In February my mother learned that her favorite brother-in-law had been admitted to the hospital for palliative care. We knew about his brain cancer, but he had been living with it for years, so we almost forgot. He died two weeks later. This was before Corona struck, so his family could be with him.
Werner – this was the name of my cousin’s uncle – always was an upbeat and optimistic person. For years there was a lot of tension between my uncle’s familiy and our family, but Werner always was fair and made an effort to include us at the familiy gatherings. The last time I met him was at my uncle’s funeral. I saw he was wearing hearing aids and asked him about them. He explained that the radiation treatment for the tumour had affected the auditory nerve. He also was very open about how the cancer changed his life, that he suffered from vertigo and couldn’t ride his bike or drive a car anymore. This talk could have been very sad, but it was everything but. He accepted the limitations, but he went on living as well as possible.
My maternal grandmother died in 2000 of metastatic pancreatic cancer. Since she had had breast cancer in her thirties, she always was afraid the next serious illness was just around the corner. Every sniffle was a sign of a severe disease. I have to admit, at some point I stopped listening. Her doctors stopped listening as well. It’s bad to suffer from cancer twice in a lifetime, but for me it’s also bad that the time between her bouts with cancer was filled with so much fear and sorrow. There was almost no happiness in my grandmother’s life. That must have been a hard life to live.
Two very different stories… I learned from that we have a choice how we deal with cancer. We can make the best from it, but we can also allow the gloom to take over. People like Werner show us how it can be done. And I will try to listen to people like my grandmother, so they can get rid of their burden, at least a little bit.