The Beauty of Being Wretched

cancer patient storyGrowing up I had no contact with cancer. My first exposure to its grim realities was a movie in the early 80s. John Hurt played the role of a man who was often reduced to vomiting in his sink. It shook me up and I always felt deep sympathy for anyone diagnosed.

Over the decades some of my aunties and uncles underwent treatment (thankfully all, but one, are still going strong). There were other family friends too. Sadly, some didn’t make it.

I knew it was hard for them to battle through it.

How (Badly) I Endured Cancer Treatment

I went into treatment expecting things to be rough. I knew it wasn’t going to be a party. I had not the slightest idea though just how hard it was going to be.

By the time it was over I was in a wretched state. I lost count of how many times I vomited. In the sink would have been lovely. I often didn’t have that luxury.

It hit me in the car in heavy traffic a few times (I was only a passenger as I was incapable of driving). I had a technicolour yawn a number of times in bed too.

My bedding copped a hiding. After a particularly harsh chemo reaction I awoke to find I’d wet the bed. I hadn’t done that since childhood. It was a shock.

Further into the treatment and I even crapped in my bed. That horrifying event took place on a day when I was so sick I couldn’t even get to my feet.

The last day of my radiation treatment I was wheeled from the ward to the radiation room with a drip in my arm. I simply couldn’t walk. I was at my extreme limit. I’d been having burns treatment a couple of times a day for the radiation burns to my face and neck. I was so drugged up I felt I was in a surreal daze.

The fog resulted from a fist full of tablets a few times a day.

One pill treated a particular problem, but produced a side effect that another one then addressed. That drug, in turn, produced another side effect that another one targeted. And so the chemical cocktail was devised. Lots and lots of pretty coloured little capsules.

The end result was a constantly queasy stomach combined with the disorientation of a muddle headed fog.

When I was first diagnosed I went out and bought some books. I thought a few months off work would be a great time to relax and read. What a joke. I was so battered I stopped even listening to the radio or watching TV. I couldn’t keep up with the conversations. The dialog was racing along while my mind dawdled. I found solace in staring blankly into space counting off the hours until the treatment would end and I’d bounce back.

Cancer Gave Me Something Wonderful

There is a purpose for painting that grim picture.

Sure, it was black. It was very ugly. It was the hardest thing I have ever endured. I didn’t know I had that much tenacity.

It was also a time of love and beauty.

How’s that for a contradiction?

The Importance of Real Love

I recently told a true story of how fate ironically determined the paths of two lives. It was a sad example that warned of the importance of being there for each other in relationships.

It is a total contrast of my experience.

When you have disgraced yourself or thrown up all over the sheets and blankets. When you have clumsily changed your pajamas for the third time because the feeding tube has erupted and spurted all over you. When you can’t stand steady or walk more than a few metres. When you need someone to assist you in the shower and you feel geriatric and have to sit down on a stool. Then, you are buggered. You are at the end of your rope.

And, if in the moment of dire need you have someone who loves you, then you have the most precious thing life has to offer. Great adversity yields great victories or something poetic like that.

My wife was there in those moments. She held the bucket, changed the sheets, prepared the tablets, mopped the floor and held my hand through it all. That is love. Real love. Not the Hollywood version. No fluttering blossoms and serenades.

It was love in its ugliest setting. Love at its most beautiful expression.

I clung to that straw of hope and compassion like I’ve never clung to anything before in life. It meant the world to me. In those dark days, it was my world. The outside world had ceased to exist. I was in a deep dark cave. It was the only glimmer of light.

We had promised to be there in the good times and bad, in sickness and in health. She kept that promise. I would have done the same if the roles were reversed, but I could never have done it so thoroughly, consistently and so graciously.

I owe her so much!

I am a lucky man. I have experienced real love in my life. I have known deep concern and tenderness. Looking back on it, those wretched moments were some of the most precious memories I will ever have.

I am a very lucky man. Cancer gave me something very special.

Photo by Christie

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  1. What’s a beautiful sharing!! Definitely you are a lucky man :)


  1. […] As I’ve previously explained, those dark days were a torrid physical time. However, it was also a time of great emotional growth as I learned The Beauty of Being Wretched. […]

  2. […] In other ways though I am glad I experienced cancer. It changed me as a person. Cancer changed my outlook on life. It made living well far more urgent and valued. We should never take life, happiness and health for granted. That is a valuable lesson that I hope I have learned. There really are some benefits to having cancer as I wrote about in The Beauty of Being Wretched. […]

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