I do not claim to have developed an airtight business plan
for this dream.
It was a dream, and it came from my root
although up in the air, before you, it has proved to be so fragile.
It wanted nourishment, encouragement,
A chance to live and grow.
I see now I should be thankful for those strong blasts of hot air,
If they have strengthened stems,
the lack of light, at first, that made it reach higher,
and your shit, that turned out to be
rather rich after all.
Early Runner introduced herself to me when I was a newlywed just moved in to the neighborhood, as she was a friend of the family too. My husband and I were starting our married life sharing the home of my newly widowed mother-in-law, who had known Early Runner way back, such a nice girl, and so devoted as she had cared for her mom while she suffered her last years with a terminal brain tumor.
I liked her right away, and was pleased to have a new friend, and as she was outgoing, approachable, and genuinely interested in a friendship, she made me feel very welcome in my new country, new life, new church (which she also attended).
We visited from time to time, I admired but was not able to follow her example of 6 a.m. runs, let her two daughters play with my first baby boy, and had coffee from time to time. My husband and I moved about a year after the birth of our boy to a town a half hour north and connected with a whole new community, and Early Runner and I would only hear each other’s news through the grape vine and occasionally visit. Her marriage was not well. I was absorbed in rearing several more children, and life went on without our connecting much.
Ten years ago we met again at the family cottage of a different mutual friend, this time another friend of the family, and a home town connection with Early Runner, with whom I’d connected over being neighbors in our new town, homeschoolers, and moms of four kids each about the same age. She had a new love, and a new son the same age as my youngest, but we didn’t have much time to visit. Then off we went overseas and lost touch.
A few weeks ago she heard from my family about my husband’s diagnosis (she’s known him since grade school), and reached out to see if she could drop by and give me a hug. We arranged to meet for a walk and visit, and I have just come back feeling that I have remade a new friend. Turns out we have more in common than we had realized, and not just the experience of caring for a terminally ill loved one. She is in town for a local writer’s conference, which I was planning to attend until our lives shifted this winter. She writes poetry and wants to blog to develop a more public expression, has no desire to go to Disneyland ever again and thinks it’s strange and fake, and finds evangelical Christians too simplistic and judgmental, yet retains some faith and desire to hear from God in a real way. She has written and shared about plans for her own funeral as I have, and has struggled with retaining a sense of independent identity in a committed marriage and with the Christian stereotypes about a woman’s place in marriage, as I have.
We drank wine, forgot about ordering and then eating our food while we caught up, shared dreams, and asked questions. She wants to go with me to the annual poetry retreat I’ve been hoping to attend for the third time, and we have a plan for main conversation topic next time we get together. I was hoping for just such a friend, so it’s been a good day.
The dental assistant has agreed to work me in, though I arrived, apparently, on the wrong day at the wrong time. As she sets up, I wonder if she’ll be frustrated to see me again over the same night guard, and I’m rehearsing my very amiable and kind, with a touch of convincing, cheerful assertiveness, night guard story. At the counter a man is wrapping up his payment and scheduling his next appointment. He answers the assistant’s query about the earlier conversation they’d had, “Yes, he’d flown over the ocean many times, but wanted to cross it in a boat.” Not boasting, just mentioning it, as it had apparently come up during the chat while the numbing took effect. Maybe in answer to, “Doing anything special this summer?” To which I could have said, if asked, “Yes, as a matter of fact, I’m helping my husband as he dies.”
I sat still in the waiting area, no desire to read or be busy on my phone, or peruse People magazine or Architectural Digest, I thought how I felt like sailing off with him. Sounded like he was on his own–newly retired or widowed? He was in his late seventies, I would say, so not an age-mate, but I liked his mind. And I watched mine, as, again, it went on these forays away from my current life. Not the first unfaithful thought I have had, but equally far-fetched.
The people who are praying for and with my husband, bless their hearts, seem to believe that sickness and disease are against the created order, a manifestation of the Fall. None of our friends, and not many of our acquaintances, are prosperity gospel types, looking automatically for moral failures and faith deficits in the sick — my husband is doing that task himself — not as a way to cast out the demons of sickness, but as a response to the reminder of the limit on the days of his life, and as part of the physical cleansing and peacemaking one must do to support wholeness. Of course he wants to live –and of course I want him to. I am waiting for a miracle too, and his faith is helping us all to stay brave and cheerful. I want him to go on growing along with us, so he can accompany our children into and through their adult lives. But neither of us really believes that cancer is evil. It is testing by fire, but if the fire eventually burns you up, well, it is fire, and we are combustible.
One of our cancer recovery books has a quote that says runaway cancer cells are simply response to starvation of the right nutrients and the long term barrage of harmful substances from our diets, environments, and emotional chemistry. The starved cells can’t help but go out of control, and unless we prevent that, or deal with it over the several months it takes for healthy tissues to regenerate, cancer takes hold. We’re hopeful that his body can recover, at least come away from the edge that seems so close, and alleviate symptoms, but perhaps, if there’s time to repair the damage, full recovery. Chemo can’t do that for pancreatic cancer.
Then there’s the other part of my brain, that acknowledges that the data says three to six months, without chemo, a year to a year and a half with, and no cure, and no recommended end to chemo. Five year life expectancy, 1 to 2%. Deadline, lifeline, both at once.
One MUST believe in healing, because one can, and it makes life better. Yet one must make preparations, as if, well, we had to to do these things anyway–paperwork and such, so why not now, even if we both have decades ahead of us after all. For the children’s sake.
A friend, sleepless because of thinking of us, found a podcast by Kate Bowler (Faith, Cancer, and Living Scan to Scan), and bought me the book, Everything Happens For A Reason (And Other Lies I’ve Loved); I loved the title, and the book was good. I think I would like her, if I met her, especially her wry Canadian sense of humor.
One of the things she said was “I did feel like cancer was the key that opened up this whole other reality…you notice things…like I was cracked open and I could see everything for the first time.” That’s where my husband is, most of the time, and I have a glimpse of that. But certain things are still very hard. Some of them are the same things as ever, which is disappointing. My tears last night were about that — how much of our time so far has been spent not being friends, either by default or by active relational dysfunction and poor communication. Now, when I need to be an even better friend, and need an even better friend, the pressure’s a little much, sometimes.
I feel so privileged to be a teacher. This going through cancer in the family has made me feel that even more deeply. Yes, I wish I could quit and spend more time with my husband and children, have more quiet for my soul, more time to write and work in the garden. Especially since my husband is starting to get me better and wants to take more part in what he calls my special spirituality. Which is less about going up front to ask for prayer, and more about taking deep breaths as the sun rises, stopping at thickets full of chickadees, and growing seedlings. He said he’ll let me teach him how to start the different types of seeds in pots tomorrow. I loved being a house mom/wife. But what I do at work is very, very special in terms of what is possible, what might happen, how I and my colleagues might affect some young people. We get to find ways to communicate that they matter, that there’s hope, that if they want to, they can. All in the guise of teaching math and science.
One of my favorite times, as I have said before, is the twice-a-week morning homework help drop-in, two and a quarter hours long. More students are coming now, for the math, yes, but that is definitely not the whole deal. There’s something going on I can’t put my finger on, a dynamic that connects from person to person as one gets a problem, another gets stuck, someone jokingly teases another, another one brings up something unrelated to the math, but important to life.
One girl might, just might, be starting to see her self-defeating attitude for what it is. Another might, just might, believe that even though Geometry continues to be extremely difficult for her, all the extra work she puts in is making her mind stronger and more capable. Another might, just might, believe that there’s hope for a young farmer and a good life that builds up the soil, meets new market demands, and is sustainable, and that the most important quality about a man is not the power of his truck. That one is still a longer shot, but today I saw a certain openness in his eyes.
I think I might need to shift the tables around, though, There’s this one section where everyone sits together, and a few newer attendees sit apart and alone. I need to get a new zone going, a branch of the community. The two new girls will learn to ask for help, I hope, not just wait shyly until I come over to see how it’s going. I want them to connect with each other –both are still on the edge of that, for different reasons.
As I consider what the role of teachers is in preventing violence such as the recent Florida school shooting, I think that part of it, for sure, is to simply be kind–deeply kind, not just professionally courteous and friendly, but to communicate the “I see you” that can help heal those ragged edges. I think of two of our students–both obese, academically passive, socially awkward, and obsessed with guns. They are lucky–we are lucky, and who who knows who else will be lucky–that at our school, they will not fall between the cracks and end up bent out of shape by the system–not if we can help it. My lead teacher is a real inspiration there–as problems seem unsolvable, she just ups the commitment, ups the connection, ups the support, sometimes making up for what a dysfunctional family doesn’t even know is missing in terms of parenting.
I think about how nice it would be to have fewer preps and work closer to home, but today our whole staff came in to my room an hour and a half after quitting time just to say they were all rooting for me and my husband, that we’d be in their prayers, and to let them know if there was anything I needed. Gave me a card full of sweet words and several hefty grocery store gift cards so I could buy the special foods my husband can eat. I’m at the right place, that’s for sure.
Never had so much prayer goin’ down around here before, and I say Bring it on! Whatever prayer is, whether objective truth or pragmatic placebo, I don’t care. I’m leaving behind my Truth filter, for this part of my life at least, and saying, whatever works, and I don’t care how or why.
My husband has been diagnosed with stage four cancer.
A long time ago I started writing a post called An Idol Demands a Sacrifice, about my husband’s addiction to chewing tobacco, which had its roots in football culture of the ’80s. I went though anger, trying to pressure him, then letting go and distancing myself. Then I was relieved that he quit, then came new disappointment and anger when he started again. Anger at his brother for leading him into temptation. There was a good deal of fear back when the kids were younger, as he had no life insurance, no job security, and, most of the time, we didn’t have much in savings. I was substituting, coming back into teaching after fifteen years of homeschooling our children.
His dad died in his fifties of esophageal cancer complications (lots f prayer healed the cancer, but not the perforated esophagus that resulted from radiation and bungling).
Two months ago he quit, and he knew it was for good, and no more excuses. A month and a half ago he decided to do an herbal detox, and soon started feeling stomach pain along with the cleansing. Thought it was just a reaction, or maybe the flu, which was going round. He quit the detox, still had pain, and we decided h should get checked. Blood tests came back normal, but internal scans did not.
This time my anger didn’t last long–I’ve learned to let go of it, along with worry and fear. I know how to let go, and detach from intense emotions. I kept the anger to myself except to confide in a friend, who totally got it, and said now she was mad at him too. But I’m done with it now, and good riddance. By the time I shared the preliminary news with my daughter, I had to explain my calmness so she wouldn’t think I was unfeeling.
The cancer either originated in the stomach or the pancreas, but fortunately (or unfortunately, as it led to it being missed until advanced), relatively low pain, for that kind of cancer. It’s been a week or so of appointments, and there are a few biopsy results to come in, but we saw the endoscopy photos and CT scan images, and we can be 99% sure. It’s off to oncology to look at options next week. Medical options appear to be few and too awful to bother with. We’re not that desperate.
Still, we’re inviting anyone and everyone to pray for us. All my wonderful believing colleagues and my husband’s family have been bending the knee on our behalf. Last week a Catholic priest engaged in the sacrament with my husband, who has no denominational, or even major religious category, hangups. This morning an old Bible study friend and his son, both now known for a gift of healing, and several other prayer warriors, some we’d never met, gathered around my husband for a laying on of hands, and even a bit of babbling and grunting sounds that apparently come from the Spirit. One of the women prayed for me generally, and claimed an annointing for me, but darned if I can’t remember which one. Must ask my other friend of many years, who was there too shedding tears with me, if she recalls. Or maybe just wait for a manifestation. Don’t mind if I do.
This evening there turned out to be a multi-denominational healing prayer service, so my husband went there too, and people prayed in all kinds of languages, one declared that he’ll live to a hundred.
We hold all possibilities with open minds.When he came home from the prayer meeting, I suggested we write down all the prayer times and special words, prophesies, or occurances, so we can track progress and share the story. I said, I don’t even know what prayer is, and I don’t really care, becasue I know its the right direction. He smiled and agreed. You know, I added, I’m not into all the shaking and weird sounds — I don’t get that, never will–it’s not my personality. I hope no one will judge me as unspiritual for that, and I hope I won’t judge anyone for being more of a Pentecostal type. I’m just more of a Presbyterian, I guess. Though I do like to pull in the other direction of any majority I’m among, I must say. I don’t like getting worked up or manipulated into some kind of meditative state, though I recognize the value of that sort of leadership, I guess, for certain personalities.
We are also strengthening my husband’s immune system in every way we know how, with advice coming in from all angles. My husband has declared over and again that I was right all along about nutrition, and is glad that his radical turnabout has been pretty smooth for us all, since I had the kale and cabbage in the garden, a freezer full of antioxidant rich home grown berries, and knew how to make dandelion coffee and identify cancer-fighting weeds growing in abundance even in the winter. The additional learning I had to do for my How Not to Starve class is a bonus.
And my husband is finally laughing at my lame humor. Yesterday morning, I came out in the morning to find my husband in tears of joy, and he shared what he had heard from God, and the sense of love he felt. Then he said he wanted to do some more juicing. “I want to drink a cabbage, he said.
“Is that what God told you?” I asked. He started to shake with laughter, held in, because his stomach was sore, but went on and on, as I joined him. Kind of a Monty Python style, like the shrubbery skit (Nights of Nih) “You must drink….a..cabbage!”
We’re pretty sure my husband’s cancer will have to slow down, at least. All that love, peace, humor, and good nutrition will have its effect. And we’re pretty sure we don’t want him to do any radiation or chemo, which may attack the cancer, but also attacks any sort of physical comfortableness and placebo effect that one needs to feel half decent and heal. Prayer, love, laughter, and good food have no drawbacks at all as far as we can tell.
Just get there, she said.
Any adequate means of transportation will do.
The wind might blow though the windshield, bugs splatter,
and wheels rattle,
you might have to swerve to miss a deer,
then run over a possum.
But if you get there,
You can have the picnic.
Take out the platitudes, piled high,
Say, it was all meant to be,
Footsteps in the sand.
Or, was it pedal to the metal
and three sheets to the wind?