Close-ups

A Patient's Perspective

A Thank You to My Wife

Am Fam Physician. 2008 Sep 15;78(6):716.

Yesterday, when my wife and I were at my doctor's office to discuss what it was like to deal with my colon cancer, I left out a few things that I feel are more important than I realized. Yes, I was happy my doctor was there for me and gave me support. Yes, I wished that I had done the colonoscopy earlier to find out that I had a colon mass. (Instead, it perforated my colon and I ended up with an ostomy during emergency surgery.) The one thing I should have mentioned is my wife.

My wife has had to put up with my cranky ways over the past 24 years. It just goes to show how much she loves me. She went through more of an ordeal than I did. She was with me every day, from the beginning of visiting hours to the last minute. On my wife's 62nd birthday, I was yelling at her in the hospital because I had the bag on. I didn't even wish her a happy birthday until she asked me if I knew what day it was. All I did that day, and every other day, was think about myself.

At home, it was no better for her. When she had to change the bags and the first one wouldn't stick, she thought that she was letting me down and would start to cry. I thought that she did a much better job than the home nurses (and I told her so). If the bag broke in the middle of the night, she was there. If it leaked, she was there. All those trips to the doctor's office—she drove. She picked up my medicines. When I didn't want to see anyone because I was so depressed, she was there to make me feel better. And all the time she was doing this for me, she had to cope with her own pain alone. All I could do was think: poor, old me.

I owe my wife more than a lobster dinner here and there; I owe her for keeping me halfway sane through the cancer, the ostomy, and finally, the repair. Every step of the way, she only asked what she could do to help. I know that in most cases, it is probably the other half who goes through more suffering than the one with the problem. I just wanted to tell her how much I appreciate her.—f.s.

COMMENTARY

This patient's life was torn apart for one year after he was diagnosed with colon cancer. He had never had colon cancer screening. He presented with an acute abdomen, had emergent exploratory laparotomy, and was found to have a large mass that had perforated the colon. The patient had a partial colectomy and an ostomy. When the patient was discharged from the hospital, he did have home health care for a few days, but he probably did not receive much counseling on the psychosocial impact that this diagnosis and subsequent procedure would have on his life. The ostomy bag was an outward daily reminder of his dependence on everyone. His story reminds me that diagnosis is only half the battle. Recognizing the emotional and social issues that accompany a patient's medical illness is equally important. This patient was fortunate enough to have the support of his loving wife.

MITHILA JANAKIRAM, MD

RESOURCES

Colon cancer screening patient information handout (http://www.aafp.org/afp/2008/0401/p1003.html)

U.S. Multi-Society Task Force on Colorectal Cancer, the American Cancer Society, et al. Colonoscopy surveillance after polypectomy and colorectal cancer resection. Am Fam Physician. 2008;77(7):995–1002. (http://www.aafp.org/afp/2008/0401/p995)

Close-ups is coordinated by Caroline Wellbery, MD, associate deputy editor, with assistance from Amy Crawford-Faucher, MD, Tony Miksanek, MD, and Jo Marie Reilly, MD. Questions about this department may be sent to Dr. Wellbery at wellberc@georgetown.edu.

The editors of AFP welcome submissions for Close-ups. Guidelines for contributing to this feature can be found in the Authors' Guide at http://www.aafp.org/afp/authors.


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