ilikebeingsickanddisabled

t h e w o r l d o f i n v i s i b l e i l l n e s s

THE DAY CANCER CAME IN THE MAIL.

I love getting mail, the real kind you don’t have to print out.  The kind you have to get out of your chair for.  So I was excited to see my friend’s return address in the pile, and it wasn’t just because the envelope didn’t hold a bill.

I’ve always known her to be calm to my frantic, brave to my wimpiness, determined with a self-assuredness I still envy.  Just to give you an example, she confronted her fear of snakes by attending a museum program about reptiles.  She forced herself to handle them and she can now see one slither across her patio and admire the snake’s place in the circle of things.  I’ll go on record now that this will never be me; I got the heebies just typing the word “slither”.

We used to get together with other gals like us:  35+, smart, professional and not nuts about being single.   Those outings were always good for gossip although it was mostly me who did the “observing”.  David and I happened a year before her marriage to Bill and over the last quarter century, we’ve tracked each other from Connecticut to Colorado to Arizona.  Some years ago, Bill had a quadruple bypass and the stress on his body blossomed a latent case of multiple sclerosis.  At least that’s what I think.   As his health declined, my friend was just like the Hallmarks describe — loyal, loving, patient.  She, of course, would guffaw at this; oh, I know they had their moments, but her unwavering kindness really is true.

I can remember us eating a picnic lunch of hard-boiled eggs and pepperoni on a chilly spring day in Cripple Creek, Colorado.

She loves purple, eclecticism, and cats.

She loves her sisters, me and David, and asparagus.

A friend like that makes it easy to see the reason I was eager to read her note.  It said: Diagnosis:  Stage 4 Breast Cancer.  Treatment: Radical mastectomy, chemotherapy.

It takes a lot of someone else’s pain to make me cry, otherwise I couldn’t be a psychotherapist, unless that pain hits me where I live, and hers waltzed right in my door.   See, she’s never been about putting herself at the front of the soup line, so when we talked and cried over the phone it didn’t surprise me that through this she kept on keeping on … with work and with caregiving, placing Bill in respite care only for the week she had surgery.

Only one week after that phone call, my dear friend called to say she’d come home to find Bill, fallen on the floor.  He was dead.

She still likes asparagus, will always love cats, and will forever be a kind and good soul.  She’s learning to put her needs and wants toward the front of the line; done with chemotherapy, life is opening up in ways she’d never ever imagined.

I just wish it hadn’t taken these painful sorrows for her to act more, for herself, on the kind of love she gave the rest of us. I’m glad she is, now.

If you’ve got an invisible disability, or are in a relationship affected by one, what about my friend’s story do you relate to?

Kathe and Irene have been friends for over 27 years.  She is contemplating a move back home to Michigan after a stop here in Colorado to scatter Bill’s ashes in a Rocky Mountain spot he especially loved.  David and I will always be so happy to see Irene; our cats Petey and Lucy will love her on sight.

Categories: Effect of invisible (hidden) disability on relationship

2 replies

  1. My husband has MS and is becoming less invisible these days. I wish I could be like your friend. I am trying to be it all with my kids and work, and it is exhausting. I am in awe of someone who has that energy and will.

    • Sandee, you can’t be it all. The first rule of caregiving is that the quality of care you give yourself is directly proportional to the quality of care you give others…My friend is, like me, in her early 60s. We don’t have children underfoot, and our lives and work have reached a point yours hasn’t reached yet. It’s sometimes a good thing for people with MS to have someone to talk to who isn’t a spouse or family member. Just so they can be honest without having to watch what gets said. Support groups work well for some; others like 1-1 contact with a caring therapist. It’s great if the therapist has some personal experience with disability; I think it makes for being more in-tune…And if you need someone to talk to (sounds like you’d be all for that), find yourself someone who’;s not family and definitely not a co worker. Even a friend can’t really give you honest perspective. I’m sure there are places in your community where there’s low- or no-cost counseling, if $$ is an issue or if you’re without mental healthcare insurance. If you’re not sure, call a therapist or two and if they can;’t help, ask if they know who can! All the best to both of you; neither one of you have got it easy!

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