Creativity Magazine

57. Life With Cancer

Posted on the 18 November 2012 by Violetmudrost @letters2gabriel

The military carries with it a sense of immediacy, even though you can find its telltale “Hurry Up and Wait” around every corner.  It’s not that the military is any more expedient than any other organization (though they do seem to act decisively, when the time comes); it’s the mentality that things need to be done now now now and if you’re not 15 minutes early to work, then you’re late, and you must be prepared to act without warning on any given situation, ready to move/deploy/basically rearrange your life to suit the military’s purpose at any time, etc.

So when it took six months for Stan’s pathology report to come back, I thought that God hated us.  When Stan was finally diagnosed and we went to see Dr. Hassan about it, I figured that he’d present us with a treatment on our first visit.  When he didn’t, I started asking myself what we’d done to deserve this waiting game.  It must have been something really wretched.

As it turns out, things were going along pretty much at a normal pace; it’s just that the mental pace of the military really messed things up for me.  At least where patience was concerned.  What was a normal timeline in the civilian world  (Dr. Hassan was not a military doctor) felt like purposeful neglect to me.  I was impatient and angry that we had to wait even longer to find a treatment for Stan.  Knowing that he had cancer and not being able to treat him was worse than not knowing what was wrong at all.

Being pregnant didn’t help.  I remember being surprised at how sick I was, feeling a sense of exhausted guilt as I slept on the couch while Dora played on the TV and Krystal was left to her own devices.  As much as I wanted to engage her, I just didn’t have the energy for it.

Stan was no better off.  For some reason, despite his cancer, he spent three hours a day in the gym, training for the EOD Spec Ops test more than ever.  He would leave for work early in the morning, come home at around dinner time, and then crash in his room, dead to the world.  I felt like it was my responsibility to carry the family, even though I was still in the ultra-fatigued first trimester of pregnancy and feeling sicker than I had with Krystal or Katrina.

Dr. Hassan had told us that finding the source of Stan’s lymphoma was important; the treatment he used would depend on that information.  I was anxious to get Stan through chemo and get it done already, but Dr. Hassan was adamant: he would not proceed with treatment until he could find a source.  So, the tissue sample from Stan’s back was sent to pathology again, and I spent my days grinding my teeth.

As for Stan, I couldn’t tell you how he felt.  He really didn’t talk about it much.  I remember the two of us having conversations about how important it was for Stan to assert himself when he went into a doctor’s office and not just say he was “fine” all the time, because the doctors weren’t going to be able to read his mind.  When he didn’t assert himself, I stepped up.  I hadn’t realized how dominant my energy was until Stan went to a military surgeon to get another tumor excised, this time above his left ear.

The surgeon let us both in his office and then asked me where my tumor was.  I was utterly shocked that he could mistake me for Stan, but I realized later that afternoon that I’d spent so much time “in charge” of Stan’s medical care that it was no wonder they thought it was me who was sick.  Still, I didn’t see what choice I had: Stan had to live, and if he was going to tell everyone that he was “just fine” when both of us knew better, then I considered it my duty to us and our growing family to make sure everyone was properly informed.

In the weeks that passed, I saw Stan diminish.  Not only physically, but in a way that seemed to shrink his presence, his humor, his determination.  He eventually came to the conclusion that the EOD program would not likely accept an applicant that had cancer, and I was afraid that if cancer didn’t kill my husband, giving up his dream would.  My raging at God and the world increased.

So here we were: no Spec Ops dream, no health, no treatment yet, no way to get stationed to another Navy base — one that actually cared about its sailors, no skinny wife, and the added responsibility of a new baby on the way.

It was about this time that I started seeing a therapist, and shortly thereafter, that Stan and I started going to marriage counseling.

The therapist that saw us both was also the one who saw me alone.  Shelly was her name, and she was a pleasure to talk to, though I’m not sure if she was best for me as far as therapists went.  As a recovering alcoholic, she had plenty of empathy and lots of wisdom, but I found little by way of helpful direction, though I know she did try.  During one appointment, I mentioned that I felt like I never had any time to rest.  She sent me home with homework — I was to stay in bed all day long, prohibited from getting up until the next day.

My first reaction was fear of burdening Stan and my second was guilt.  It was not Stan’s job to tend to Krystal and make dinner.  He worked hard enough as it was, and he was the one with cancer.  I was sick, it was true, but I wasn’t dying.  I felt it my duty to make sure Stan and Krystal got what they needed first.  Nevertheless, there was a part of me that felt relieved at the prospect of being able to lay in bed all day long.

When I told Stan about Shelly’s assignment, he was irritated.  “Yeah, okay,” he said, and then looked at me dubiously.  “Do you think it’s going to help?”

I don’t know, but you lay in bed when you get home, I thought.  Immediately, I reprimanded myself.  Shut up, Violet.  Stan has an excuse.  You’re not the one with cancer.  Suck it up.

“I think it will,” I told Stan, though I was completely unconvinced.  It was going to take more than a day for me to feel less burdened by the task of saving my family.

We planned the day for the following weekend.  It was pleasant enough in the beginning, but at around lunchtime I was itching to get out of bed, worried that I had given Stan too much work by putting him in charge of Krystal and the meals and anything else that might need doing that day.

By evening, I was hating myself for wanting so much time alone.  Stan was exhausted, and fell into bed when Krystal was down for the night.  “I hope that did it for you,” he said.

I didn’t reply.  How could I tell him how much I resented his cancer for not letting me have a normal life?  There were days that I forgot I was pregnant.  Forgot.  When I did remember, I’d hate our situation all the more.  And then I’d hate myself for begrudging Stan anything, since it wasn’t his fault that he was sick.

Marriage counseling wasn’t much better.  More like a friendly chat than a therapy session, Stan would pull up the “I’m fine” bit and I’d have no choice but to believe him, since he didn’t open up to me about what he was feeling.  If he had any big issues with our marriage, I didn’t know about it.  I figured that he went to marriage counseling as a way to get time off work.

And that’s how things went until September of 2006.  Stan would work and work-out (even after giving up his EOD dream), I would lay on the couch with Krystal and try not to feel swallowed up by my life and Stan’s possible death, sometimes I’d forget that I was pregnant, and life revolved around Stan.

No, not Stan; cancer.  Life revolved around cancer.

Slowly, subtly, the revolution was becoming a downward spiral.

© 2012

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