In a very real sense, living alongside someone with a serious illness feels like an echo of pregnancy,
Just with the potential of an outcome that is the antithesis of pregnancy.
Having lived through and around pregnancy, it is the only physical comparison I have to use for a changing body, a body that morphs because of and to accommodate the presence of something internal.
This makes sense to me because my dad has cancer,
and he’s the one with the morphing body.
Things were at a critical point a few weeks ago, with dad in the hospital and full diagnosis still pending.
Now we have the diagnosis, and while it is helpful to know what we’re dealing with (I say ‘we’ as if I am somehow able to help carry the burden he now has, as if the people who love him can do anything about the physical impact the cancer or the treatment have on him), I’m finding that I don’t have the capacity to fully hold in my head the severity of the situation.
He’s doing better.
He’s back at home.
His speech is clearer (he had a stroke and was hospitalized during that critical period).
The things that were causing him physical pain have ebbed.
It is easy to pretend everything is back to normal.
I’m a big fan of the way things were before this all started up. I’d prefer to go back there.
As with all of us, we don’t know what will happen to Dad. Will the chemo work? Will it work enough that the tumors in his lungs, lymph nodes and shoulder will go away entirely? Will we have him with us in five years? In two years? According to the doctors, the chances decrease as more time passes.
On a different scale, that’s true for all of us, serious illness or not.
Now we wait.
We take internal inventories, monitor what our hearts and bodies crave and take special care with each other. It feels like that period after the baby’s been delivered and we’re just starting to remember we can once again do the things we did pre-pregnancy. There’s a collective sigh in my family because we’re through the immediacy of the initial run of hospitalization and meeting with doctors.
I feel like I go through days holding my breath, waiting for an undetermined signal that may never come, the signal that indicates it is safe to relax, safe to unclench my jaw and my heart.
Is the signal the fact that my dad can get around their tiny house without help from a cane or someone’s arm?
Is the signal that Dad and Mom are planning, with doctor’s permission, to go back down to Costa Rica in a couple weeks?
The reality is that there isn’t a signal, and not one person can offer us one. We’re stuck taking things day by day, living in the unknown, trying to be positive but realistic, preparing for the worst but hoping for the best. There are moments, full days even, when I forget the illness and its severity. I have that luxury because I don’t live with my parents, don’t have to administer the medicines his body requires multiple times every day, don’t help with the chores of daily living and monthly trips to get chemo. I don’t see everyday the way my dad’s clothes look baggy on him, as if he lost his luggage and had to borrow them from a friend in a pinch.
I can live with a lot of mystery.
I don’t want God to be explainable —
I want there to be supernatural, divine moments when no scientific device can detect or dissect what just happened.
Living in this unknown, however, is different. It doesn’t feel like a holy mystery. It’s not something I enter into with reverence and positive expectancy.
This current unknown is full of life-threatening danger, slow decline and potential devastation.
For a while, I was in a state of constant fight-or-flight. I snapped at my family, exploded over piles of clothes on the floor, cried because a thought of illness entered my head. I stockpiled instant dinners and travel snacks, and kept my physical and emotional overnight bag at the ready. For instant reaction, I was your gal. The rational, nuanced part of my brain was shut down by something more primal, more reactive. Time passed unnoticed, sounds were muted, every movement required triple the effort.
Now the unknown continues, a slow march towards an unclear destination.
We’ve returned to the familiarity and comfort of our routines, except they’re all laced with added weight, the way some cloth is now laced with copper. There’s a feeling of negative expectancy, a bracing for the next hard thing, an assumption, maybe in self-protection, that the unknown will probably not be something welcome. It’s like being on guard for a cat to pounce.
Will the cat of cancer merely bat Dad around, like him a few times, toss him in the air but get bored and move on?
How long can one live in this state of heightened awareness, the shadow lurking around the edges?
Is it possible that this is our new normal?
I’m sorry this is so all over the place. It is as erratic as I feel some days. If you’ve got advice or resources for handling illness or stress, please feel free to share. We are all stronger together.