Where diagnosis of a cancerous or other life-threatening illness has been confirmed and referral to a consultant specialist has been set in motion, its impact and effects will almost certainly be experienced by and within the entire family unit. Have you ever gone into a room that looks, to put it plainly, as if a ‘bomb has hit it’? If it is a bedroom, the bed lies unmade; drawers and wardrobe doors are wide open, some of their contents strewn across the unmade bed or even on the floor. If the room happens to be a study or similar type of room, books and papers have been removed from the shelves; whilst the telephone lies ‘submerged’ under what is best described as a pile of miscellaneous ‘debris’.
Of course – and in response to the above – some at least are likely to protest: ‘Were that the impact of a life-threatening illness could be compared and thus limited and confined to what is described in the above paragraph! The impact of a cancer diagnosis is in no way analogous or comparable to a disordered room from which one may simply ‘extract’ one’s self, close the door and walk away’. And that, of course, is true. Anyone who has experienced – that is, from the ‘muck and bullets’ end – the ‘rising tide’ of anxiety, confusion and threat that such awareness of a life-threatening illness affecting either him/her personally or a ‘significant other’ gives rise to, will promptly recognize the obvious and glaring inadequacy and even ineptness of any such comparison. This then being so, why include it here at all?
Sometimes in life the surest way of coming to grips with what is entailed in a given concept, idea or experience, is achieved (as in the above) via the deployment of a prima-facie analogous comparative state/situation etc.; whilst at the same time noting its glaring differences (again, as in the above) between the one and the other. In the earliest days post diagnosis, and as the numbing effects of shock begin to lessen and wear off, other mood-affecting and altering feelings are (at least for a time) likely to hold centre stage: fear, anger, bewilderment, threat, depressed mood, denial. Restoring even the remotest semblance of order and comfortable control is likely to be, for the present at any rate, out of the question. Given the impact and growing awareness of what is entailed in such dawning reality, it is likely to at first present as an impossible task lying ahead for both the patient and his/her family members.
Of course, much will depend upon future prospects (prognosis·) and more will be ‘said’ in greater detail about this in a future posting. However, in the earliest days this need for necessary recognition of and adaptation to the new and unfamiliar is seldom smooth and painless. Indeed, given the potential energy and intensity of close-binding relationships, i.e. within the context of the family, it is by no means unknown for the pressure to build to a point where at times the ‘sparks may fly’. Each and every individual is unique and is likely to require time, space, patience and no small measure of understanding as they become increasingly aware of their radically changed and painful reality and as they feel themselves increasingly pressured toward the need to adapt to an altered and almost altogether unfamiliar ‘baseline’.
The desire to assist, enable and, in some small fashion, contribute to an eventual acceptable and more comfortable adaptation toward a new normality is what lies at the very heart of every one of these postings. There is undeniably a long and, in many different senses, difficult road ahead for patients and their families alike. To pretend otherwise would amount to deception on an unpardonable scale. On the other hand, we very well know from the simple statistic that approximately one in three individuals are likely to be diagnosed with a malignant illness at some point in their life time and this reinforces the validity of such a statement to the effect that such change and adaptation is in fact taking place in countless numbers of lives every day.