I received another helpful booklet from the hospital, this one titled “Getting Back on Track” and subtitled “Life After Treatment.” Its central message can basically be summarized as this:
You will in all likelihood continue to feel like absolute crap for several months but most of your family, friends and colleagues are kind of over you and your cancer and will expect you to return to “normal” pretty much immediately, and that’s going to suck for you.
The booklet is divided into concise little chapters dealing with the various physical and psychological obstacles one faces after treatment, and providing practical tips as to how to deal with them. I was particularly interested in how to cope with fatigue. In fact, as I look at returning to my “normal” life, it is the fatigue factor that is most daunting. I just don’t believe I can take on the full load of my old life in this condition. But the good thing about these little publications is that they make you realize you’re not the first to experience such concerns, and they provide good, practical advice and coping strategies. They also sometimes provide slightly bizarre tips or the kind of advice I would expect from my grandmother:
Pace yourself. Use smooth fluid movements rather than jerky ones. (Right because nobody wants to look like the corner crackhead. You’ve got enough trouble fitting in back at work without having to deal with nasty rumours of drug addiction. Go with slow, fluid Tai Chi movements as you give that powerpoint presentation or select produce at the grocery store. You’ll look sooo much more sane.)
Improper work heights can make you feel tired, so organize your work areas and adjust them if necessary. Raising the height of your bed can make bed-making easier. (Getting your partner to make the bed can make bed-making even easier)
Use aids such as long-handled dust-pans, sponges and dusters, jar openers, trolleys or adapted cutting boards to save time and energy. (Excuse me. Hi there, I’m calling from the 21st century and over here its 2009 and women aren’t supposed to be doing all the housework anymore ESPECIALLY WHEN THEY’RE FIGHTING CANCER. You want to provide her with “aids” to make housework easier? How about your own two hands or those of a cleaning lady?)
If you’re feeling stressed, try to figure out what’s causing it. (I’d start by putting down the long-handled dust-pan and taking a good long look at the division of household labour)
My tone of feminist indignation aside (and it’s true that even in my household I’d wager my husband wouldn’t figure out where the toilet cleaner is. Or how much we pay her.) I’m just always a little shocked at how much women seem to continue to take on when the battle to overcome cancer and cope with treatment is already more physically and emotionally demanding than what most people will face in a lifetime. Is this martyrdom? Is it a way of assuring the people around us that we are ok? (“Susan may be bald and vomiting but she was vacuuming yesterday so she must be alright.”) Does it give us a sense of satisfaction, of comfort, to accomplish things and create order in our homes? Or would it simply not get done otherwise? There must be something to it because presumably these booklets aren’t written by or for Stepford wives, and yet this whole how-to-manage-cleaning-and-laundry-and-cooking thing comes up every time.
Who’s fault is it though, really? Most (straight) men I know could happily live at a level of cleanliness that in my opinion falls somewhere just shy of squalor, and most women I know could not. Let’s assume we are simply different creatures. If that’s the case, and the person you share your home with is sick and weak and can’t abide squalor, then really, should the cleaning of said home fall to her? (And mister, don’t even think of calling your mother to come over and clean the house — the last thing your wife needs is the guilt-inducing spectre of the mother-in-law de-greasing the stove top.)
I think these cancer booklets should come with companion brochures for partners of people recovering from breast cancer treatment: She’s Still Running on Low Buddy, Let’s Get That Laundry Done! or, She Fought So Hard to Live, Trust Me It Wasn’t So She Could Catch Up On The Housework.
Or maybe just a twelve step guide: Twelve Steps To Evolving Into The Kind of Man Worth Beating Cancer For!
Wipe down those kitchen counters! Grab those mops! Fold that laundry! You go, Guys!