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.