Written on 3rd December 2010 @ 0022hrs
There was this lady with a large, cancerous breast lump. Well-groomed, she’s only 33 years old. She came to see my boss to discuss about her options of treatment.
She did not want to remove the affected breast. However it is not possible to leave it there without risk of the disease advancing even further. She would, of course, want to have children later in life. She’s just married and has yet to have babies.
So he said to us this morning that we should sometimes try to put ourselves into her shoes and feel what she might be feeling at this moment. Imagine how difficult it is for her to make her decisions.
He then talked about breast conservation surgery and how, according to studies, it does NOT seem to have much effect on psychological outcome of a woman with breast cancer. Interestingly enough, it is not the extent of damage to the breast that will determine the mental well-being of a patient.
It’s about support, companionship.
In short, it’s about love.
* * *
A woman with a supportive partner, who walks with her throughout the difficult journey of cancer treatment, would usually come out of it better, happier, than the one who had an ignorant partner.
It is always important for them to go together for her follow-ups. For him to hold her hand when the doctor talks to her.
For him to walk along when she’s pushed to the operating theatre.
For him to rub her back when she’s vomiting from her chemotherapy.
Or if he’s the sole breadwinner for the family, not able to be with her all the time (and usually she’d understand), at least say nice words and mean it. Give her a big hug whenever he comes around.
Because she’d be there for him, too, if the same thing happens.
* * *
Dr Nick asked, perplexed, “Why wouldn’t a husband want to accompany his wife when she’s sick?”
My heart said, “Lucky you, Dr Rachael!”
Then boss told us that when he was a medical officer doing oncology, many husbands gave the excuse, “WE are suffering too!!” when found that they have ran off to marry another woman. Suffering for the lack of “attention” that they had to endure during her illness.
Both of them frowned at the absurdity of these men’s mentality.
To make the moment lighter, they laughed at Jaspal (who’s getting married next year) and said, “We’re not saying this to scare you off marriage!”
I’ve heard too many stories about men who scarpered after knowing that their wives have been diagnosed with cancer. Not just breast cancer, you see.
Blamed the wife for not breastfeeding when she was younger.
Not willing to spend any time for her during the investigation process. Nor do they appear during treatment period.
Or, keeping quiet and move to another house. Telling all sorts of stories and excuses to his own mother, who, would believe in him rather than the poor wife.
Enough to scare some people away from married life. Some, not all.
* * *
Somehow this morning when I was driving into the hospital parking lot, I was thinking about the very topic, of marriage and companionship, and being ill.
I had a scare a few months ago. It really brought me down and has put my life into a different perspective.
As an independent woman with my own job, I could basically live well enough without a man by my side. In some ways, my life IS better without a man by my side. I wondered whether I should just forget about the whole marriage thing and focus on the existing people around me. But that’s another story.
I fell sick the other day and I felt so scared. I’d lie in my bed at night and wondered what if I don’t get better? What if this is something more serious than just an infection? It has happened to many other people and why can’t it happen to me?
Then I wondered what if I need to go for more investigations? Who would I talk to? Who would I call to come along for my appointments? Who’s going to hold my hands if something ever happens?
Yes, I know I have a very strong family support but I wouldn’t want to worry my parents too much, wouldn’t want to burden my siblings too. I’m sure they’ll be there for me no matter what but….but maybe I need someone who’s actually obliged to do so….
I then tried to make myself feel better.
I said to myself, even if I do manage to find a man someday who’d want to marry me, how do I know whether or not he’ll be there for me when things happen? Would he be someone who doesn’t know how to respond, to be responsible and worse, to love? Or would I be more lucky this time around? It would be pointless, really, if he’s around only for the happier days and disappear when I can’t be “of use” to him anymore.
Well, that’s another story.
* * *
Breast cancer is very common. I pray that it will not happen to any of us. That somehow it would just stop affecting anyone at all. But from the statistics, things may not be so rosy in the future.
Please, do support those whom you know affected with cancer. Hold their hands, say good words and give them a hug. If they win this fight, they will appreciate that you have been with them all along. Even if they lose the battle, they will move on easier, knowing that you’ve always been there for them…..
* * *
“A woman’s overall psychological health, relationship satisfaction, and premorbid sexual life appear to be far stronger predictors of post-cancer sexual satisfaction than is the extent of damage to her breast.” – A Cancer Journal For Clinicians
“I’m disfigured—and lopsided. I have no hair, and I’ve gained ten pounds. Admit it! If I think my body is so repulsive, how can you say it doesn’t make a difference? I miss my breast so much!” Emily was distraught. “I miss your breast—but I’d miss you more. It doesn’t matter to me. I mean it,” her partner insisted. “You’re here, and that’s all that counts.”