“My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences.”
~ Audre Lorde,
If there’s one thing that my husband Ben and I have become very experienced with, it’s living with dire medical prognoses and chronic illness. We know what it’s like to live with a shadow hanging over you, with death lurking around the corner, and to have a private life that few other people understand. We know what it is to cling to hope, and to try absolutely every option in order to keep living.
Fortunately for me, after years and years of bad news, I have turned a corner again. Just as I have a number of times when I’ve been given rotten news and short time-frames for life expectancy.
Now, sadly, dear friends of ours are on a similar journey. The wife has stage four metastatic breast cancer. They are trying everything they can, but it’s a hard battle, and an emotionally exhausting one. We’ve been supporting them as best we can, and passing on our tips for everything from shower chairs and toilet chairs to oxygen machines and incontinence pants. Getting wills in order, having an enduring medical power of attorney, notifying your spouse about your wishes in the event of a catastrophic health event, DNR forms (do not resuscitate), hiring medical equipment, diet and therapy successes – all the things we have had to deal with during my own illnesses, and which we are now sharing with our friends.
The wife is in hospital receiving pain management palliative care right now, so we met her husband at a local cafe yesterday.
It was early when we got there, and I thought perhaps we might sit at a table far away from the main cafe, to have some privacy. But Ben had other ideas. ‘We always sit at the main table,” he said, “so we will today too. Our mate will be fine. It will be good for him to talk about normal things.”
We chatted with some of the other locals before our friend arrived, and then introduced him to our regular coffee mates. The talk turned to football – Australia has several grand finals this weekend. Over excellent coffee we hashed the weekend sport, politics, and all things farming.
Our local friends turned to speak to some new-comers and finally on our own we discussed our friend’s wife, and how she was doing. They have a meeting with her main oncologist next week to get a treatment plan. And they have a whole team of doctors and natural therapists onside too.
“Make sure you take a notebook and write everything down,” one of the local farmers at our table quietly added.
We all looked over to him. “You’ll never remember it all,” he continued. “Don’t be intimidated by the doctors. Ask them to explain anything you don’t understand. Ask lots of questions. Write everything down. That’s what my wife used to do.” He cleared his throat. “I hope you don’t mind me joining the conversation,” the farmer said. “I have a bit of experience here.”
Over the next hour we talked cancer, treatments, doctors, and staying sane in difficult times.
“Just know that you’re never alone, mate,” the farmer said to our friend as we left. “Heaps of us have been through this, and there’s always going to be someone you can talk to, or who can help you. All you have to do is reach out and ask. Don’t sit on this. Don’t stay silent. You need your friends. You need your community. We all have to be here for each other.”
Who’d have thought that a simple breakfast at a local cafe would prove to be so nourishing?