly in the unwell’s direction, that those surrounding the patient are often overlooked. No one tends to ask how they are as much or how they’re coping. My husband is often asked how I am doing, it’s certainly nice to be asked after too, but I don’t know that he is often asked how he himself is doing with all this. I guess it’s ‘not manly’ to talk about feelings with other guys, except for the fact that that’s utter bullshit. All people feel.

He makes my life as easy as he can, he works to feed me food that won’t make me feel sick (changing at the last minute because a wave of nausea may have hit). He walks along and pushes me to try and stretch myself in any activity. He’s taken on the major responsibilities of scenes both domestic and professional. Who is his safety net, as a man whose family and many school friends live the other side of the world? Equally my family and friends are I think supported in varying amounts, but again they’re not the focus, which is sometimes a mistake.

Maggie’s Centres and Macmillan Cancer support work to help the surrounding circle – they get-it, that it’s not just a patient that needs to vent. Online forums dealing with cancer specificities also have dedicated friends and family zones. A charity that really hit the nail on the head though when it came to spotting this support gap, are Shine Cancer Support’s Plus Ones network. The idea is that patient’s ‘plus-ones’ have the option of meet ups, a safe-space to vent. They also have online support via a group, or maybe just via some personal emails. The network is a place to even have a moan; my wife, husband, sister, brother, son, daughter etc is being a right pain in the anus at the moment. For treatment is hard and sometimes those closest do see the brunt of our bad moods. It’s one place where you can guarantee that your plus-one will be asked, “but how are you doing?” I was told by one of the network that sometimes they don’t even discuss things at home. It’s just nice for people to be around people in the same boat for a bit.

It makes me ludicrously happy to know that organisations like this are there, because I’ve seen that there really is sometimes a gap in emotional support for carers/partners/friends/family. In challenging times, there’s no shame in reaching out both fists and grasping any help there is on offer, because this is hard on us all.

*general me update*

I’m doing ok. I had another SIRT treatment last week and a chemo. They’re left me sore, tired, and grouchy. But I’m still here, listening to Beyonce’s Lemonade in the library and tapping my feet. I can’t stop listening to ‘All Night’. Bey is such a babe.

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