Living with a cancer patient: Savour the present and don’t let grief overpower you

Cancer as a disease requires tremendous physical and mental strength from the patient and the caregiver. The concluding article of our five-part series suggests ways to deal with pain and fear and emerge stronger.

health Updated: Mar 19, 2018 09:26 IST
Mariyam Raza Haider
Mariyam Raza Haider
Hindustan Times
Cancer,Cancer research,Therapy
Learn to balance out pain with reason; hold your patient’s hand, tell them it might get hard but they’ll never be alone and move forward. (Getty Images)

There is so much discomfort around the idea of death that people brush the thought away as soon as it appears. The fear of losing a loved one is so strong that you cannot mention death without the immediate mention of “God forbid.” Perhaps, it is not simply the fear of losing someone, but rather the fear of losing that obvious presence, those meaningful conversations, the affection and most importantly, the unadulterated love. Death takes away that bond and it hurts. The pain of missed opportunities regurgitates and you always wish there was more time.

My father’s illness has made me face thoughts of losing him, time and again. Every chemotherapy cycle, every MRI scan, every appointment with the oncologist, has been a test to not let such thoughts cloud my rationality. However, rationality doesn’t work in the realisation of life’s finiteness. You are surrounded by pain and anguish that nothing really makes sense, and it almost feels like you cannot breathe. There is no easy way to handle such feelings, but perhaps some ways to accept them, maybe overlook them, and grow stronger.

Cancer can penetrate into every part of our life’s decision making, but cannot make that decision. That power still lies with the individual. One can choose to succumb to its presence and stop living life, or accept it and still continue being alive.

1. Learn to balance the good and the bad news: When it’s cancer our mindsets are so fear ridden, that even a good news is taken in with suspicion. Being cautious is prudent, but not enjoying a positive development is losing one occasion to smile through a difficult journey. Similarly, in case of a difficult prognosis, it is okay to not fight thoughts of distress and agony. Challenging the doctors to falsify a diagnosis leads to burnout and fatigue. Learn to balance out pain with reason; hold your patient’s hand, tell them it might get hard but they’ll never be alone and move forward.

2. Distil the feelings of grief: Grief, shakes the core of our emotional strength, pulls us into depths of sadness we have not witnessed without offering any escape. And that’s why, understanding grief is important for anyone going through a tough phase. Read about what it actually entails – stories of struggle and survival, and search for answers that might work for you. Sheryl Sandberg’s Option B, and Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air, are two of the major books of influence that I have found to be valuable sources of comfort and strength in trying times.

3. Celebrate life everyday: We all search for special occasions to take photographs and create albums to look back. But some of the most memorable times are the casual existences; the jokes and laughter, the evening walks and aimless afternoon chats, the winter dinners followed by hot cups of tea and discussions around politics. They might vary for everyone, but it is vital to enjoy such instances and soak them as best times, rather than hope for new occasions to celebrate. It is precisely the gift of cancer, to make one value everyday in the smallest of doses.

Cancer can penetrate into every part of our life’s decision making, but cannot make that decision. That power still lies with the individual. One can choose to succumb to its presence and stop living life, or accept it and still continue being alive, share joy with others and become a source of strength for everyone around.

My father has done precisely that. Even in the hardest phase of his life, he has continued to work, to travel, to cheer up and move on. As Paul Kalanithi wrote, “There is a moment, a cusp, when the sum of gathered experience is worn down by the details of living. We are never so wise as when we live in this moment.” And my dad is an example of that.

The author writes on decoding positivity as her father fights through aggressive oral cancer on mariyamrazahaider.com.

You can read the entire series here.

Living with a cancer patient: My father has sidelined fear to enjoy his present

Living with a cancer patient: Here’s how to be calm and in control after the diagnosis

Living with a cancer patient: Here’s how a caregiver can also be a therapist

Living with a cancer patient: Here’s how caregivers can stay strong

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First Published: Mar 19, 2018 09:26 IST