In a post last year, I mentioned that Canmore Runner HQ was reeling from one of life’s unwelcome curve balls. For me, one way of coping was to take to the trails as often as I could to give myself space to process all that was going on. Almost a year later, I remain a firm believer in running-as-therapy but i’ve also come to recognize that it might not always be enough.
Back then, I didn’t want to reveal too much. It was a very personal, stressful, situation and not something for broadcast on the internet. My position has changed a little in recent weeks. It’s still personal and anxiety-inducing but i’ve drawn lessons along the way that some people might find useful.
To back up a little…
In April last year, we received the crushing news that Ms. Canmore Runner had cancer. After a week or so of tortuous uncertainty, as more tests were conducted, followed by more bad news as we found out that the cancer had advanced, we eventually understood that the prognosis was hopeful, all things considered. But the road ahead was going to be long. And rough. And not much fun — though we have come up with a good line in cancer humour because, well, you have to.
Awful as this news was, we had much to be grateful for. The Swiss health system swung into action and the months that followed became a blur of doctor visits, surgery, chemo and radiotherapy. The physical and mental toll on Ms. Canmore Runner was partly offset by the unrelenting kindness and expertise of the doctors, surgeons, nurses and physios caring for her.
We also benefited from the love and support of our family and friends, some of whom generously took time out to make the trip to Geneva to help out, and in some cases, cook a shed load of lasagna and other treats which they left in the freezer. Meanwhile, our kids and I benefited from Ms. Canmore Runner’s remarkable courage, strength and grace which are making the whole experience easier on the three of us than it might otherwise be. It doesn’t feel like we’re out of the woods yet, and maybe it never will, but we are at a point where we can think about and start making plans for the future. And that’s huge.
As we begin to put the last 12 months behind us, it’s important to draw lessons from the experience of which there are several. But one in particular stands out: don’t forget the carer! Yep, I know. It’s all about me! Could I be more self-indulgent? Probably, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a point. And besides, Ms. Canmore Runner’s been getting ALL the attention lately (cancer humour, in case you were wondering).
I’ll spare you the details, suffice to say that as the primary carer, in full-time work and the father of two children, this has been unbelievably hard. It’s been frightening, lonely and confusing at times. It’s been brutal and heart-wrenching to see Ms. Canmore Runner go through the treatment. All in all, it’s been physically and emotionally exhausting. Of course, it’s nothing compared to what Ms. Canmore Runner’s endured; or what other people are going through who don’t have the same support we do. But it’s still been hard. And if i’m honest, on an emotional level in particular, i’ve struggled to cope.
This is partly my own doing. I have family and close friends I could have reached out to for support or who did reach out to me. And maybe it’s just me, or some outdated masculine, possibly British-stiff-upper-lip reflex, but actually relieving some of my stress by talking about my emotions was not something I felt either willing or able to do. And the one person I would have confided in was otherwise busy fighting cancer.
Nor did I do a great job of taking up the kind and generous offers from family and friends who wanted to take some of the load — to look after the kids for a bit, to stay with Ms. Canmore Runner so I could get away for a weekend. Accepting that support seemed counter-intuitive, as irrational as that seems now. I needed to be there for Ms. Canmore Runner and the kids; and I guess for me and my sense of self.
Better late than never, I eventually reached out for support and have zero regrets for doing so. Some of it has come from the wonderful English Speaking Cancer Association (ESCA) in Geneva. And some of it from close friends who’ve always been there and who I’m finally, if slowly, opening up to, as difficult as that still feels.
But I only got to this point a few weeks ago, after the stress of the preceding eleven months seemed, finally, to catch up with me physically and emotionally, to the point that I didn’t feel like I was being much use. On the plus side, this prompted me to realize that it would be good to get some of the emotional weight off my shoulders. And it is helping, no doubt about that.
So, back to what i’ve learned from this.
First, for people in the same boat as me, it’s good to talk. It’s amazing to talk.
Maybe you are fine, in which case more power to you. Or maybe you’re not fine and just about hanging in there. From my own experience, I know it’s not easy to reach out for help. It takes courage to open up and talk about your feelings, your fears, and everything else that’s on your mind. For me, it felt like an admission that I couldn’t cope. But I guess that’s precisely the point. Caring for a loved one is monumentally tough. Reaching out for the support you need — and better still, before you need it as I wish I had — is actually all about coping. I now see it as a measure of strength, not weakness; of success, not failure. Of identifying and doing the right thing for myself and those i’m caring for.
But it’s still much easier said than done, especially for men I suspect. Which brings me to lesson number two, for everyone else: don’t forget the carer.
The prevalence of cancer and other awful diseases being what it is, there are countless people out there caring for their sick partner, their child, a parent, sibling, friend and so on. Statistically, you’re almost bound to know someone who’s a carer. If you do, check in with them regularly and ask how they’re doing, as well as the person they’re caring for. It’s important.
And really mean it. Resist that well-intentioned urge to quickly jump in and assure them that everything’s going to be fine. Rather, let them talk and be a good listener. Better still, do it in a space where they will feel free to open up and really share what’s on their mind — and get gushing with the waterworks should they want to. It may be that they’re coping admirably. Or, it may be that they’re waiting, knowingly or not, for precisely that opportunity. It can make an enormous difference to their world.