“Cancer Survival Insights” is a new series of articles featuring stories from cancer fighters, survivors, and caregivers. Stories are shared to inspire, encourage and to impart insights and knowhow to help others in their cancer journey. In this first article in the series, Edmund shares the breast cancer journey undertaken by him and Karen, his wife and soul mate.
My Wife has Cancer – A Life-Companion’s Journey
Journal Entry 1: Receiving News of Cancer – “Feel the feeling, but don’t become the emotion…”
Receiving The News
On the morning of late January 2014, my wife and I were told she had Stage IV Breast Cancer that had metastasised to her lung, spine, and hips. Karen’s prognosis was poor and we were informed that less than 20 percent of patients with similar diagnoses lived beyond 5 years.
We were stunned. A moment of silence passed before the two doctors left the hospital room. I held Karen’s hand saying nothing because I could not speak. The silence was finally broken when Karen uttered in despair “I am going to die young.”
It was heart-breaking to hear those words. We were devastated.
Receiving news of cancer is a traumatic event. Our immediate moments following the diagnosis were of shock, paralysis then despair. I imagine that many others and their families have experienced similar moments upon receiving their cancer diagnosis.
A few friends told us that we must have been tremendously courageous to be able to “deal with” the news when we first heard it. But cancer was not a choice we had, it was an illness we found ourselves with whether we liked it or not. Perhaps it’s not courage but allowing the painful moments to come and then letting them pass that helped.
Coping With the Breast Cancer Diagnosis
We lived through Karen’s diagnosis because we recognised and accepted the shock and despair that immediately followed the news. We allowed ourselves to feel the powerfully painful emotions. In those moments, we froze, shook and cried over the news. For the next three days, we slowly took in the diagnosis and became familiar with it. In the process, the intensity of our emotions abated, allowing our thoughts to settle so we could decide how we wanted to respond, whether to seek a second opinion while deciding on the treatment options. Decisions had to be made and we allowed ourselves the few days to settle our emotions, gather our thoughts and plan the way forward. Life, afterall, moves not back but forward, and we still had a path ahead after the diagnosis, however uncertain the duration of that path.
Karen was a trained counsellor while I was a qualified professional counsellor. We drew from our counselling knowledge, skills and experiences to manage the trauma. I am sure it was no less painful for us as it was for others in similar situations, but we knew the resources to draw from and did so.
My advice for those facing a cancer diagnosis, whether it is their diagnosis or of someone close, is to accept that there will be especially difficult emotions when the news is fresh. These powerful feelings are a natural response to a major personal disaster. Recognising and allowing these feelings without denial or judgment are important.
“Feel the feeling but don’t become the emotion.
Release it.” Crystal Andrus
The emotional intensity will abate and only when it is allowed to visit and leave can we begin to take the next steps forward.
If the powerful emotions remain with you for many days or if you feel overwhelmed, seek help from a professional Counsellor to help you work through the emotions. Cancer is not a journey to be undertaken alone.
National Cancer Centre Singapore – Cancer Helpline
This is an anonymous and confidential service that provides up-to-date information and emotional and psychological support through telephone, email or face-to-face counselling. This service is provided free nationwide, and is manned by cancer-trained nurse counsellors who are able to speak with callers in English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil.
Tel: 65 6225 5655
Email: [email protected]
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This article is informative only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.