I will never forget that day. The day my partner was told he had a suspicious looking “mass” on his bladder and it was “most likely” cancer.
I have never seen the colour drain from someone’s face so quickly, or seen someone literally age about 20 years in a matter of seconds.
Really nothing can ever prepare you to hear those words. It’s overwhelming. Nobody likes the C Word – your immediate thoughts are death and total panic. The world goes black and whilst you try to comprehend what you have just been told.
It started for him 5 weeks before that appt with some kidney pain for a day and night. I heard him up in the night but didn’t think much of it. I was in London the following day for work so was up stupidly early and didn’t want to disturb him whilst he slept to check if he was ok. I assumed he was. Later that morning he messaged me at work to say good morning,and I asked him how he was and he came back with “I’ve got an ow”. For him to say he felt unwell meant he really did feel unwell! I suggested as it was his day off that he call the doctor and get an urgent appointment. He did and the doctor saw him that day (no mean feat for our doctors surgery where you can wait 3 weeks for an appt!). The doctor felt it was most likely a kidney infection or possibly a stone and requested an urgent Ultrasound exam. He noticed there was some blood in his wee, but it was trace and could ot seen by the naked eye, but again thought it most likely a stone. So a few days later the appt for the Ultrasound came through and 3 weeks later he took himself off to the hospital for that.
My partner is very direct, he doesn’t like things to be flowered up and the same goes for people dealing with him. Some people don’t find that easy or may be uncomfortable with that. The Ultrasound Technician certainly was when he asked her outright what she had seen? She squirmed and tried to brush him off with “you may need to come back for more tests, but I don’t see a stone there, but I can’t say for sure”. So he thought nothing more of it and came home. 3 days later on the Friday evening the phone rang. It was our GP. She wanted to speak to him and he was out at work and uncontactable at the time. I asked if I could take a message and the response was “oh just get him to call me back on this number asap, it’s nothing to worry about”………… Well I don’t know about you but if anyone says “nothing to worry about then you worry! He tried calling her back but she had gone home for the evening so we had a nervous wait over the weekend. I say “we”, it was more me who had the nervous wait, he was still convinced it was a stone. By now the pain had gone away completely and he was feeling fine.
On the Monday he rang the surgery and had to leave a message as the GP was with patients. He went to work and at around 2pm he got a call from the Bladder Nurse Specialist at Frimley Park Hospital asking him to go in on Wednesday of that week, for an urgent appointment to discuss their findings. Again being direct he asked her why and explained he hadn’t yet spoken to his GP so he was unaware there was anything to worry about. Again she squirmed and evaded his questions and just asked him to go in. I told him I would go with him and he told me not to take the time off work! Errr nope, there is no way I was letting him go alone. However at this point he was still convinced she just wanted to talk about kidney stones, but I just had a bad feeling about it all.
And that’s how we ended up – sat in her office at Farnham Hospital whilst she dropped the massive bombshell on us. The colour drained from his face and he had his head in his hands. Through the shock and the tears he managed to ask what happens next. I didn’t know what to do as I am the soppiest person you will meet who would cry at literally anything remotely sad or happy. I was struggling to compose myself. She explained he would be taken into hospital in a matter of a couple of weeks and they would remove the tumour, send it for biopsies and give us the results 2 weeks later. 2 WEEKS! That shocked us as you just assume you get your results quickly. You don’t – in fact it’s anything but quick. They have to be extremely thorough. In all it took 5 months to get a confirmed diagnosis – but I will come back to that in another blog!
So after having some more tests and bloodwork done (yep I know all the medical jargon now!), we both sat in the car in shock. Neither of us knew what to say or what to do. There were literally hundreds of thoughts and feelings going through both our heads. It was only 9.30 in the morning and so we drove home. We got home and sat in the car for a few moments trying to take it all in. All I could say to him to reassure him he had my support was that whatever will come will come and we would face it together. It was all I could say.
What on earth do you say to the man you love who has just been given that news? At this point I will say it’s strange what you do when you are in shock – and I don’t know if it was the adrenaline or the shock or both but we decided we were starving hungry and went to our local café and had a full English breakfast! Once home we sat on the sofa for a few more hours crying, googling bladder cancer (seriously only google reputable sites like McMillan or FightBladder Cancer or you will drive yourself mad!). Then we knew it was time to tell a few of our nearest and dearest. So phone calls to our respective mums took place through the tears, whilst we tried to reassure them that things were in hand to get rid of the thing and work out a treatment plan. Then we told some friends. We knew we would get mixed reactions, some were very strong and helpful and others crumbled and couldn’t handle it. Still to this day his closest friend from way back when has not even acknowledged or responded to his news. Cancer does really sort out the men from the boys!
The next few weeks went by in a blur of anxiety, sleepless nights and sheer panic. On reflection I think it’s something you can’t avoid. Until you know what you are dealing with all you can do is empower yourself with knowledge on the subject and hope for the best possible outcome, but prepare yourself for the worst. I felt (and still do) feel terrible “survivor guilt”. I would take it from him and have it myself in a heartbeat to save him this pain. They really were some dark days. we both took a few days off work to digest the news, recover from the shock and get our heads around it. Then we both decided we needed to head back to work until the day before his first op. We both needed to find some kind of normal and take our minds off it otherwise it was all consuming. I remember one day he came home from work and said “I had a bit of a moment at work, and had too much time to think about things, and ended up crying in the van”. He’s a delivery driver for a food retailer and in between deliveries they sometimes have to wait for customers. It all caught up with him and became too much. He had angry days whilst we waited for news and he had calm days. It was the old cliché “a rollercoaster”.
We also had to come to terms with the fact that this is it now for pretty much the rest of our lives – treatment for 3 years (assuming his bladder and he can tolerate it), regular cystoscopy operations to check for recurrences. MRI scans, CT scans and always the fear it will come back. He has already had a couple of recurrences before the treatment started so the fear is always there. It’s hard to think long term or make plans right now and life is on hold. But hopefully in a couple of years we can press the play button on our lives again. In between the hospital stuff we just get on with normal life as best we can. Our close friends and family have been a godsend to us and we cherish them all for their love and support.
For anyone supporting a partner going through this my heart goes out to you. It’s an incredibly challenging time trying to juggle your own emotions, their emotions, work, family life and every day brings something new to the table. However it does make you strong. I no longer cry at his appts or his diagnosis discussions or post operations. I managed to pull my shit together because he needs someone strong next to him to help him through it. I have my moments believe me, but they are usually in private or with friends. I have had my own life threatening stuff to deal with in the past and he was by my side every moment of that and got us both through it. We are a partnership and that’s just how we roll. If anything these experiences have taught me that you need to cherish every day no matter how good or how bad it may be.
Because you are still here and you are still breathing. Our journey on this cancer road is only just at the beginning and it’s a long road ahead, but we will ride that road and see where it takes us.