Written by Cabral Opiyo

Five years ago, Cathy lived a normal life free of any existential worries until her husband started having constant tummy aches that wouldn’t go away. After a lot of consultations and tests for H. Pylori & Typhoid, they decided to visit one last doctor who had suspicions on what was ailing Cathy’s husband. He immediately sent them for an MRI and various other tests.

The diagnosis? Cathy’s husband had colon cancer.

A cancer diagnosis is probably the biggest blow anyone can be dealt with in this life and Cathy was no different. Except it wasn’t time to feel sorry for herself, they started various treatment options immediately.

They immediately began radiotherapy and chemotherapy that lasted the first three months. Then came the first surgery quickly followed by oral chemotherapy and IV that lasted for six sessions stretched over a two month period.

They weren’t even close to done yet. What followed were twenty-eight intensive radiation sessions conducted every single day except for the weekends. The second surgery quickly followed where the doctors were checking for traces of the tumor.

Meanwhile, her husband had to use a colostomy bag to take care of the bodily voiding processes for the next six months preceding the third surgery for reversal. After that, there were check-ups and bloodwork for the next three months and an MRI conducted yearly.

After one of the surgeries, her husband also contracted Tuberculosis and had to be on a regimented medicine program for six months, it is a strict dosage where the patient cannot afford to miss even one dose. There was a point where he refused to take his medicine dosage and Cathy had to sit him down and explain that he was doing it not only for himself but for her and the kids as well. She had to be the voice of reason and provide strength whenever her husband faltered.

Cathy had to stop working to take care of her husband and there were plenty of lifestyle changes around the house. She had to offer increased support to her spouse, encourage him, and even took over the cooking of the food that was consumed in the house to ensure the hygiene was top notch and the correct foods were prepared properly. The family even had to change what and how they ate to make sure they stood with their father and husband, ”those are some of the sacrifices one has to make to stand with an ailing loved one,” Cathy calmly added.

The kids were too young to understand what was happening and this helped quite a bit as they did not ask too many questions apart from the occasional curiosity about their dad’s scar. Cathy honestly told them that the doctors had to make an incision to treat their father.

At first, Cathy says there were a lot of conflicting emotions after the diagnosis; from confusion to intense sadness especially considering the fact that her husband had just been told that he had just about five years to live. Her husband dealt with the news differently; there was bitterness that led to him starting to drink as a coping mechanism.

When you have cancer, it is very hard to hide it; there are obvious changes including, intense darkening of the skin, loss of hair, and drastic weight loss. These changes set tongues wagging and whenever Cathy and her husband were out and about there was a lot of staring, whispered conversations, and outright insensitive questions asked by friends and family.

“After a while, our social life changed drastically. We withdrew from society because there was a lot of negativity from friends and family and we decided to keep off.”

It was the most difficult time of Cathy’s life and her husband also showed the effects of the strain the illness put on him. He would have nightmares and would cry and scream at night and Cathy was always there to help him through such episodes.

When I ask Cathy how she dealt with the strain, she calmly answers, “I prayed a lot for guidance during that time, I also did a lot of short courses on personal development, mental health, and identity development. I just kept myself busy and even enrolled myself in a psychology class from which I’ll graduate next year.” She adds the last bit proudly and with a smile in her voice, even in the midst of a crisis she managed to find positive things to keep her going.

At the beginning, Cathy and her husband realized that they were alone in their journey. The insurance they had run out and they had to halt any development plans they had and dig deep into their savings to manage. As she was not working, the children would ask why she and her husband no longer went to work in the morning, questions that she answered as honestly as she could.

Cathy had to adapt and start taking care of her husband more intimately; alongside cooking his food, she cleaned him whenever he had any accidents, showered him, and making sure he took his medicines on time. To support him, she even got vitamin tablets of her own so they took medicine together.

During this time of taking care of her husband, she stopped taking care of herself at some point. She no longer did her hair and her nails and at times even subconsciously repeated clothing without ever realizing it. She only noticed this trend when people started pointing out the change that had come over her. She strongly advises people not to judge anyone whose appearance drastically changes as we may not know the journey the people around us are on.

“The psychology course I did help me to get therapy for myself, my husband, and my family. I did not have the necessary social support and that was hard. I had a friend who asked how things were but shrugged and said that we would be okay since I had a job.

I had bought food in bulk because I was out of work and I wanted to make sure at least we never ran out. Friends would visit and remark on how much food we had, even going as far as dividing a portion for themselves. They did not realize then the strain I was under.”

During this time, as things were at their most intense, Cathy and her husband became even closer. They recognized the need for individuality and whenever either of them was overwhelmed by events and needed time alone, they would say so and proceed to take time.

Cathy would go for solo walks and sit on benches just to have her time alone. Luckily, they had an understanding house help who would take care of the kids and tell Cathy to go to church just to decompress.

“We lost a lot of friends during the journey and I realized that a huge circle of friends isn’t beneficial when you’re in trouble. I also learned that most issues aren’t really that big when you’re dealing with a deadly disease.”

She pauses as she tries to muster the words on the lessons she has learned so far from her caregiving journey. “I’ve learned how to give help to people going through what I’ve been through. When we told people about the diagnosis, they thought we wanted to ask for money while at times we just needed someone to go and sit with him during one of his sessions in the hospital. But people don’t know how to be there for you either so I no longer judge those who disappear.

Most importantly, I’ve learned that money isn’t everything during times like this, a strong support system is also very important.

Lessons to people; never judge, let’s be gentle as we walk into people’s lives and if you don’t have anything positive to say please keep quiet, you never really know when you’re crushing someone’s spirit. I’ve become more resilient, less sensitive to criticism, and very cautious about self-care.”

It’s been five years; her husband went for a colonoscopy and there’s no reoccurrence, he is self-sufficient and even occasionally teases Cathy to allow him to have a glass of wine. A request she agrees to on condition that it’s only the one for a long time. Her husband has become more sensitive to family values and effortlessly enjoys family time especially with the kids and even goes ahead to fix them breakfast every Sunday as a family tradition.

Even friends who had fled are coming back and more recently; Cathy has noticed that people are more sensitive to their journey, bringing them foodstuff and even inviting them over for dinner. Things are definitely looking up.

Cathy is more prayerful, oozing wisdom, and a noticeably smaller circle of friends. Best of all, Cathy and her husband have never been closer together, after going through the fire together, there’s nothing they can’t share and live through as long as they have each other, closer than peas in a pod.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *