It’s the “Meanwhile” that’s Difficult

Jim has just had his fifth chemo treatment, and to be honest, I had hoped to be writing an inspirational post by now, about how chemotherapy wasn’t all that bad. At the outset, we kept hearing about how chemo was different for everyone, and that there were people who had “breezed through” it. We were hoping that Jim would be one of those people. I now realize that accounts of people breezing through chemo are urban legends, kind of like yeti sightings. Chemo poisons your cells, and I can’t imagine that anyone ever “breezes through” it, though to be fair, there are different types of chemo, and some have fewer treatments than Jim. But still. My sister, who lost her husband to brain cancer, briskly dismisses any talk of “breezing through.” There is some human psychology in action here–if you admit aloud that chemo is awful, people look at you curiously like you are a train wreck. Also, they feel worse. Some little piece of their life has been touched by a cold, black, tentacle of sickness, and it’s just too close for comfort. Perhaps those who say they are “breezing through” chemo just don’t want to disturb the questioner’s illusions.

So when people ask me how Jim is, I say “He’s fine.” Though in my mind, a raft of other answers arise. I want to say:  Jim had an unexplained nosebleed last week, he feels the chemo in the pit of his stomach and in his mouth, and he gets more tired with each treatment. It’s like a hammer blow has come down on your life, walking down the long hallway to the oncologist’s office is the most depressing thing  imaginable, etc., etc. But I say, “He’s fine.” When Jim’s doctor first talked to us, he said that it was like Jim and I had just stepped from an airplane down into a different world from the one we had left, and it would take awhile to get used to it. So we find ourselves on a strange world, and on this world “He’s fine” means, “Jim doesn’t feel like he was hit by a truck, like yesterday.” “Hanging in there,” is ominous, because it means you do feel like you were hit by a truck, and are barely surviving.

But in the scheme of things, Jim is fine–one of the “lucky” ones–because on this new world, we have met people of incredible courage fighting terrible odds. Their grace has humbled me. Jim will get through this, but meanwhile it’s really hard. And it’s the “meanwhile” that’s so difficult.

4 thoughts on “It’s the “Meanwhile” that’s Difficult

  1. There is nothing easy or breezy about cancer or chemo or finding the right response to the question “so how are you doing?” Jim (and you, Fran) made the right choice. I like to envision the poisonous chemo therapy as kicking the crap out of cancer cells. It can and it does!! But there is this collateral damage. Thinking of you both, admiring your endurance and praying Jim’s cancer cells get kicked into OBLIVION!

  2. Oh, Fran, oh my goodness. I feel so for you and Jim.

    You know, I worked for about 6 years at Lutheran General in Park Ridge as an administrative assistant in the inpatient pharmacy. The pharmacy, at the time, was right next to inpatient radiation oncology. I saw lots of folks come through for their rad treatments . . . some were little kids. Thank God there was a ladies room close by because I really needed a place to cry when I saw the kids.

    Anyway – the point of this is that I got really mad at God. Why? Why would a loving God allow babies to suffer with cancer and the treatment . . . it did not match my vision of a Loving God.

    I slowly came to understand – through experience AND talks with God – that suffering is NOT useless. It leads us to better places, spiritually, emotionally, physically. I checked that answer against several VERY bad times in my life and had to admit to the God I was mad at – it’s true.

    So, Fran and Jim – this is not forever. You will not only survive but thrive and feel joy! God bless you both.

    1. Sorry it has taken so long to reply, but I had to think about this. First, thank you for your kindness and blessings. It is hard to understand suffering. I went with Jim to chemo Wednesday, and there were three women there being treated for breast cancer, and I found myself very sad for them, too. But I heard a nurse talking about how working as an oncology nurse was not “a downer.” And she is right. Life goes on and is good even when getting chemo. So we just have to hold on and keep slogging! Take care, Sherri. Fran

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