My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it. - Mark Twain
A few years ago I did a 100 mile bike ride with my family. Mine was an ill-conceived plan. I was in shape to do about 50 miles, and 100 - 50 is still a big number. The last 40 miles were rough. Miles 80 to 100 were ridiculous. At the beginning of the ride I was focused; I was chipper; there was a plan. My brother had a pig squeaky toy attached to his handlebars. We rode in a line, and every 2 minutes the little pig oinked, and it was time for the leader to move to the back of the line and the next person took over the hardest, front position. By mile 80, I was done. I didn't want to ride in a line. I didn't want to hydrate. I didn't want energy chews. All I wanted was to get myself and my bike to the end of that godforsaken race. When we found out at mile 90 that the route was 102 miles instead of 100, I nearly cried.
Friends, that's where we are in chemo. It's been fifteen months, and we're weary - limping to the finish line. The whole thing feels ridiculous and beyond endurance. We're at the hospital for another round of chemo today. It feels like we're a couple of washed out Vegas performers running through the same sad, tired act we should have quit years ago. Chris stoicly verified his medical information and accepted the medicine that's definitely going to make him feel crappy but will hopefully (we're staking months of our lives on it) make any subversive cancer cells feel crappier. I had the same worn out conversations with the nurse and pharmacist that, I'm sure, annoyed the hell out of them but also established me as a person less irritating to placate than ignore. There's always a moment before I speak to them when I think, "You know, most people really do like me, but you're not going to be one of them. I'm going to be that person you complain about tonight when you complain to whoever it is you complain to, but sustained nagging is the only way I've found to walk out of this hospital today with what we need," and then I begin my unremitting attack like that Komodo dragon with poison teeth on Planet Earth who bites an elephant, infecting him, then relentlessly follows him for weeks, refusing to let him lay down or stop to drink until the exhasuted beast just voluntarily lays down in some kind of aggravated suicide. It's not that the Komodo dragon is cruel, it's just hard to kill an elephant.
There were holy moments today too, but those tend to happen when we're alone. Chris with his hand on my leg in the car on the way here because he could see I'm struggling today. And friends, that's what love is - comforting your wife on the day you have chemo. We usually listen to NPR in the car, but this morning's program was "The Way We Die" so I plugged in my iPhone and hit shuffle to hear Jars of Clay sing,
On Jordan's stormy banks I stand and cast a wishful eye to Canaan's fair and happy land where my possessions lie. I am bound. I am bound. I am bound for the promised land.
And I laughed at the irony and beauty and we sang along. In our room I told the same comfortable old jokes about how things are harder on the caregiver than the patient - especially the nausea and needles. Then we negotiated the lighting situation. Chris prefers absolutely no light. I feel like the dark shrinks my soul and probably his too, he's just not emotionally aware enough to feel it. He threatened to call my mom. I rolled my eyes and gave in. Then he fell asleep, and the sadness started to creep up on me again, so I took out my Bible and read my cancer psalm. And when I got to this part,
You give me your shield of victory and your right hand sustains me.
I remembered my sons' piano recital. A few times, a student would lose their way in the middle of their piece. The teacher, a lovely, kind-hearted elderly woman, would sit beside them on the bench, place her right hand on their back and whisper words of instruction and encouragement, and the child was able to continue.
So, I'm not finished with my song and I'm stumbling, but his right hand sustains me.
Guys, there are scenes from cancer that would break your heart: Chris sitting at the window watching the other men play basketball with our sons and nephews. There are so many things he may not be able to do again - basketball, skiing, hiking (also bowling and roller skating, but he's reconciled himself to those losses). So when the men of my family organized a trip to take David and Chris on their first hunt, I was... verklempt.
They had such an amazing time. My dad, my uncles, one of my brothers, my cousin and nephews were all there. There were weapons, rude noises, lots of red meat, and, apparently, with no moms in the picture, unlimited cookies. David and Chris each shot their first deer. David got a couple of wild hogs, too. Evidently, Chris is an excellent shot with a pistol. David came home bragging on his dad's prowess with a gun. They both came home refreshed, freer. It was like they got to check out of cancer-land for a weekend, and something unseeable loosened its grip on Chris.
I know there's no crying in deer hunting, but to see my husband and son doing something manly, something they've always wanted to do, that has nothing to do with cancer, was so overwhelmingly good - real-life-good not cancer-good* - that I'm afraid I cried. I felt like I needed Tom Hanks to yell at me.
Are you crying? Are you crying? ARE YOU CRYING? There's no crying! THERE'S NO CRYING IN HUNTING!
Men come alongside one another in a way that's beautiful and foreign to me. It often seems to look like standing together and defiantly doing normal stuff in the face of terrible circumstances.
Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galations 6:2
*Cancer-good is best described by example: "You only have to wait 30 minutes to start the medicine that makes you feel like you have ebola."
Bryan: To get the full amount, you have to do something like take me to Disney World and Chuck E Cheese.
Me: Seriously?!? The pool, video games and cookies, and that's all I get?
Bryan: (sympathetic but with a hint of condescension) Yeah, but spinach.
Me: Did I get so many because I showed you Jupiter and the moon?
Bryan: Yeah. But you could have got more if I could have also watched Amazing Race. Like maybe next time you could plan better and serve dinner earlier and we could watch Amazing Race and do the telescope.
Okay guys. I've been waiting for something really inspired or witty to come to me but have finally realized that I've just gotten out of the habit of blogging and I need to lower the bar for myself. So this is me tugging on my blogging shoes and limping through my first post-holiday blog.
Chris is doing well... not real-life-good but cancer-good. He did a cycle after Thanksgiving and it was okay. There weren't any of the horrible side effects we dealt with in the fall. He didn't even have to take the meds that give him crazy drug eyes. We expected that he'd have to be on chemo over Christmas, but given his record of not responding to chemo the way anyone expects, his doctor didn't want to foist him off on a colleague over Christmas. So, everyone (especially the boys) was thrilled to get Chris for Christmas. It was a wonderful imperfectly perfect holiday with a mish-mash of holy moments and just enough reality to keep me from getting insufferably satisfied with myself. There was a Sunday evening service when, during a carol, I looked over and saw Jacob asleep on Chris' shoulder. The sight of all those boys I love sitting together in church made my soul happy. Really, I should look at them all in dim lighting with soulful music in the background more often. We delivered cookies at the hospital on Christmas Eve, and my favorite barista - the one who always gives me the employee discount, was working, and I was able to thank her for making the coffee that brought me so much comfort over the past year.
But then, those holy moments only come in snatches. I got the Christmas Eve service time wrong, so we were late and had to sit in the lobby. One of the boys told me that in the future he'd rather not deliver cookies at the hospital because it's really not that fun. Two of them fought over who got to hand the cookies to the security guard. The winner of that debate got his in the end, though. The security guard was a gregarious and affectionate woman who insisted on giving him a big hug. Rand dropped a full glass of water on my toe on Christmas. It hurt so bad I had to leave the room to keep from cussing at him. I was sure it was broken. I thought about swiping some of Chris' serious drugs. I whined. A lot. By the next morning it was clear I was fine.
Chris: How's your toe?
Me: Fine. How's your cancer?
Wow. That's a lot of words and we're not even caught up yet. I'm going to pick up the pace. Chris did another round of chemo about a week and a half ago. It was okay. It's still chemo, but it's punch you in the gut and let you recover kind of chemo, not punch you in the gut, kick you in both shins, stomp on your face and then pull out your teeth on the way to the hospital kind of chemo.
Overall, Household H is doing okay. It's starting to feel like this chemo road may have an end at some point.
It's hard to find Christmas crafts for boys. A friend sent this awesome option. It's cool, and it works. All you need is a printer, paper, scissors and an exacto knife. Be sure and watch the video on how to fold.