Hitting the Road
Mom left for Florida with Aunt Joan and my aunt’s boyfriend–Bernie. They rented a condo in Siesta Key, Florida when I was feeling much better. As they prepared to set off we understood that they would take several days to get down to Florida. Nevertheless, on the morning in question, Aunt Joan and Bernie left her home while it was dark and roads were icy. Aunt Joan fell on her own driveway and still departed early. We waved Mom off and prayed she would be safe.
Kathy and I stayed behind. She made a trip to Costco and returned with countless single-servings of fruit, soup, applesauce, and similar items. She cooked meals. She kept my water glass filled. She covered me with blankets. She watched the clock to keep my meds on schedule. She screened calls and kept family and friends updated. I am not used to so much attention.
There have been days when I was in terrible pain. I have writhed on the couch as I tried to pass a large blood clot. Kathy has stroked my head or held my hand. She has taken out her rosary and prayed for me to be relieved of pain. She has tossed an extra blanket over me. She has prepared lunches and dinners. It was the end of a month and a year and she was far from home, but she juggled work and nursing. She called on her husband and children to help her make this work and they answered her call.
Barb was my first visitor. She was feeling bad for having left town for Christmas week. Barb has been a wonderful friend. I never expected her to miss spending her first Christmas without her mom with family. Sue, my high school debate partner, came by with an armful of flowers. She had us laughing over stories from her family. Dominique and her husband Pete came by with colloidial minerals, calcium, and probiotic enzymes. My mom’s friend Maggie called to tell us she was going to be calling us to check on us. We’re in our fifties. We laughed, but she has called again to check on us! Lisa came over one evening and we shared dinner and family news.
In between brief visits and calls I try to sleep. Sometimes I sleep ten minutes, try to urinate for ten minutes, and cry for ten minutes. There have been days when I slept a total of two hours. I find myself seated on the couch, balancing on a my burning posterior. I have nearly fallen while walking across a room because I am exhausted. I need a tug sometimes to rise from a too-low soafa or toilet. I sometimes ride in the backseat, like Miss Daisy, as my sister drives me to my classes. I have fallen asleep in the middle of a conversation with Kathy. My sister has been so patient that I will never be able to match her generosity. I pray that she never has such suffering in her life. Let me be the only one who must physically bear this suffering.
As the new year–2012–rolled into town, Kathy and I slept on opposite sides of Mom’s den couch. We nodded and closed our eyes. As I drifted in a sea of pain and exhaustion I was grateful for my siblings. If I am a cancer survivor, then my siblings may be the people I know best in my life. I will know them longer than my ex-spouse and any of my wonderful friends. I may not have chosen my siblings, but I could not have chosen better than Kathy and Danny.
Life has set us on a road through illness, stress, and shared laughter. My siblings did not have to walk this road with me, but they have chosen to do. When I am buoyed up by their kindness, their laughter, and their strength I am stronger. The power of our shared experience is so much more than the sum of our individual strengths.
Last night, as I hovered between sleep and pain, I prayed that anyone who had to face cancer would find in his or her family and friends at least one person like the team that surrounds me. Even cancer can be eclipsed by the power of love. The weakest among us can survive a little longer on the strength of such love. The caregivers give so generously. Their generosity may never be acknowledged. They may give until they hurt. But they are heroes and heroines. Each brings super powers to the battle. I pray today for these road warriors, that they receive what they give in even greater measure. I pray that they get their sleep tonight and a good meal tomorrow and a hug and a kiss every time they open their eyes. An email, a letter, a call, a visit, these may seem to be small gifts, but the greatest gifts can arrive in small packsges.
The people who make my suffering lighter lift it from my shoulders a little at a time. I thank God every day for bringing them into my life. I thank them for staying with all my heart. I trust they will let me help them if they ever need my support.