Sunday, May 20, 2007

Random Bullets of Cancer

  • I expect that being the support person for an ill family member is probably a lot easier when it's someone who doesn't irritate the crap out of you. It's amazing the conflicting feelings caused by constantly feeling pissed off with and sorry for someone all at the same time. (Ultimately, though, I do realise that the things Mum does that make me feel uncomfortable are probably more about me than about her.)
  • For instance, today I overheard her telling a (not especially close) friend on the phone, "I haven't opened my bowels since the operation, but I'm starting to feel it maybe coming on." Is that really something that other people need to know?*
  • She keeps telling people I don't know that I will call them, meet them for coffee etc. I just won't. I can't imagine how anyone can do that with strangers. And some of her friends kept insisting a few days ago that I would be terribly upset and anxious during Mum's operation, and that I should come to their house to wait. If I am upset and anxious, the LAST thing I want to do is be with strangers and have to make polite conversation or (worse) turn into a mental wreck in front of them. Ugh. In the end I switched off the phone for a couple of hours and took a long, relaxing bath. When I switched it back on again, there were 13 messages waiting from people I don't know wanting me to call them back. Which I did. But it kind of negated the relaxing effect of the bubble bath.
  • Today she railed from her hospital bed against Americans ("Those awful Americans are as subtle as a screaming red light, and their idea of humour is to hit you over the head with a laugh soundtrack. Not like us British**; we understand delicacy and tact"); against Australians ("Must be awfully hard to teach linguistics. To Australians, I mean. What with the way they mangle the English language. In fact, it must be hard to teach anything to Australians. A bit dense, the lot of them, aren't they?") and against Asians ("So horribly driven. They don't know how to have fun".) When I don't look appropriately amused by these sentiments she tells me I've been "infected by that nasty political correctness" and that I need to learn to relax.
  • Mum is totally convinced she is going to die. She is writing letters to be given to people in case. Has updated her will. Took me out to show me her solicitor's office. Told me what sort of funeral she wants. If I suspected I was dying, I think I would make arrangements too, but secretively, because I would be worried people would think I was an obsessive pessimist.
  • I am hemorrhaging money like a big money-hemorrhaging thing. Here a dollar, there a dollar, everywhere a dollar fifty. Yesterday alone I paid $14 for parking, and I've used up $35 worth of petrol in less than a week. If it was down to me I'd take the bus everywhere, or walk, but I'm ferrying other relatives and Mum's friends around everywhere too: picking up my brother from the airport, driving Mum to appointments, driving her friends to visit her in hospital, driving my grandfather around... I don't know how anyone affords to use a car for their main means of transport.
  • Then I'm spending at least $5 dollars a day on fetching Mum cakes and cokes from the hospital cafeteria, since she is convinced that now she has cancer she will waste away to nothing if she just lives on hospital food. And then there's groceries and bills and "Could you buy me a new kettle?" or "I really meant to repot the plants on the front porch before all this happened. Be a dear and pop down to the shop for some new pots. And don't get those awful plastic ones. They are so cheap and nasty."
  • Her welfare payments have been finalised, and although they will now pay for extras like a gardener, a cleaner, petrol for trips to the hospital and doctor, all her prescriptions and other illness-related expenses, Mum's total income now that she won't be working at all will be $100 a week less than her current budget (which she has trouble sticking to anyway). I've suggested getting rid of her cellphone, which easily costs her $20 a week, and that she maybe stop using things like her colour printer (she prints out all her photos and emails in full colour), try going just a month or two without buying new clothes, and if I were her, I'd get rid of the car. (She lives half a block from a major bus-stop that connects everywhere, and is within a short walk of a supermarket, or a half-hour walk of the centre city). But she has never lived without a car, and I can understand that she feels now that she is ill that she won't have the energy to use public transport. It just bothers me that she spends more than I do on discretionary expenses like new clothes, fancy brands of household items, a flash car, top quality insurance, home repairs, entertainment, etc, and then constantly complains about being short of money. Especially when I am subsidising her like I am at the moment, it frustrates me to know that she is spending my money on things I wouldn't buy for myself.
  • If you are going to get a nasty disease, you might as well do it in New Zealand. As well as Mum's welfare payments covering the extras mentioned above, she has received a $600 voucher from the Cancer Society to cover a prosthesis and new bras, and will get another $600 for this every four years for the rest of her life. She also gets a free wig and hats, as well as various small things like cushions and face creams and wotnot. And in a few weeks she is booked in to have a free makeover and massage. My grandmother has had six hats and a lovely wig all free from the Cancer Society. And the Cancer Society are paying for my grandfather and aunt and uncle to stay in a motel near the hospital, since they decided Granddad was too elderly to cope well with the usual shared accommodation they provide. On the other hand, this makes me feel bad for people who have less well-publicised diseases and presumably don't get any of these compensations.
  • Mum came home from the hospital this afternoon, though. So hopefully the next week or so will be a bit less frantic.


* I do see the irony in complaining about someone over-sharing like this when I spill out all the details of my life to complete strangers on the internet. It just feels different, somehow. And at least I don't tell you about my bowels.

** She is British when it makes her feel appropriately superior; but counts herself as a New Zealander when it is time to complain about the "whinging Poms".


Miss M. said...

Re bullet #1 - I think all carers have similar experiences, even if it's someone you usually get along with. My mother spent the better part of 5 years caring for my grandmother who had Huntington's Disease, and whenever she speaks about the experience there's always a glimpse of the residues of that inner conflict.

I hope things calm down a bit from now on!

shrinkykitten said...

First of all, what's a pom?? Here in the US it is either half a pom-pom (cheerleader thingamabob), a pomegranate juice, or a dog (pomeranian).

Second, I wholeheartedly agree that taking care of a parent - or dealing with emotional reactions to potential loss - is indeed much harder when the relationship is complicated. Sure, these aren't easy for anyone - but when you have difficulties in the relationship, it can make it so much worse (and this is clearly demonstrated in the research). Plus it often seems like you are in the mothering position much of the time - even when she isn't ill - so this likely compounds resentment you feel at other times.

This is one good thing about living thousands of miles away from one's mother - I simply *can't* do things for her - which has forced her to find sources of social support in her area. Now she has enough of a social network that if something happens, lots of other people can step in. But it also sounds like your mother knows tons of people, and yet you are the one she depends on for seemingly just about everything. And that's not fair to you at all.

How much longer are you staying there? You don't have to do everything for her, you know. She does have other people who can help her. Sometimes it takes saying no to get people to start relying on themselves and others more. Yes, she's ill - but you are important too.

Geeka said...

My grandmother didn't really believe in wills and such. Her method for dealing with who got what after she died, was labeling everything. She started this when she was about 70 (13 years before she died).

You could pick up anything in her house that may have had monetary or sentimental value, and somewhere obvious there would be a name. There was this very nice side chair that my grandmother wrote my aunt's name on the wooden arm, my aunt had it refinished, but it ended up costing more than the chair was worth.

After my grandmother died, they found a long letter to my dad and uncle (the divorced sons) in her bedroom closet leaving the house to them.

Dealing with wills and hospitals are always crappy situations.

Flavia said...

Styley, I'm so sorry you're confronted with all this. My thoughts are with you.

betty said...

Re: Bullet #1 - I totally understand. I went through that when my mother was in the hospital (and still now that she has not fully recovered). I spent the whole time feeling conflicted and just generally icky. But after talking to others, it seems this is a fairly normal response? My mom went through it in caring for her mother too.

George, Group Admin said...

You are blogging this, so you have a need to get it out of your system. Can't imagine it is easy.

Stop by the group that I moderate and see how others are dealing with their diagnosis, btw, an incurable cancer at that. May be insightful.

Group Admin & MCC Survivor

P.S. I have also lived in Germany (twice) and Denmark (four years) and now reside in the America's.

Propter Doc said...

It sounds very complicated and difficult. I totally get that speaking to strangers about personal and emotional issues is difficult but I think that is more about their need to feel helpful than for any genuine help for you.

You sound amazingly rational about all of this.

Hang in there and we're thinking about you.

Lucy said...

Shrinky, a pom is an English person.

Styley, it sounds like a very difficult situation. I think I would be in a very similar position if my mum got sick. Take care of yourself!

StyleyGeek said...

Thanks everyone. You can't imagine how much of a relief it is to hear that feeling conflicted and irritated is (at least relatively) normal.

Thanks George for the tip. Btw, my mother's cancer is (hopefully) not incurable: just fairly aggressive and spreading. It's my grandmother's cancer that is incurable. (My family is complicated!)

Shrinky, Lucy is right. And it is almost never used in a polite way :) I am here for another two and a half weeks. And she does have a large network of friends: it's just that I am scared of interacting with people I don't know, so phoning them up and asking them to do stuff seems worse than just doing it myself. Also, given the choice, Mum prefers family to deal with financial stuff, or anything especially personal. When I am in Australia, though, it is good to know she can rely on them to help her out.

shrinkykitten said...

I had other things I was going to comment on:
First, constipation is an extremely common side effect of surgery - it happens to everyone! The need, thus, to complain about it is obviated due to its ubiquity -- and I suggest you tell her exactly that! :)

Second, next time she complains about whinging poms, either imagine a whinging pomegranate or a whinging fluffy puppy dog. Maybe that'll help.

Third: Which american show was she listening to?

Fourth: I suggest you put each task you need to do on a separate post it note, and when people come by and ask what they can do to help, just peel a few off and hand it to them. Then you just say, "Ta, you're a dear" and take a nap.

Fifth: ANOTHER two and a half weeks? I have no idea how you will survive. Seriously, if it comes down to it and you end up doing something rash, know that no jury of your peers would blame you.

Sixth: Is geekman coming at all to come help you? That's supposed to be one of the key roles of partners/spouses - to provide a buffer between you and the parental units.

Seventh: Is welfare paying for respite care for you at all? Seriously, you'll need it - and maybe some good drugs too.

StyleyGeek said...

First: I am totally going to say that in exactly those words. Then while she is busy consulting a dictionary I'll run away and hide.

Second: That is pretty much the awesomest idea ever. I'm giggling out loud.

Third: She watched the film "Liar Liar", which is hardly representative of American arts and culture.

Fourth: No, wait, THAT is the awesomest idea ever. I might just do that.

Fifth: I've just gone and got myself a short membership for the YMCA gym and I'm going to explain I have to go there for two hours a day to make the membership worthwhile. I spent three hours there today: one in the gym, one working in the cafe there, and one walking there and back. THAT is how I'm going to survive :)

Sixth: Geekman is trapped in Australia due to arcane regulations relating to people waiting for residence permits. I.e. he has no visa.

Seventh: No. Supposedly my mother can manage on her own for a couple of hours a day, and she will be able to do much more for herself by the end of the week. By next week she may even be able to drive herself places again. (Until the chemo starts, anyway.) So life should get easier soon. Plus, see #5.

Ianqui said...

Damn, styley. That sounds really tough. But I hope you don't get offended by my saying that you wrote about this all with amazing grace and humor, and even though it's not necessarily a good time for you, you're still funny.

EA said...

Will be thinking of you...
Oh...and...God bless moms, because somedays, if God weren't doing the blessing...who would be????

shrinkykitten said...

re: first: I also meant to say my new saying. One of Brightstar's favorite sayings is "It's not stalking if it's mutual." Well, leading from that is, "It's not oversharing if you have a blog!" That is, I would argue there is no such thing as oversharing if you have a blog.

re: third: I'm pretty sure Jim Carrey epitomizes all americans - so she was likely quite spot on.

re: fifth: okay, but make sure you use those muscles for good, not for evil!

re: sixth: so? Can't he swim?

re: seventh: still, you may well be up for sainthood in a few days. You might consider slipping something into her beverages - perhaps scotch, valium, sleeping pills, vicodin, etc. Again, no jury of your peers would convict you.

By the way, birds here are not nearly as friendly as they are in Aussieland! I went up to a bird today and said "Hi! What're you doin'?" And he flew away! Maybe it's cuz I also called him fat, but I meant it in a really good way - I like a bird with a fat tummy!

And here's another story: I saw a video of a cockatoo who was a pet (poor baby!) here in the US. I guess he got a time out or something, and was put out on the porch - and the thing had a huge tantrum. He was really funny because he kept hopping up and down.

I bet Stinky, Mr. Scruffers, and Flappy really miss you! Maybe they'll have a parade when you get home.