A terminal cancer diagnosis is an extremely difficult thing to process, and the hardship is only amplified when sharing the news with someone who loves you. There is a stress surrounding how to break the news, and a worry for how they will cope with it.
This is how Linda Tierney decided to tell her boyfriend.
At first, Linda thought that the symptoms she was experiencing were just results of menopause. She knew that excessive bleeding, bloating, and exhaustion were somewhat inevitable for those around her age.
She figured there was no reason to assume anything different, as she had not ever missed a pap smear, and was healthy, even exercising regularly. However, she felt that it would be a good idea to disclose how she had been feeling to her doctor, and while they both figured it was probably normal, they decided a full internal exam was a good idea.
To Linda's horror and shock, the results showed a tumor, and evidence of ovarian cancer.
Thinking of loved ones
One of the first things that went through Linda's mind when she heard about her condition was "how do I tell the people in my life?" She was so grateful for her kids, grandchildren, and her new boyfriend Robert. The pair had known each other for ten years, but had only recently gotten together as a couple. She had been on cloud nine, but worried that their joy would come crashing down due to her news.
Her doctors had ordered a hysterectomy, appendectomy, and eighteen weeks of chemotherapy would be their strategy to fight against the cancer, and stood a chance at successfully clearing it. While she was happy to be attacking the cancer head-on, she was sad that she would no longer be able to continue the fun phase of dating that she and Robert were in. Instead, she might only be able to see him between hospital stays.
While she knew she wanted to be with Robert, she did not want to feel like a burden to him, and wanted him to be free. She explained, "I knew that spending all my time in the hospital during the early phases of a relationship wasn't ideal. 'If you want to go, you can go,' I told Robert, after explaining my diagnosis and treatment plan. I told him I would completely understand if [he] didn't want to stay with me while I was sick. He was newly single after a divorce, and he had a life to live. He looked at me and didn't miss a beat before telling me that he wasn't going anywhere. He was by my bedside, helping to care for me until we heard the words 'remission.'"
Linda fought the cancer with Robert by her side; however, one year later she went in for a routine scan and found the cancer had returned. Not only that, but it had spread to her bowel and liver. It was terminal and inoperable.
The only course of treatment was palliative care, and that she would only have a few years left at maximum.
This news is horribly difficult for anyone to hear, but Linda decided that she was going to make the most of it. The way she saw it, there were only two choices ahead of her: wasting her last moments thinking about how fair it was, or to live the rest of her life the best she could, regardless of how long or short that might be. This was especially true in regard to her relationship with Robert. She said, "we had fallen in love, and although we wouldn't have much time left together, I knew I wanted to make the most of it."
The first time that Robert learned his love had cancer, he was, of course, sad. But he believed all the way through that she could and would beat it, and would stick by her side all of the way. Linda explains that he is a very optimistic person, so her having cancer was not quite the end of the world; however, when the couple learned it was terminal, Robert was devastated. Linda, as the realist in the relationship, always figured that the cancer could come back with a vengeance, while Robert thought that they had gotten through the tough time already. He was overcome with the injustice of it all, an couldn't believe that they had waited so long to be together simply to be ripped apart.
While she saw Robert struggle, Linda consoled him and became the optimist in that moment. She told him that it was alright that she didn't have all the time in the world, because they would be able to spend these years like they had nothing to lose, cherishing life and each other every single moment.
Robert sought assistance in dealing with the idea of losing his loved one at Marie Curie hospice, and Linda says it has been tremendously helpful for him. Not only does hospice assist those with terminal illness, but their families as well, at every stage. This was especially helpful for Robert in that he had questions about cancer and planning for death that he would prefer not to ask Linda. She says that his access to a professional to talk through these things with him has strengthened their relationship because they can spend all their time together having fun, laughing, and loving, instead of grieving.
Fighting through the difficulty
Linda explained that it was not only Robert that was difficult to break the news to, but her children. It broke her heart to see their tears, but she made sure to tell them "it's okay to take time to grieve, but it's more important than ever to spend time making memories with each other. Time with my family is the only thing on my bucket list."
One of the best things that brought their families together was their wedding. They knew before the cancer that they wanted to get married, but the disease put their plans on hold. Linda explains, "shortly after Robert and I started dating, we knew we wanted to get married. But cancer came at us so fast, I wasn't sure if we would be able to have the wedding I pictured. When we learned my cancer was terminal, it was his idea to combine a big, beautiful wedding with a 'living wake.' This way, all of our friends and family could celebrate with us, and for many of them who live further away, have a chance to say goodbye.'"
Their wedding went perfectly, and Linda says it "was magical - it was a night when cancer didn't matter. Surrounded by 170 guests, getting married to a wonderful guy, I wouldn't trade it for the world."
Linda shows that while terminal diagnoses are devastating, it does not mean that you cannot enjoy the life that you have left. She is ensuring that the cancer may eventually take her life, but it will never take the joy that she has while she's here on Earth with her loved ones.
Photo: Linda Tierny (Prevention)