July of 2006 my husband was diagnosed with malignant melanoma skin cancer. Based on the oncologist’s discussions with us if he was going to live 6 more months, taking interferon cancer treatment would help him live another 18 months. The doctor was just giving a projection. My heart sank as she spoke her upbeat prediction with a hopeful smile.
As the weeks and months rolled on we went from test to surgery to test to surgery for three years. Every three months was another scan. The building up to the day of testing and the results following were either good or “we saw something and we are just going to watch it for another few months….” became our lives. He endured surgeries to remove moles that appeared to change, painful skin grafts and lymph node biopsies. He started the gruelling interferon treatments about two months after his diagnosis while I was still nursing his surgical sites. Jordon defied the odds. He was one of only five patients at Duke Cancer Center to make it through the twelve months of treatment. He was brave and wanted to finish the treatments for the sake of our son, Jackson. And he outlived the medical communities’ predictions.
During those days my life became dictated by life and death. I rode the waves of test results and doctor visits. That’s exactly what they became, waves of emotions. Unbelievable fear and sadness with intense amounts of love and compassion seeing the love of my life suffer like nothing I had ever experienced before. I took on some of his pain somehow. Somehow I would wake up with his symptoms. I would feel his nausea. There is an intuitive, empathic response we feel when we are close with our loved ones who are suffering. It’s the prayer we make. “Give it to me, God… Don’t let him suffer..” And God shares it with you to ease their suffering and you help relieve the one you love of their suffering.
From this empathic response ~ it began to happened. My health and my mind began to bend and take on the enormous weight of what was before me. A year and a half later I buckled under that traumatic weight. I fell into severe depression, anxiety, and panic from the worry and the seeing and experiencing the trauma of the waves that continued to crash over me. Just like the ocean. The waves never stopped. This experience turned into anticipatory grief, the trauma of what is to come. What could happen when you put a name to impeding death.
About two years into the waves of tests and scans and Jordon’s pain and suffering from the interferon- I fell apart. My doctor diagnosed me with a mood disorder instead of focusing on the disorder and chaos in my life. I don’t blame her. But now is the time to bring this to light. Anticipatory grief is a real process. It is a real, often misunderstood form of grief. It brought me to my knees and to the open door of a day hospital for psychiatric patients.
I felt out of place. I was stable but completely crushed and defeated by the fear in my heart and I had gotten to a point where I couldn’t stop crying and my emotional plate was full. My sharing at group during those two weeks was about Jordon and the trauma of seeing him after surgery. Having to work a high level corporate job. Raising a 5 year old boy that couldn’t understand why daddy couldn’t play rough. Maintaining a home. Caring for a very sick husband. All the while keeping it together.
This is the basis of what drives me to help others understand grief in all its facets. Mine is different from yours or from hers or his. We need to re-define and re-adjust our approach to this human experience that we all will go through. The only way you escape grief at some point in your life is if you are the first to go. The time to share openly, honestly, and authentically is now.