For the past three years, my wife has been undergoing chemo. The early days were about as harrowing as you’d expect, but things leveled off. We were out of the fire, and found a new routine to accommodate for the changes that came. In our case, there’s been this sort of perpetual survival mode that is the cost of doing business. To a greater extent, it is.
You find the New Normal.
Every fourth Monday is a trip to watch my wife receive her treatments. For a long time, I wasn’t as present during those treatments. Like a the special kind of idiot that I can be at times, I’m pretty sure I was worried about money. I had it in my head that my wife wanted to be alone during those treatments. I promise that I am a real boy with real human feelings and stuff.
As of late, I’ve been taking a more present role in things. In a situation where there isn’t much you actually can do, you make the most of what you’re not overly impotent over. I drive a bit, and I’ll bake cookies for the nurses, because I’m really good at throwing food, booze or drugs at most things.
After doing a self-exam, my wife found a lump in her breast. In short order, it was found to have spread to her lungs. For those of you keeping score at home, that very rapidly became Stage 4 cancer. Thanks in no small part to thoughts, prayers, and an amazing team of medical professionals, things grew promising. From a double mastectomy to a lumpectomy, my wife was mostly declared to be of good health.
Mostly. There is a teeny, tiny, fuckface mass of cancerous cells in her lungs. Let’s call it Theon Greyjoy. Naturally, any cancer my wife would go to war with would be as stubborn as she is. The important thing, as she’s starting her third year of chemo, with no foreseeable end, is that that bit in her lungs isn’t spreading.
I’ve become a fan of silver linings. I’m also pretty sarcastic, and I’ve found it interesting how well the two things will mesh. To flow between self-effacing rage and sunshine takes a deft touch. Only the truly gifted can make everyone in the room uncomfortable without meaning to.
You find your stride. You do it so you don’t lose your mind. Some people have the capacity to throw themselves into work, or a project. For me, it’s something of a self-medicating mixture of TV, table top role playing games and forging exceptional friendships with people on their own downward spiral that happen to compliment your own.
If you’re like me, your vast and intricate emotional spectrum translates into various shades of anger. To that end, I’m a big fan of various therapies. Talk and pharmacological therapies combined have been, for me, a pretty effective means of helping to cope and adapt. Admittedly, it’s been a while since I’ve been in a proper sit down, but recent changes in insurance have forced my hand on that end.
The New Normal sets in.
Appointments, tests, consultations. All of that is, largely, to be expected, but years of this can slowly grind you down. Kind of like the river that slows over the stone, wear it away gently, only the water is filthy tap water, and your state of mind is kind of like an ice cube, gradually being worn away. There will be times you’ll get to recharge your spirits. The ice will refreeze.
What you’ll learn, and you’ll hear, and you’ll know, is that you will be OK. Somehow, in some way, you know this to be true. The kicker of it, though, is that you don’t know when the fuck that will be. This leaves you stalled out, unsure of what direction to move in. There’s a constant grinding down as you muddle through.
In a long enough timeline, you passively assemble a list of things to be angry about. You start with a wide scope, and just feel angry at the situation, but never the person. It looks great on paper, at any rate. You add things to the list. You modify it. Maybe the list grows longer, or maybe it just continues to grow denser, like a dying star. The financial impact is on the list, but that’s more just a courtesy, a nod to the importance of bills and mortgage.
There’s no such thing as just a chest cold anymore. Even if it’s really just a chest cold, it doesn’t stay that way in your head. You talk about things in on a scale of 1 to 10, and if the pain is lower than a given number, you talk about the weather.
Coming from a Catholic background, self-loathing is muscle memory. I don’t think I could’ve stopped myself from thinking about the things that cancer has cost us, getting angry, and then hating myself for it. As of late, my appetite has diminished, which is handy for cutting down racing weight, but that ball of anger in my stomach is surprisingly devoid of vitamins or minerals.
Of all the things that cancer has cost us, the lack of intimacy is the biggest. There’s a certain irony that I have to appreciate, is that I am closer to my wife more than ever. If you go through hell with someone, those burn marks are either a loathsome reminder, or a badge of honor. Probably a little bit of both. You get to see the core of someone, and it’s biblically awesome. Like when I saw my daughter being born. Seriously, you don’t bear witness to that and view the birther as some mere mortal from there on out.
Intimacy, that soul-to-soul stuff, from broken headboards to a profoundly powerful hand in yours, that has its roots in a physical response. As part of her treatment plan, my wife had a hysterectomy. For my wife, it stripped away her sex drive. The surgery has been beneficial on a number of levels, not the least of which is cutting off the source of estrogen, which fed her particular strain of cancer. There’s a lot of medical jargon in there somewhere, but I’d rather not bum you out. It’s been so upbeat up to this point, don’t you think?
This is the part where the ol’ Catholic self-loathing comes into play. I’m trying to make peace with missing sex and knowing that it’s for what could called “a good cause” in an understatement that boarders on the insulting. I’ve been struggling with trying not to feel like history’s greatest villain. I’d love to say that it’s just sex, but it isn’t. Intimacy goes well beyond grimy sex behind the McDonald’s next to the dumpster. Unless that’s actually something you’ve been building up to, in which case, congratulations! You’ve finally made it to that special place.
Please, do consider a nice bleach shower after. At times, intimacy goes hand in hand with a staph infection.