There is no place quite like a chemotherapy clinic to put everything in perspective. True, there are many places we’d rather be than here again: we’d rather not be back in a room full of patients in blue reclining chairs hooked to IV’s full of God knows what, attended by determined nurses and doctors, and sharing knowing looks with fellow caregivers. But, this is where we find ourselves, happy to be alive and together, knowing that we are lucky and unlucky at the same time, full of hope and dread. We are alive. Cancer didn’t get enough of an ass kicking the last time, it was stupid enough to come back for more and is about to have all of known medical science and one very stubborn woman give it just the fight it came looking for.
We’ve known for a month that we were coming back, finding out on an afternoon after a morning in which we woke to discover that our home had been invaded and burglarized and 4 days before we were supposed to embark on a trip to Italy to celebrate beating cancer. All things considered, a pretty bad day. We knew we’d end up here when Teresa was kept in the hospital for 10 days shortly after, emergency surgery to clear fluid from her lungs and from around her heart. We knew while we waited for conclusive biopsy results and through another lung clearing procedure. But walking back in these doors, the ones we thought we had closed behind us a year and a half ago made it all too real.
Life was interrupted but not stopped. We are up for another good fight.
I have never completely understood the concept of acceptance until this time around. We haven’t had time to be bitter, angry, or even concerned about the things we’ve missed or the way things might have been. No time to worry about the times we would have spent together abroad, no use in being bothered about things like our great seats at a missed concert or a proposed bike trip from Miami to Key West. We’ve skipped anger and regret altogether this time; this one got our attention and it has required 100% focus. We understand that all of our plans were illusions, we have a battle to attend. No time to ask “why us?” or “why now?” We haven’t seen any purpose getting angry with ourselves, or with God, or with the HER2+ cells that have decided to come to fight again. It’s time to “work the problem” and all of our energy is about getting through this step in the journey, the rest is just small stuff. We stay present, focused, and determined.
Shock is too dramatic a word for this return bout, we sort of knew there was always this possibility, that we’d have this battle again and while we take solace in the cliche, “We got it early,” we sometimes wonder, “How early?” What does early mean anyway? We take comfort in the fact that they will be benefiting from a new drug, one that wasn’t available even 2 years ago when we first went to war. One that is creating miracles everywhere it is used. Instead of shock you get dread, a fog seems to roll in. When your wife has cancer, it hovers over you, coloring your whole day. I told my brothers that it is the third thought of the day. Sadly, at my age, the first thought is usually that I have to go to the bathroom, the second is that she is there, within reach, and then as I touch her, I remember. She has cancer again, time to go to battle.
We both feel all of the emotions you might expect, starting with fear and ending with faith. Hope is another saving grace and our love for each other and those around us is the most powerful force of all. I thank God every day for the privilege of being here to help her through each day. I have to remember that happiness is still allowed, that it is okay to find things to laugh about, and I should still go for a long and demanding bike ride. Life is still there to be enjoyed.
Gratitude is something else you hang on to, you are honestly thankful for the big things like friends, family, and miracles, and for the little things like warm blankets, nourishing food, and long slow kisses. We are grateful for each others determination and courage, for good medical insurance and for all of the caring and dedicated people we have encountered in the hospitals and doctors’ offices on this journey. We are lucky.
There are people out there who want to blame someone or something for life events like this and often they end up blaming the very person who has cancer. People wonder if our diet, our lifestyle, or if even our own thoughts somehow “attracted” cancer. In the first place, Teresa is a healthy strong woman who doesn’t smoke, barely drinks and has enough energy for any three people you are likely to meet. She is also a vegetarian, thin, and a person who makes a difference in every life she touches with her positive energy and grace. She no more attracted breast cancer than she attracted a win on one of those lotto tickets she buys every now and then. No, life happens to all of us, and all we get to control is how we respond. Teresa, as usual, has responded with grace, dignity, class, and courage. That’s who she is.
Our prognosis is good, which give us hope. Our friends and family love us, as we do each other, and we have faith that God is not finished with Teresa’s reason for her being here in the first place. So, let me tell you, the last thing you would want to be in the entire universe is an HER2+ cell living in her body. You would be doomed. In the meantime, I’ve learned to move past the third thought of the day, no longer letting it define either one of us, I have learned to go to the next thought, one that I learned in Sunday school: “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” I am blessed to be the man who gets to love her through cancer and love her for a lifetime after.
For that I will always be grateful.