A Day that Shall Live In…?

December 3, 2006

This coming Thursday, December 7 marks two big events: my 16th wedding anniversary and my mom’s oncology appointment where the doctor will “decide how to move forward” based on her increasing myeloma count. Multiple myeloma, a platelet cancer I had not even heard of before February, 2005, is a particularly unkind one — no cure, no remission, just an ever-increasing and (usually) pretty rapid decline. Which is why my mom is such a miracle to begin with — the first oncologist (see complete story here in an old live journal post) had her dead and buried with nary a whimper. But she, as well as her superb NEW oncologist at the James Cancer Center, weren’t having that.

So they did aggressive chemotherapy for seven months. Yes, her hair fell out and we went wig shopping and found a wonderful woman who specializes in designing wigs for cancer patients. As my mom’s hair grew back, she graduated to wearing a “wiglet” to fill in the sparse patches. Now, 14 months after chemo, her own hair looks great. Thankfully, chemo never made her terribly ill and she got steadily better as the treatments went on. She walks without a cane or walker, she drives, she shops with her friends. The last year and a half have been nothing short of unbelievable, given how gravely ill she was and the prognosis for this cancer.

But her last bloodwork numbers indicate probable relapse, so now the discussion centers on which drug treatment to pursue next. She still feels reasonably well and her doctor has enough wisdom to know that the treatment can be as bad as the disease, so we approach the next step with trepidation, but also a degree of confidence that he will discern the best course.

It’s a strange thing for our family — having this particular monster move in for the duration. At first, in the days after the diagnosis, I thought I would die from fear and grief. I thought I would never survive this process, this waiting, this hellish limbo. I thought that I would be unable to continue the normal course of my relationships with my husband, my kids and my friends. I thought that contentment would never be a part of my psyche again.

Oddly I was wrong.

Maybe we’re all stronger than we think. My anniversary can’t pass without my remembering the joyous day of our wedding and the correspondingly hideous day six weeks later when Tim got re-activated into the army for Desert Storm. The week before he left passed in a blur of living wills and trips to Ohio State to dis-enroll him. As he pondered his mortality and ability to actually engage in that for which he had been trained, I pondered being a young widow. It was in that time before he left and while he was gone (seven weeks — one week longer than we had been married) that God gave me what I now recognize as a vision. He showed me a place where Tim and I could exist outside time, where our love was sheltered from the punishing effects of life in this world, where He held me up and kept me going. It was hard to describe to anyone — still is — but I felt as though I had a steel pole running through the center of my being and so long as I clung to that, I would be okay. Perhaps it was the first time in my life that I needed God to such a degree that my only choice, my only only hope was to hold on for dear life.

Of course the war ended and Tim came home. I knew I was lucky, and know now that I am lucky that Tim is not still in the military, that the current Iraq war is not the Iraq war to which I sent him. Just as I am lucky in my mom’s toughness and endurance that allowed her to claw her way back to a healthier place. And she and I are lucky for the many prayers offered to God on her behalf.

Don’t get me wrong: this cancer totally sucks. I love what Anne Lamott says in Traveling Mercies about grieving her best friend: “I was terribly erratic: feeling so holy and serene some moments that I was sure I was going to end up dating the Dalai Lama. Then the grief and craziness would hit again, and I would be in Broken Mind, back in the howl.” That pretty much describes the last two years of my life. I worry — about how and when it will end, about losing my mom degree by horrible degree. I worry about my father and the rest of my family. I worry that grief will wash over me like the ocean at high tide, tearing everything away in its terrible undertow. But I’ve realized that for everything you can plan for in life, you cannot pre-grieve someone you love. Because right now, my mom is still here, still herself, still pretty damn healthy, considering.

Again, I have no choice but to cling to the steel pole that feels divinely placed in my spirit. It’s one of the great paradoxes of this Christian faith that at our places of most profound weakness and inability, is exactly where God must plant his poles. I picture myself sort of like a person stranded outside during a tornado who finds something very heavy and grounded to hold. I feel the winds whipping around my body and I see the sky darkening to a strange blackish-green color. I see the clouds beginning to join and rotate and how I want to close my eyes from the image. But something in me says, “Do not be afraid. Despite yourself, do not be afraid.” Despite whatever I see on the horizon, I’ll just keep holding on.

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One Response to “A Day that Shall Live In…?”

  1. kjames said

    ack. i don’t think i knew that you guys were looking at a possible relapse. i’m sorry, that totally sucks. i love you and if you need anything, you know you can call me.

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