After dealing with cancer for over sixteen years, and having the faith (sometimes not as strong as others) that God will do what’s best, I’ve come to look at many perspective on life. Of course, suffering is one that has been most prominent in my journey. As you can imagine, I’ve suffered in many ways from the side effects of chemotherapy to certain infections that have come on because of my suppressed immune system. Suffering and the pain that accompanies it have been of interest to me. I’ve been motivated to start a chronic illness support ministry at my church. I realize that family and loved ones are in this journey, too; however, I don’t think I’ve devoted sufficient thought to just how my illness has impacted each member of my nuclear family.
As I think about how my disease affects each member of my family, the following thoughts come to mind: My oldest child is thirty-eight years old. She’s a successful business woman, heavily involved in the real estate industry on several levels, including residential, commercial, as well as educational certification of real estate agents. The latter, operating a real estate school, consumes a significant amount of her time. A few days ago, I called her with the news that my cancer had returned. I prepared what I was going to say, making sure I would highlight all the good points. Those points, being that treatment for my cancer has improved by gargantuan leaps and bounds since I was first diagnosed in 2,000. My oncologist will be treating me with a drug that is far from the chemotherapy and the destructive effects that come with it. This new drug is designed to boost my immune system, allowing it to fight the cancer cells with precision, not causing harm to healthy cells. My oncologist also told me that I will go into remission again. He wants to extend my life to fifteen years and beyond. Now, that’s some good news, isn’t it? You would think a smart person who runs a business would evaluate all that I said and respond with a good dose of optimism. There was a bit of silence on the phone. I could tell that the news of my cancer’s return had hit my daughter hard. She resumed her part of the conversation, and said she wanted to be with me when I go in for my first treatment.
My second child is a success in her own right. She’s not the consummate business woman as my oldest, but she’s intelligent and well-educated. She has a master’s degree and has chosen a career in law enforcement. She hopes to provide service to the community in a manner that her family found peculiar at first, but has now come to understand she’s following her path. Every parent must accept the fact that all their children are different. This one is highly emotional. I recall the time our family dog died while this child was off in college. The death occurred at the time she was taking final exams for her last year in college. Knowing how upsetting the news would be to our her, we decided not to tell her. The news of that death would have affected her to the point that she probably would have failed her examinations. This child required me telling her the news of my cancer’s return face-to-face. I didn’t want to upset her over the telephone. The meeting went well, except there was a moment of high emotional activity. Her mom told her everything would be alright, and that she didn’t have to be upset. My daughter’s quick come back was, “I have a right to be upset!”
Our son, oh my son, the outwardly rock of Gibraltar, never lets anyone sees him sweat. I delivered the news to him over the phone, while he was at work. His reply was, “Dad you’re going to be just fine.” I didn’t expect anything to the contrary to proceed from his mouth. He developed this layer of protection around his emotions when he was a little fellow. The layer is obviously porous, but it seems to work for him. He wouldn’t dare shed a tear given any situation that would beg for such a response. That’s just not what strong men do.
Other responses from my two brothers and my sister were warm and supportive. They all have strong faith and believe that God will do what is necessary in my case. If healing is for me, He’ll provide it, but if not He’ll take care of me in other ways. I must admit, I subscribe to that same perspective, too.
My mom has been dealing with Alzheimer’s for the past decade. She’s at a point, where she barely recognizes any of us. I have chosen not to burden her with the news of my cancer’s return. She’s in her own dark room, a space of residence that will only grow darker as time proceeds.
It’s taken me sixteen years, on this journey, to finally realize that family members have a sense of ownership of the patient’s cancer, too. Oftentimes, those of us with chronic illnesses feel alone; we feel that family members really don’t understand what we’re going through. That may be true. After all, one can’t really take a walk in another person’s shoes. They can only walk along beside them offering to listen and lend a stabilizing hand when required. Although all of that may be true, I’ve come to realize clearly that we own the cancer that has stricken my body. My family has some skin in this game.
Post scripts are normally meant as appendages, notes added to a complete letter, article or book. This paragraph isn’t a post script, thus I add no P.S. as its introduction. It serves as an attribute to the most important part of my family, who has been with me through it all, my wife. Oftentimes when I write, my fingers seem to take flight across the keyboard, detached from my mental center. That’s what happened when I wrote this piece. The lack of mention of my wife in the words preceding this paragraph in no way is intended to communicate a lesser role she’s played in my cancer story. To the contrary, her role has been demonstrative of the vows we took on the day we were married, “to remain with each other through sickness and health, ’til death do us part.” The date of this posting is our thirty-first wedding anniversary. She’s been the proverbial rock, the companion, who’s been there even through times when my over-bearing need for independence has been a slight to her. She has suffered, too. Thank God for the precious gift of my wife, my most valuable co-owner of my cancer. May the love of God sustain us for years to come.
I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.
It mustn’t have been easy breaking the news to your children. I’m glad you had the wisdom to share it with your second daughter face-to-face. Glad to hear the treatments are more advanced nowadays – that is good news!
All of my family is a lot stronger this time around compared to the first time, sixteen years ago. Comparatively speaking, I think we’ll all do much better this time. There’s a stronger presence of the Holy Spirit working with us now. God is with us.