Today we are venturing out on the next (and hopefully final) leg of this cancer saga. We are headed to that great Cancer Mecca, MD Anderson for the last part of his treatment. The main focus of this trip is for Kevin to receive a very short-course of focused radiation. It’s the proverbial icing on the cake, that is, if cancer treatment was cake. Cancer treatment is not cake, unless the cake is made of cow $hit, pureed animal intestines, and sprinkled with fish scales and the hair of a mangy dog.
For those of you reading this, who have not had the need to seek refuge and recovery from a cancer diagnosis at an institution like MDA, it is a wellspring of human sentiments. Around every corner, sitting at the tables in the cafeteria, riding shoulder-to-shoulder in elevators are thousands of individual souls, each trying to keep his/her head above water as they tread in the sea of uncertainty. It’s a place where emotions run rough-shot over those seeking asylum from disease—emotions ranging from joy to despair. It is a perpetual experiment of human spirit, resilience, and hope.
The dictionary defines the word Labile as: of or characterized by emotions that are easily aroused or freely expressed, and that tend to alter quickly and spontaneously; emotionally unstable. Well, that certainly sums up my psychological state the last few months. Being 100% authentic, my feelings are less about the wide swing in extremes and this is the most difficult part to convey, but I have been experiencing emotional soup. My heart and head have been a bubbling caldron of chaos. It is so hard to be the owner of so many conflicting emotions. I struggle to sort them, categorize them, tuck them away out of sight, cage them, embrace them, dodge them and deny them. Most days, I can’t even define them.
Riding shotgun to Kevin during this season of cancer recurrence has given me a glimpse of all the ways that this disease creates an emotive Armageddon for those in its clutches, as well as those on the fringes. I have been a witness to him experiencing disappointment, anger, pain, anxiety, hope, gratitude, relief, sadness, hope, fatigue, love, frustration, and everything in between. I have made every attempt to magnify the good and soften the edges of the pain and hurt. It is a big job and one that I have not learned to navigate with any degree of success. Sometimes, there just isn’t anything I can do to make it better, other than just be present and that is so far from enough.
The surgery and subsequent recovery have been a lot heavier than he was expecting, but he is making great strides. He has shed the feeding tubes, drains, and doppler implants. He is eating soft foods and he is able to manage his pain for longer periods. Getting comfortable at night is still a struggle and some nights are better than others. Some days are better than others. Some moments are better than others. Those with cancer are deemed to be warriors. Warriors aren’t warriors because they are immune from pain, worry, fatigue and fear. Warriors are warriors because they feel pain, worry, fatigue and fear and they choose to keep marching forward.
As the distance between where we are and where we are headed shrinks, I have to prepare my heart. I am not a warrior. I am constantly trying to reconcile how I can be feeling blessed and cursed at the same time. How is it possible that I feel hopefulness and despair simultaneously? Why is it that I can talk myself into a genuinely positive peacefulness, while fear and worry have a death grip on my innards? How does my logical mind entertain that there is some flaw in my character or life choices that has caused this calamity on one so underserving? Was I not grateful enough for the healing the first time around? Did he get one toe over the five-year mark and I exhaled too quickly? Is all of this a result of my complacency? I understand the utter absurdity of this line of thinking, but applying logic to the thoughts that pop into my brain like one would apply a known solution to mathematical equation is not how I am wired. It is more like an on-going game of Whack-A-Mole in my brain.
I may be bobbing around in my emotional soup, but I am fully aware of the certainties that punctuate this story.
- The friends, family, and community who have come together to support Kevin is phenomenal. We see those walking this journey alone and we have, not even for one moment, been alone.
- A friend sent me the book Jesus Calling. A friend knows when I am needing Jesus. Jesus also knows that when I let his calls go to voicemail, I am most likely in a heated game of brain Whack-A-Mole. Jesus gets me.
- Kevin is all kinds of good. Cancer is a lot of things, but fair isn’t one of them.
The day at the hospital that was particularly difficult for Kevin was when they were doing the preparations for the upcoming radiation. All the steps that he had went through before brought to the surface some severe apprehension and anxiety. He was suffering physical and psychological pain and it was nearly unbearable to be a bystander to this level of turmoil. His spirit was frayed and I felt helpless in every way imaginable. He reluctantly admitted that he was feeling really down (my Good Lord who wouldn’t be)? As one who has to have my serotonin chemically enhanced, I offered up the only thing in my arsenal:
Me: Kevin, if you are feeling depressed you can try some of my Prozac.
Kevin: My God, woman, I said I was feeling a little down, I am not a flippin’ psycho.
He was frayed, but not broken!! We both belly-laughed at the sheer truth to his humor. We are quite a pair, the Giant Warrior his Little Psycho…imperfectly navigating this the only way we know how…together.