Last night my husband and I were watching that new Tony Robbins series on NBC. The episode featured Tony helping a couple break out of their ruts: at their wedding reception in Mexico, the exuberant groom had dived into the shallow pool to swim over to where his wife and her friends were dancing, and broken his neck. Quadriplegic since that day, they had ceased to be newlywed husband-and-wife, and become nurse-and-patient. During the course of the show, Tony had the excited husband and terrified wife skydiving over Fiji to show them that there’s no limit to what a paraplegic can accomplish but his imagination. (It was a pretty great show, and I’m a cynic. But I dig transformations. Jillian’s my homegal.)
At one point Mr. Wonderful and I were talking about the wife and the role she’d settled into, and how she was paralyzed herself by her fear of losing her husband altogether, her sense of injustice at having to suffer through a life so different than the one she’d imagined. In mid-sentence, Mr. W started to well up, and as I grabbed his hand, he broke down. He said he was remembering the night of my first surgery, and how he’d been feeling all the same things: angry with the doctors; helpless at my illness; terrified of our new future and what it would bring; sad for me and what I would have to go through.
After a long hug, we moved on, but I realized that in addition to cementing our dedication to each other, the moment represented just another stop on the wild ride we’ve been on since 2006. Cancer diagnosis? Down. Find the right oncologist and a plan of attack? Up. IP chemotherapy? Way down. Finish treatment? Up. Nine months of remission and a big thank-you party? WAY up. Recurrence? Doooooown. You get the picture. Cancer patients and those who love them learn an incredible amount in the simple task of waiting: waiting for test results; waiting for scan results; waiting for the surgery date.
I’d love to say that a zen-like patient peacefulness is the result of all of this unpredictable change. But our reactions to the ups and downs have yawed wildly as well. Sometimes I’m able to accept a recurrence notice with resigned determination, while my mother bursts into (prohibited!) tears. Sometimes I come home from a simple office visit and a blood draw and snap at everyone in the house and Mr. Wonderful calms me down and gives me needed space. Other times he rages against his lack of control and we argue about something stupid like taking the last cold Diet Coke out of the fridge (a hanging offense).
I’ve had a busy month in the up-and-down department. From the down of intractable lung mets and decreased physical activity, I sprang back up with the great PET scan results, confirmed by CT last week. But not all the way up, because my left leg swelling kept increasing, and everyone (including me, in tears on Monday) feared it was another blood clot, which would mean blood thinners, which would make me ineligible for the trial that was saving my life (way down). Yesterday I had an ultrasound that showed no trace of a clot, meaning I am cleared to receive lymphedema massage and continue the trial (up Up UP!)
Which brings me back to my post on Friday about good support. By talking openly and honestly, and patiently listening without judgement, Mr. W and I have been able to weather the vagaries of this unpredictable odyssey. It’s definitely been a long learning process, with exemplary moments and embarrassing blow-ups. Often, the patient-listening-without-judgement has had to come in the form of an outside party, namely our therapist, who I maintain is a priceless aid in my recovery. But the result has been the smoothing out of the rough places that used to trip us and send us (and by “us” I mean our whole support team) spiraling off in different directions – now we hold each other up and ride on together.
Certainly the clichéd “fullness of time” has lessened the height of the peaks and the depth of the valleys. I prefer to think of it as a mosaic, or a Seurat painting: up close, each tile or spot of paint seems powerful, distinct; but with distance, the whole image becomes easier to see, the emotional shapes easier to recognize, the cohesion and strength of our family more visible.
I’ve never liked roller coasters. Too fast, too scary, too much stomach-in-the-throat. Since I have to be on this one, I’m glad I have reliable hands to hold onto. Who are yours?