Change of plans don’t always happen at the most convenient times. In fact changes can cause intense stress, depending on the circumstances. My reaction when told that Barry required surgery was - “What were they thinking to be picking up a scalpel so quickly…” It’s not as if we’d diarised an appointment for cancer diagnosis and its feared consequences – although who knows what destiny had in mind!
Almost in disbelief we were confronted by Barry’s diagnosis of throat and thyroid cancer, which within weeks lead to many medical consultations, pathology tests, ultrasounds and on to surgery. In unfamiliar territory, we struggled to comprehend masses of medical terminology and the enormity of what would be required for him to survive this ordeal.
As his partner and then caregiver, the challenge of supporting him through that journey was daunting. Living 800 kilometres apart was in itself an issue to tackle, despite being in daily contact. My daughter had just moved house and my grandson was changing schools, so there was already much upheaval and adjustment … also, my house was undergoing essential repairs. And of course there were the usual day to day obligations. However, Barry needed support, so despite the turmoil, off I went to join him.
The constant toil of medically orientated appointments was relentless. Everything was centered around Barry and his cancer issues. Mind, body and spirit were being confronted on many levels. Researching his condition, deciding on the best approach, who to consult, and what to believe. Taking into account not only the cancer locations, but ancillary physical conditions such as skin burn, dental work, diet and fatigue. Also incorporating balancing factors … faith and meditation. Inclusively combining all, in a holistic manner for the best outcome was the focus for us both.
Supporting Barry through his roller coaster of emotional responses to various scenarios was at times extremely demanding. What would he need to uplift him? What food to tempt him with when he could hardly tolerate anything due to radiotherapy side-effects – personal preference or the dietician’s recommendation? When he was gripped by angst – how best to coax him out of it, or offer alternative ways of dealing with whatever was the cause.
There were occasions when I barely slept, when I needed to be on alert for the next challenging episode. Balancing my needs against the priority of Barry and his requirements was sometimes quite difficult. His circumstances seemed so overwhelmingly complex, that my needs felt insignificant in comparison. I was after all the caregiver, and meant to be strong, giving and seemingly not wanting for anything. I needed to be able to make everything simple and uncomplicated. My inner talk was about remaining calm and finding a way to make it happen that way.
My personal sensitivities could be triggered by Barry’s ordeal, and finding ways to deal with my own irritable responses was a strong prompt to not make matters worse for him. Normal personality differences remained, and were somehow heightened within the confined environment of our circumstances. Tensions developed, despite our best intentions, with sometimes very minor things provoking us.
There were times when lightness and laughter shone with promise of better times. These were treasured and encouraged us to maintain a positive perspective.
At times I felt the need to head off on my own for some serious soul searching. There were special instances of just being available to unexpected moments of wonderment, of seeing the gift of the moment and responding accordingly. There was the realisation that our ‘normal’ way of life was in the process of change – cancer was giving us the motivation to develop different attitudes and ways of being, to be more aware and take responsibility for the choices we make.
The Challenge of Being the Caregiver
The role of caregiver can feel very isolating when all the attention is on the cancer sufferer – I felt very lonely being so far away from my family and home environment, even though temporarily. My focus had to be on Barry and his needs.
So what about me? I had to find a way to make it work for me as well.
I was there to support him, however it was essential that I take care of myself. It was after all his journey with cancer, as much as I would have liked to lift the burden from him.
Being honest with myself and understanding my own values and motivation, was part of my journey. I found a sense of balance when outside being nurtured in nature. Quiet time for inner reflection and higher connection was essential.
And despite all the unexpected changes, anxiety and stress, being companionable and caring with each other were the pins that held us together. The goodwill, love and support we received from and shared with so many others were the foundation of survival. Barry and I both feel the healing benefits even now.
©2017 by Anne Morjanoff. All Rights Reserved.
Article by the Co-Author of:
The Joy of Living: Postponing the Afterlife
by Barry Eaton and Anne Morjanoff.
The Joy of Living gives us heart-warming, fascinating and deep insights on the hard road from diagnosis to treatment and eventual survival from throat cancer. Dealing with customary fears surrounding cancer, Barry’s story unfolds with insights from his partner Anne and son Matthew, as they support him through his emotional roller-coaster journey.
About the Author
Anne Morjanoff had a 15-year career in Sydney’s central bank, beginning in communications and moving to the human resources department. Anne developed a passion for number symbolism, using it to re-assure many people of their life conditions and conducting workshops on the power of numbers in everyday life. She now works in the education arena in a casual administrative role.