Having Cancer is Hard Work


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Having cancer may not be like building fences, bailing hay or working long hours to finish that ad campaign, but make no mistake: Cancer is hard work for you and your family, especially if you’re taking chemotherapy.

Chemo is like having a gorilla hangover on steroids except it doesn’t go away the day after treatment, or the day after that. While you may feel better, although not back to normal when it’s time for your next chemo, the next treatment will knock you down again. Chemo is cumulative, and lack of energy is a profound side effect.

There were days when I did nothing but lay in bed, and was still so exhausted, I thought the day would be my last. Seriously. Sometimes I made James get into bed with me and hold my hand and asked him, more like forced him, to reassure me. “You made it through the last chemo, and you’ll make it through this one, too,” he would say. “You’re going to be just fine.” And I was, but the severity of my exhaustion was sometimes frightening. I know this is easier said than done, but try not to fall victim to all your fears. More than likely, you will know if what you’re experiencing is more than chemo exhaustion, but if you have any doubts, do not hesitate to call your doctor or 911.

It is hard for someone who has not experienced chemotherapy to understand this kind of bone weary tired. Sometimes even the simplest of tasks can feel Herculean, like you’ve been forced to run a marathon or biked uphill and kept pace with best of them, and you have. Lance Armstrong has been where you are now. He went through the toughest chemotherapy his doctors could give him, but he came back. I came back, and so will you.

Your cancer is hard on your caregivers as well. Actually each separate thing a caregiver does is the easy part. It is the combined and repeated jobs of chauffeur, grocery shopper, cook, maid, childcare provider, tutor, and morale support—for as long as needed—with love, compassion, positive attitude and humor that is the hard part.

If you find yourself without a caregiver, give yourself permission to let things go. Your world will not collapse if the dry cleaning doesn’t get picked up, or the floors look like they’re breeding hairballs. Let it go. This is the time to take care of you. If your kids are old enough, ask them to do the laundry and pickup after themselves. Hey! It could happen! They might surprise you. If they need to be driven to school, perhaps there’s another parent in the neighborhood who could take them, and in return, offer to pay for some of their gas. Your friends and neighbors want to help, but they don’t know what to do, so give them a specific task like bringing dinner on Sundays, taking you to chemo, etc.

At the end of the day, perhaps you and your family can all pile up in bed together and each of you talk about your day. You’ll be especially glad you didn’t have soccer practice or have to put a new roof on Mrs. Murphy’s garage, and your family will be glad they have more energy than you do. And the dog? All of you may decide Phydaux had a better day than anyone. He got to chase squirrels, pee where he wanted and dig up the last of your petunias. I’d take that over cancer any day.