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.