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Grief Finds Me in Different Ways Daily

by Chantale ThurstonPatient, Appendix CancerNovember 16, 2021View more posts from Chantale Thurston

Grief finds me in different ways daily. In the beginning, it found me as I was grieving the future I had dreamed of – a family with two or more kids and what our shiny life would be like. See, I lost my fertility right after my cancer diagnosis. Which is ironic, as they found the cancer at the fertility clinic. The option was not there to preserve my fertility as the cancer had spread over my ovaries and uterus. The chemo would wreak havoc on my body, and during my surgery I was going to lose my ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus and cervix anyways. We would have needed a surrogate, and not to be discouraging, but that is very hard to find; especially in Canada. Plus, the clinic in my city wouldn’t do it, so we’d have to travel by plane to another city to look into this option, which would add to the cost of the whole thing for a very slim chance. I wanted to live for the child I already had, not throw all our money out the window. 

After the initial days, grief started finding me in the things I couldn’t do. I was so tired from chemo that I couldn’t be the mom or the wife that I used to be. I had to get help with my responsibilities, and for someone who tries to be independent, that is really hard. Having a two and a half year old and going through chemo is no easy feat. 

After the chemo, I had a massive surgery. I grieved for my body that I no longer recognized. Thin, weak, scarred. I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror for months afterwards or I’d burst into tears. I had lost my womanhood. I could no longer bear the children I wanted to have. I didn’t know how sex would be. I didn’t know when I could lift my son again, or regain strength. 

Sometime after that, I grieved for my career. I had spent so long studying to pursue a career I found interesting, found a job I enjoyed and I couldn’t bear the chronic pain or mental capacity to go back. I was ambitious. I wanted to excel and progress my career. I wanted a promotion and to be recognized by my peers as a contributor. Instead, I was left feeling like dead weight on the team. Unable to pull my load. It took a long time to recognize that I will never be who I once was. Even professionally. Most people think once the cancer’s gone that the pieces fall back to where they were. They don’t. 

Once things seemed to settle down, and I had a few clear scans, the anxiety snuck up on me. I had to go through a grief process for my mental health. I needed help. I still do. I can’t get through this on my own and shouldn’t expect to. My hormones were out of whack, I had a four year old little boy and a husband, and I was going through medically induced early menopause. No one with little children should go through menopause. I had to let go that I had things under control and ask for the help I knew I needed. 

When you hear that you have “No Evidence of Disease” (NED), it is a time to be happy. I had to pause then, as I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop. What would be next? How can I be happy if it’s only for 3-6 more months? Time got longer between scans. Then people said, “You can always adopt.” This one was hard. There is no store on the corner full of babies waiting for homes. It’s a long, emotional process. Many babies come from overseas, and we still have a little one to care for; we can’t just pick up and go to foreign countries – let alone bring a baby home from one. Or what happens if it’s not a baby, but an older child? How will that affect our current child? Also who is paying for all these flights and lawyer costs? Adoption is not cheap. 

Fostering leads to heartache, and I couldn’t go through that. Not after what we’ve been through. Plus, what if my cancer came back? Some places want you to be cancer free for five years – that takes a long time, and by then our son will be in grade school. Who wants to start at the beginning when you don’t have a nap schedule anymore?? We decided to focus on the family we have. Make our days bright by traveling more than we would if we had two kids. Making more memories together. 

Being in the “cancer world” longer and longer, leaves you with more and more friends who deal with reoccurrences, more treatment, and no more treatment options. You watch your friends die. This has been a hard grief to process. Some friends you are close with, and it makes sense to grieve. Others you’ve only met online or at a conference. But news of their death still feels like a cloud over your head. At any given time I have about four friends I’m thinking of going through treatments or who are struggling. I think of their families and loved ones. The inability to share grief if they aren’t a close friend is very hard to bottle up. 

As my son gets older, other parents ask less where his sibling is at the park. The parents are beginning to look around less for “where is their other child?” The truth is so hard to share with new people, but it’s a part of our story. When I see friends have new babies, the thought of never being able to have another always hits me. I am happy for them – but I’m still sad for us. This grief is ongoing. It lessens but pops up every time you least expect it. 

Cancer has taken so much of my life. I am not one that would say I’m happy this happened. I wish it hadn’t happened to me. But why not me? People like to think it can’t happen to them, that it doesn’t happen to regular people. A lot of people like to think that it has to be something you did, or ate to cause this to happen. “Cancer is a disease of the aging.” If you’re unfortunate to get it while you are young – something just went wrong. We didn’t do anything to deserve this. It just happens. And it can happen to anyone. So let’s all sit together with our grief, instead of pretending that everything is perfect. It’s not, and that’s ok too. We can get through the hard days together.

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