FYI the actual bible verse is Job 1:21 and it goes: “He said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.'” That’s from the New Standard Bible. So update your internal pop culture compendium, y’all.
Gang, it has been a wild couple months.
I started the new job and it is a doozy. I downloaded with my ProConsult group a few weeks ago and they were like, “That’s probably only 10% and I’m already overwhelmed.”
So I’ve been complaining a lot to my inner inner circle. Two of my besties had to give me a reality check when I said I was feeling like I needed an attitude adjustment. Both were like, “Um, you’ve earned the right to complain.” And when I said that I was worried people were thinking I should have my shit more together by now, one was like, “Yeah that has never even once crossed my mind.”
SO! In an effort to process all the stuff in my head, I wanted to do a little thing about what cancer has taken from us, but also what it has given us. Well, specifically, what it has given and taken from me.
This list is ever expanding so I’m going to narrow it down to the top 3 and they are hopefully things that I haven’t talked about already. But if they are, WHATEVER, IT’S MY BLOG.
Connection. A woman in my caregiving group said, “I’m with my husband more than ever, but really I’m so lonely.” This is exactly what I’m feeling.
Andy and I spend a ton of time together, but it’s all in the presence of other people who are medical professionals or other cancer patients or people who really want to know how we’re feeling and spend a lot of time asking a lot of questions to seem like they are being supportive. (Don’t worry, it’s not you.)
Out emotional bank account is close to being overdrafted pretty regularly. Our limited time we used to spend having deep connection in the form of challenging conversation about self-awareness, growth, love, and politics has now been reduced even more. We basically give each other highlights in the 15 minutes we have when I’m in bed and he’s gotten home from work. Baby free time is spent resting for both of us, rarely are we in a restaurant or coffee shop or on the couch and feeling fed, watered, physically comfortable, and logistics managed enough that we can move on to more intimate conversations.
Just this morning we used a breakfast date to determine what additional insurance we wanted to add to my work benefits. Truly stimulating conversation.
This lack of connection is truly surprising to me. I thought with all the time we’d have during chemo or car rides to and from doc appointments we’d be able to check in regularly. But really we’re both so fried that we just watch TV or listen to the radio or he sleeps and I write.
Sex. Imagine having a low-grade flu all the time and that’s basically what Andy’s experiencing. Add the work of a new baby and that’s basically what I’m dealing with all the time, except I’m down an adult. Sexy, right?
I had an extensive conversation with one of my caregiving groups about physical intimacy. A woman who’s husband is in the end stages of life mentioned that they hadn’t had sex in over a year and how disappointing it was to realize their last time was their last time.
I have a couple of friends who are giving me their version of essential oils and insisting that we need to be having sex. Ok. Sure. Fuck off.
Did you know chemo creates toxic bodily fluids? (Sorry, parents.) So if we were having sex, we’d have to go back to barrier methods because I could get very sick. And I don’t have the brainspace for dinner some nights let alone condom shopping, so that isn’t a thing.
When Andy had his chemo holiday a couple weeks ago we thought we could have sex then. But then he got the goddamn chicken pox, so that was a bust.
He insists we haven’t had our last time, which I believe, but I know it will be a while before sex re-enters our lives again.
Money. I know you think you know about how expensive cancer care is, but you really have no idea.
Sure, we have the usual medical expenses, but we also pay for parking, hospital food, child care, medication, special food when Andy doesn’t have an appetite for something, supplements for protein, muscle spasms, and energy, stuff to hold stoma supplies and medication, modifications to our house to hold all of this, lots and lots of soap. And all of this is done on the same or smaller income than before. Because even though I have a job, it’s just barely making up the difference in Andy’s missed salary.
I’ll do some kind of accounting at some point, but it’s expensive. We collectively suck at helping people through illness so it isn’t a huge financial burden. No wonder so many people accrue medical debt. We likely will, also. Again.
Community. Working in theatre, we always knew we had a tighter community than the average human. But having cancer made it abundantly clear to us just how tight that community actually is. The Willhelm Army Facebook group has over 100 people who are just hanging out waiting for something to do.
I know that when the time comes to ask for what we need during the HIPEC, it will not be even half as hard as a normal fundraising campaign.
We are cared for and, for the most part, have people willing to offer their help if we can articulate what it is we need.
A sense of ability. Prior to cancer, I spent a lot of time questioning how good I was at managing all the stuff that comes with being a new mom.
I was not great at the sleep deprivation and the unknown outbursts from an unhappy baby. In talking to my therapist, I realized it was largely triggering feelings of trauma from when I would walk around my house as a kid and be unsure when the hammer would fall. This is also why I had to leave stage management. The need to jump and answer to the sometimes totally fucking unnecessary whims of narcissists and egomaniacs was not good for healing.
But, when the dust cleared post-diagnosis, there were moments where I would be driving with Ronan in the backseat, coming home from work or a client meeting, or picking him up from his caregiver and I would think, “We can do this.”
And this means both the current push through cancer and if the moment happens where it’s just me and him.
We can do this.
I keep that in mind when I start to feel weak. When I have co-workers who get snotty about something or get frustrated with idiot drivers or whatever. (Why can’t people just do a damn zipper merge?)
We can do this.
Or, more specifically…I can do this.
Clarity. Prior to all of this, we knew we were a lucky family. We knew we were living a beautiful life full of love and we routinely marveled at how we kind of had this “deep, loving, respectful friendship/relationship” down.
Now, we have the good fortune of being aware of just how good we have it.
When Andy got the diagnosis and we were thrown numbers like “18 months” and “2 years,” I asked him if there were any undone things he wanted to do. And after a moment’s pause he would always say, “No.”
Sure, I would love to travel with him and see more movies and eat more good food and have him watch his son grow up (that last one in particular).
But in reality, our life is idyllic, lovely, challenging, and kind of perfect. We don’t need to have any major bucket list moments because our life is already beautiful and doesn’t need anything additional to make us feel fulfilled. We live a beautiful life and we just want time with each other.
We want time to snuggle with our kiddo and watch him try to eat eggs and go for walks and look at the mountains and drive around with a fancy drink in the cup holder. Really, just living day to day life for us is lovely.
And without cancer, we would not have realized that. We likely would have spent the rest of our lives chasing the next vacation, the next car upgrade, the next chance to renovate part of the house. Now, it’s all about making choices that enhance our already beautiful life.
Which, tbh, may include a vacation, but most likely just burgers for dinner so we can watch another episode of the West Wing.