How would one react at the knowledge that they had terminal cancer, specifically mesothelioma? Taking days to think of what my reaction would be, I asked those around me of there thoughts on their own reactions, and thought deeply of the trials I have seen my friends suffer through at the hands of this prolific killer. The horror of the diagnosis, it was preventable and completely man-made. Mesothelioma, caused by exposure to asbestos, is lethal. Anyone who worked with or around asbestos, or came in contact with someone who worked with or around asbestos, is at risk for developing mesothelioma, it is truly an insidious killer. Unfortunately, like many things in our man made environment, no one knew what the side effects of asbestos would be until it was too late.
After diagnosis, reactions can range from horror and dread, anger and resentment or to a defeatist attitude. My prayer is that if I be were told I had mesothelioma, I would have the desire to fight. I know I would though. I am not a quitter. I have lived my own horrors in my life. Nothing like this, of course, but my own horrors all the same. My parents raised me to not be a quitter, to know that things are not always what they seem. Life has taught me to fight against the current. I would pray my eternal optimism would preserver, even if I was drowning in something like this.
A couple of years ago, a very good friend of mine found out her husband had lung cancer. It wasn’t the type of cancer I remember so vividly, but the trial that took place afterward that comes to mind now. By the time the doctors found it, it had traveled throughout his body. He was given six months. He lasted only four. Watching my friend Bernie suffer his decline, and listening to her tell me of his raging emotions, his depression, and finally his resolution to die, I carried that burden with her even through his death. I was her closest friend. I would be there for her, because he wasn’t.
I saw the self destruction myself in him, Bernie’s husband died the day he was given that prognosis, not four months later. I was witness to how he reacted, the anger and hostility, his pushing of Bernie away so he could focus on his pain, this man who once was so lively and full of vigor. By the time he passed, he was nearly catatonic, so focused he was on his own personal demons. The problem was he didn’t notice a part of Bernie died with him too.
Pondering my own reactions, I know I would seek out second and third opinions. There is no reason to take one person’s diagnosis at face value. I would know the facts. Emotionally, I would focus on optimism, but one cannot do it alone, so I would look to outside support structures like www.survivingmesothelioma.org which offers support groups to give guidance, information on cutting edge treatment options, inspirational stories and strength to those suffering through their prognosis and treatments.
Above all else however, I would accept the love and support of my mother and my friends. I would not be like Bernie’s husband and shut out the world. I would not do that to my mother. I keep in touch with Bernie now and then. After her husband died, Bernie suffered a stroke, and then retreated into a shell; she would not venture from often. She became bitter, and she exhibited some of the anger I saw in her husband before he died. I knew she felt abandoned and alone. We all tried to support her, but she wasn’t interested by then. She was carrying his personal demons.
How I wish Bernie would have had someone to turn to, a support group or a counselor, someone to help her understand what her husband was going through so she would not have taken the abuse personal. Someone who could have protected her from internalizing the pain, anger and frustration at seeing her husband fade away without a fight. More so though, I wish there had been someone there for her husband. He did not have to suffer the diagnosis and prognosis alone. Had someone recommended a site like www.survivingmesothelioma.org, a support group or recommended they seek alternative treatments other than the ones the only doctor they spoke to had prescribed; perhaps he would have had a different outlook on his future.
Instead, he resolved to die, and he took my friend Bernie with him.