My name is Zane. I am a confessed workaholic, coffeeholic and a recovering family member of a cancer patient. This blog is not about my work, nor about my love for coffee but my experience with nursing my husband through his pancreatic cancer. There is much I can’t share because it belongs to my deceased husband but there is much more I can share. Some of it you may find useful. Some of it you will find a useless exercise.
Why, you could ask, would I breathe new life into memories that are better left buried in the hurtful past? The truth is that cancer is the world’s number one horror film. It never leaves your memory but surfaces when you least expect to. Sometimes, even the Artansia flooding the flower shops on mother’s day bring back not just a memory but a smile, or maybe a tear because the whole family also got Artansias making yours not so special, or maybe a غصة because the person who used to bring them has been so wronged by this horrifying disease. It never goes away because there are infinite versions of the Artansia.
But Artansias bloom in spring and are a symbol of rebirth and so we must continue living our lives as best we can, making new memories, new shared histories, and new futures.
So the reason I am digging up memories better left buried is that we all cope in different ways. This is my way of putting it to rest. Of coming to terms. Of putting out a hand to those who are nursing their loved ones through their most difficult experience and to those who are themselves facing the final curtain. If my experience gives any of you some respite, a feeling of shared histories, a shoulder, then my life would have more meaning.
Visited by an Angel
“You can do it Khalil.” “You’re doing fine.” “You’re so strong, you will beat it.” It was all my attempt to make Khalil fight and cope even though I had already read up on pancreatic cancer and knew that it was a terminal kind of cancer. By the time you discover it, it’s usually too late to medicate, unless you are among the lucky few. His doctor told us from day 1 that there was no hope. It’s all downhill from here. But for some reason, I felt I needed to encourage him, to help him fight back and have hope. I often heard that your temperament or نفسيه was a decisive factor in recovery and that the right attitude, being optimistic, fighting, would make that nightmare go away. Was it Louise Hay who actually recovered from vaginal cancer in six months through positive thinking, affirmations, and restorative nutrition? One day, though, my son told me, “Mom, I am not sure this is a good idea. You are putting too much pressure on him.”
Baffled, I asked, “pressure? How can that be? I am helping him fight back or at least to cope better.”
“But that’s not what happens,” he answered. “When you do that and they don’t get better, they feel they have failed you, let you down, disappointed you.”
OK, I thought to myself. That’s not good. My effort to make things better was actually making things worse. How was I supposed to know?
It then dawned on me that my friend Lubna Izzidin , had been through cancer in the family. I called her up hoping to get tips on the dos and don’ts of supporting a cancer patient. Little did I know that I would get much more than I had bargained for.
Lubna, and for the life of me I hadn’t thought of that when I came to ask for her advice, was also the founder of SANAD, a hospice, or more of a hand that helps not only the cancer patient but also his family in every way you can possibly imagine. But more on Lubna and SANAD later. I want my first blog post to be about Zeinab.
Zeinab is a full time nurse with SANAD. The first time I met her, I didn’t know what to expect. She was going to help us with the nursing. But Zeinab did much more. Soooooo much more. You could put your loved one in the world’s best hospital that money could buy, but it’s not the money that makes the patient feel supported, that you will hold his hand through this, that you will understand and care.
When my husband’s veins were drying up and Zeinab knew they were drying up, she would hold his arm in her lap. She would gently caress it, love it, apologize for her needing to hurt it…. And she would prick him to insert the needle. No blood would come out. She would remove the needle. Go back to caressing his arm gently, again apologizing for any hurt. Her eyes would be focused on his arm as if they were too guilty to look Khalil in the eyes. Patiently waiting, as if for the memory of the prick to go away. Again, gently, she would try again, apologetically inserting the needle. No blood. Zeinab would hide her teary eyes, not wanting Khalil to notice how disturbed she was. And she was devastated. Ten minutes later, she would try again…………….. and again, each prick costing her offending her essence to the core.
We have a beautiful house in the mountains, Sofar, Khalil’s kingdom and my piece of heaven on earth. Throughout his sickness, he tended to the garden and wanted to spend as much time he could there. But now he was hooked to an IV pole and the bags of medicine needed to be changed and the doses of medicine injected into the new bags. That was Zeinab’s job. No worries, Zeinab would drive all the way to Sofar and with an angelic smile make his time in Sofar possible, and on weekends.
“Zane, how are you holding on? Are you ok?” Her eyes hovered over me and my family as if all she did for Khalil were not enough. She would take me aside, hold my hand, look me into the eyes reaching all the way down to the bottom of my consumed soul that was disguised by a smile, and she would see. She would understand and say the magical words that would balsam my exhausted body and soul.
The same thing happened with my three children. Yes they were adults and behaving like adults so as not to add to my heavy load. But when faced with the looming loss of a parent, adulthood becomes a façade. My daughter would coordinate Khalil’s medicinal needs with Zeinab, and they would plot behind my back. Yes, she would tell my daughter things she wouldn’t tell me and built a bond with her by empowering her to take charge, because that is how my daughter copes. That’s what my daughter needed to do.
She explained things to my younger son in line with his personality and tended to his needs as she did to all of ours. As for my elder son, a doctor living in the States, she would patiently discuss what was being done, where we were at, and where we were going as she would with a doctor, but also comforting him when there was need to.
In the final days, Zeinab prepared us telling us there were phases that a dying patient goes through, what is also known as “dying trajectories”. She took us through the trajectories which are not the same for every patient. But she knew that that the end was near, for example, when his breath turned into gurgling chest sounds, an internal hubble bubble. Towards the end, Zeinab and Lubna hardly left our side. Hardly left his side, sitting in a chair next to his bed. And when his soul finally left his body, tears rolled down her cheeks. She had not only lost a patient, but she had also lost a family member for by this time, she was a part of our family that we all depended on, leaned on.
Zeinab helped us clean him up, put clean clothes on him, before we let the rest of the family back into the room to say their goodbyes. She would not have her own be seen in anything less than a respectable appearance.
The saying goes that when God closes a door, he opens another one. I say that when God puts you through unbearable suffering and pain, he sends you an angel to see you through it all. God sent Khalil Zeinab. God sent us all Zeinab and SANAD who were both our سند, because without them Khalil could not have died in the comfort of his home surrounded by his family and loved ones, and Zeinab was among the loved ones.