28 February 2010 – Coping as a Family (Cancer and Me 12)

30th July 2015 0 By Andy Burrows

If I may be permitted to pause to widen my view a little, I was not the only one that was affected by my illness. I’ve been focused on myself so far.

It was actually my observation that it was a lot harder on Heidi and others than it was for me. For me I couldn’t do anything else except lounge around in the hospital ward and let nurses and doctors look after me. They kept me comfortable and stable, and they monitored my situation so closely that I never worried that they were going to let me get worse… for almost two whole months.

On the other hand for Heidi, she had to hold the fort, while worrying how I was and what I was doing, and whether the doctors had been to deliver new information. She tried to visit at some stage every day. In order to do that, and keep the kids running with some sense of normality, it took some logistics. Her mum and dad were great, staying at our house much of the time, and doing a lot of household tasks and driving the kids around. The rest of the family, on both sides, helped out too. And church family took it in turns to provide main meals for the family, delivering them daily without fuss and without intrusion.

I can’t imagine what it must have been like having to try and give the kids some sense of normality without me around. I can’t imagine what it must have been like lying in bed alone at night without me, wondering what was going to happen next. I can’t imagine the stress of not knowing what was going on. Poor Heidi was struggling to sleep well, and consumed with anxiety. Nothing I could say to her would allay her fears. Compared to her, I had it easy in my comfy hospital bed with my team of medical professionals at hand 24-7.

And yet I wasn’t always very understanding at the time. I tried to be. And I did do my best to think how best to deliver news to her. But sometimes I was selfish, and other times I couldn’t win. It was just a really stressful time for her, and I wished I had more wisdom to say and do the right thing.

The kids all took it differently too. Emotions were most of the time under control when they came to see me in hospital. Sometimes I got kicked out of my hospital bed while they piled into it to watch my TV!! But I know, from what has been said since then, that it was large in their minds and affected them in different ways. There were occasional tears, there were fears and questions.

The thing I found difficult was that I wanted to know what was on their minds, I wanted to help them, I wanted to cuddle them and tell them it would be ok. But they wouldn’t open up to me, because they didn’t want to upset me or cause me stress while I was feeling ill. So I had to leave it to others to try to say the right things to them.

When I got home I was relieved to be able to take my share of responsibility in the situation, rather than having to leave it as a burden and a worry to others. Part of that may be the control freak in me. Part of it is because several bouts of unemployment have given me a strong sense of responsibility to protect my family from harm, even the stress of anxiety. If anyone is going to do the worrying and the mental gymnastics to do with planning a way through a difficult situation it should be me. Heidi and the kids just don’t need that kind of pressure.

So coming home allowed me to sit down properly with the computer, the phone, the notebooks, the information I’d gathered, and work out how we were going to possibly survive financially with no realistic possibility of working for 6-9 months at least.

So how did we survive? We’d already maxed the credit cards, gone down to one car that would only just fit all 6 of us in it, and put my business in debt. The answer is really, ultimately, that God provided for us – through various means. Practically that meant state benefits, further tightening of the belt, generous gifts from friends and family, critical illness insurance that actually paid out and helped repay a proportion of the mortgage, and CABA. CABA is the Chartered Accountants Benevolent Association. It is a charity that specializes in helping chartered accountants who have fallen on hard times for one reason or another. Not only did they give us significant funding each and every month to make up the shortfall that state benefits would not cover, they gave us a dedicated case worker, advice on managing our debts and (later on) a course of career counselling to help me back to work. I feel so fortunate to be in a profession that has such generous benefactors, that we should receive such help. Praise God, even though we had to cut our costs, we never went short of anything important.

It was tough, but I never felt hugely disadvantaged. With the CABA safety net in place, it meant I could relax and focus on getting better, going through the treatment and not having to stress out.