October 2015 was a memorable month in our household.
We were in the early stages of a much-anticipated pregnancy and digesting the news of a possible job offer overseas.
And Ari was rapidly becoming unwell with what turned out to be a primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma.
Fast forward six months and with treatment over it seems like the right time to look back on the experience of being a cancer spouse.
1. Listen when other people say it’s more important to be at the hospital than in the office.
There are always going to be other people who can write articulate and persuasive documents (although usually not the people who assert that this is their skill set), but not many people can hug your husband before surgery.
I deeply appreciated having a boss who supported me using my accumulated carer’s leave and helped make the case for a work iPad. Responding to work emails can be as good a way as any to pass the hours waiting for news in hospital wards … and no one will notice if you roll your eyes at the more ridiculous requests.
2. Sometimes the best thing someone else can do to is take the initiative.
Many people asked how they could help over the past six months and sometimes we were able to come up with a good answer (thanks Jude and Pete for mowing the lawn, and Ruth and Will for loaning me your shower when Ari was too cytotoxic for us to share a bathroom, and Brie and Ella for taking over managing the netball team).
But often it was hard to think of something specific - and at those times it was great when friends and family made their own call. The food hampers, frozen homemade dinners and gift vouchers for food delivery services were much appreciated.
It was good to have visitors in hospital when Ari felt up to it. As a habitual organiser of social get-togethers, I was particularly grateful for friends suggesting and organising gatherings where I only had to remember to rock up. And our parents were thoughtful in finding ways to help - constructing a baby's room, playing the role of medical warrior to find all the info we could on treatment, managing logistics and doing laundry - which is possibly more than Ari and I deserved when we had both been stubbornly resistant to well-meaning parental assistance for decades.
Asking for help graciously is a difficult skill, but one I will continue to practice after we have a new baby in the house!
3. Any cancer story is part of a larger cancer narrative.
Lots of people's lives have been touched by cancer. And many friends and family were generous in sharing their own stories, mostly of battles fought and won. It was always encouraging to hear about those who made it through - especially those who had experience with lymphoma and had wise advice to share.
The protagonists in a story can set the tone, and we were keen to be optimistic. But acting as though beating cancer is just about having the right attitude is not fair to those who have fought the battle and lost. I miss my lovely friend Liv who passed away in 2014 after two years of giving it her all. Sometimes the science just isn't enough. Hearing a lot of stories confirmed the feeling that Ari, while unlucky to have cancer, was lucky to have a cancer that was very responsive to chemotherapy, lucky to live just down the road from the brand new Canberra Region Cancer Centre, and lucky to have a bub on the way.