A new outlook

The literature of cancer survival is replete with stories of the choices both survivor and caregivers must make about their view of life going forward. Some choices are grim: based on fear, anger, and alienation. Others see their lives changed in a different, more positive way.

Leslie Look has had 32 years to understand husband Chris’s personality and believes he — and she — have chosen the latter. “This has definitely brought us closer,” she said in an interview at her Edgartown home last week. “It’s a tough way to do it, certainly. But I see him communicating much more openly.

“He’s able to have conversations he would defer in the past, things he didn’t want to talk about. We’re thinking about each other’s needs. We get angry with each other, sure, but it only lasts a couple of minutes. Our conversation will start in the old way but end in a new, calmer, way. We listen better to each other. Try to work to a solution we both feel good about.

“You know, I think sometimes we have to act ‘as if’ — as if life is the way you’d like it to be. That takes practice to become real. I’ll realize that he’s not feeling well or he’ll realize that I’m also taking care of my mom who has substantive health issues.

“He’s more aware of old behaviors, more sensitive to that as a result of having cancer. He’s knows there is more going on around him than his cancer experience. So he gets out of fear and his real personality comes out. He’s a sweet person. And that helps me get through the effects of pain and medication on him.

“Chris is changed. He is trying to take care of himself. I’ve been worried about him not taking care of himself for years. I make suggestions to him, but I don’t coddle or do tough love. I think he’s ready to get healthy.”

Ms. Look says that self-care for caregivers is also critical. “You won’t make it through if you don’t,” she said. “That’s where friends and family come in. My sister Sara (Alwardt) is my best friend.”

Ms. Look is also a strong believer in the benefits of the Cancer Support Group which meets on Wednesdays at noon at the Hebrew Center in Vineyard Haven.

And she’s instituted a regular Girls Night Out. “We don’t actually go out,” she said. “We meet here and have a fun evening. Sometimes five women, sometimes 20. We’re on for tonight. I don’t have food prepared or the new faucet installed yet, but we’re going to have a party anyway.”

After seven difficult years, Ms. Look said, “I see light at the end of the tunnel. I just want my husband back.”