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Living with the Giant

by Cynthia Siegfried

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Living with cancer is like living with an unwelcome, uninvited giant in your home. After you recover from the initial shock of his arrival and realize he has decided to stay a while, you must decide how you will adjust to his presence. Do you get to know him better so that you are prepared for his next attack? Or do you ignore him and hope he will disappear? Do you make a strategic battle plan?

After a while, you become accustomed to his presence, but you never, ever forget he is there. You tiptoe around him because any minute he might awaken, angry and threatening. When he does, what kind of mood will he be in? You never know if he will devour you in one large bite or be satisfied with a little snack to hold him over while he returns to hibernation. Sometimes he is so quiet you think he might be dead, but then he stirs, rears his ugly head, and stomps around the house “fee, fie, foe, fumming,” looking for the blood of an Englishman.

Friends have said, in an attempt to minimize cancer’s horror, “Well, you know, any one of us could step off the curb and get hit by a truck tomorrow.” That’s true, but when you have cancer, the truck passes by the house on a regular basis honking its horn to get your attention.

“... but then he stirs, rears his ugly head, and stomps around the house “fee, fie, foe, fumming.”

Author of Article photo

Cynthia and Jim Siegfried

Each time a check-up comes around, I thank God that my husband is still here to get one, but we’ve had to dig deep into our faith to keep the threat of another recurrence from robbing us of the joy in his survival. We have been living with cancer for nearly eight years. I don’t forget the giant is lurking in the shadows, but I’m not as afraid of him as I once was. No longer do I let my fear of his awakening rob me of those peaceful times when he is silent.

Cancer has taught us to live in the moment. We delight in a magnificent sunset. We find pleasure in a grandchild’s uninhibited laughter. We’ve pruned our schedules, leaving more of those activities we enjoy and fewer of those that drain our energy. We say no to social obligations and yes to dessert. We’re slower to anger and quick to forgive.

Like Jack of beanstalk fame, when we faced our giant, we discovered unexpected rewards. We haven’t found the hen that lays the golden eggs, but our lives are immeasurably richer.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Cynthia Siegfried became a caregiver when her husband, Jim, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2002. She is grateful for his eight-year survival, during which he experienced two recurrences and another primary cancer (prostate). Jim and Cynthia are the founders of a support group, f.a.i.t.H. – facing an illness through Him. Her book, Cancer Journey: A Caregiver’s View from the Passenger Seat was published in February 2010. For more information, visit her website, www.caregivercancerjourney.com.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, January/February 2011.