My wife and I have always enjoyed mixing our favourite coping mechanism, comedy, with accomplishing important tasks. Sometimes, the best remedy for the worst life stresses is proactive humour. Natasha came up with the term “cancer card” as a way to deal with life’s day to day challenges. We would often jokingly ask each other a question, “Is this a cancer card moment?” For example, we are waiting for a table for brunch and Natasha tells me that we are third on the waitlist for a table. I turn to her and say, “This is a good time to play the cancer card.” I approach the hostess and say, “Excuse me, my wife is literally fighting cancer right now, so, if there is any way that we could get a table faster, that would be great.” Usually, the cancer card works because the restaurant staff and the other customers are very accommodating—especially if I had told Natasha to exaggerate her fatigue while I get her a chair to sit on. Contrary to popular opinion, some cancer patients are not super thin and emaciated. As in Natasha’s case, the medications used to manage the side effects of chemo can make you gain a lot of weight. As a result, she didn’t always look like a cancer patient to everyone, which is why exaggerating symptoms was sometimes necessary. In the past, when my self-esteem was low, I would have felt pushy, inconsiderate and manipulative using my wife’s cancer to get special treatment. Now, I know whatever I can do to make life easier for my family, I should definitely do. I know this might sound strange, but my wife’s cancer has actually had a positive impact on me: I am much more confident. In the past, I would have spent too much time worrying about pleasing strangers in a restaurant at my own expense—no more! One of the most important things I have learned is that we all have to do what we think is best for OUR family because if we don’t, no one else will. Besides, the chances of anyone else in line for a table is battling post-partum depression, cancer AND has a new born baby is highly doubtful.
The confidence that I have built through my grief and wellness plan reminds me not to worry so much about other people’s opinions, whether they be strangers, acquaintances or even good friends. The ONLY opinion that matters is mine, and in some instances, my daughter’s opinion matters. Of course, the opinions of my boss, co-workers and landlord matter, but it is up to me to decide how much weight I give their opinions. Hopefully, with my new confidence and a little luck, I will be able to resolve our financial issues as well.
Our family of two has fallen to a lower economic class. It has definitely been a huge adjustment, but I am getting used to it. Yes, we have less money, but I am able to be there for my daughter before and after school. I am able to go to all of her activities and play groups. While Natasha was dying and afterwards, I have had to deal with a lot of cancer-related expenses. For instance, obeying parking regulations was not high on the list of priorities when my wife was driving herself to chemotherapy. Playing the cancer card with a parkade company was very effective; as a result, I was able to get her fines reduced by 50 %. Playing the cancer card was very effective in dealing with a mountain of parking tickets; however, the full ramifications of being able to play the cancer card are unbearable.
I truly miss the division of labour that comes with mad love. After almost 4 years in our new apartment, I am still struggling to keep things organized and clean. Natasha was really good at organizing, not so good at cleaning, but with her focused on organizing, cleaning for me was a lot easier. Sometimes, I just feel tired, I mean really, really tired, or as my daughter would say, “I am more tired than the whole world times a million, thousand!” As a parent with a Master’s in Education, I know there is a lot more creative stuff that I could be doing with my daughter, but I am so tired that I often just do the bare minimum, meaning what she’s supposed to do only, not the extra stuff I could be doing. If Natasha were still here, it would be so much easier to not only educate Anisha, but also to enjoy her formative years. I often find myself running around trying to put out fires with a squirt gun. “Daddy, I need help with my jacket. Daddy I ‘m hungry again! Daddy, I can’t find my other glove!” In these moments, the most wonderful word, “Daddy” becomes the most stress-inducing, frustrating word.
I hate that my grief has made it harder to appreciate my parenting experience. I wish I didn’t spend so much time just trying to get through each day. I wish it didn’t feel as though I have missed so much of Anish’s life already. I wish there were more pictures of my daughter and I together. I wish most of our pictures weren’t my daughter on her own, and taken by Daddy. I have spent so much time just trying to survive each day that I feel as though I have missed out on so much of her life already. I know that it’s a funny thing to say considering I have taken care of Anisha from day one, but there is a big difference between being a joyful parent versus being a barely surviving parent. I will never get that time back which is why I appreciate being able to be there for my daughter, even if it means having less money.
I don’t want to be the Dad who says, “I am soooo sorry sweetheart, but Daddy can’t make your soccer game because Daddy has to work.” I want to be the Daddy who IS at soccer games! And I will be!