When Britney Spears was marrying Kevin Federline (I bet you didn’t expect me to start the post with those names), I read an article about different spiritual leaders giving the young lovers advice. Of course, history tells us that things didn’t work out, but that doesn’t mean the advice wasn’t good.
One of the best pieces of advice from the show was for the couple to find a “spiritual mentor couple.” This should be a couple that they know well enough to be able to be with the couple in their good times and bad, to be able to ask them questions about how they make their choices. This is very good advice. In the three short years that CrabbyCancerMan and I have been married, we’ve picked our own “spiritual mentor couples” and felt strengthened in learning from them.
Of course, mentors are more traditional in our professions and hobbies, but cancer is no different. As soon as CrabbyCancerMan was diagnosed, one of the first responders became my caregiving mentor. MrAwesome has been one of my best friends since high school, and while we’re not necessarily the talk four times a day kind of friends, we’ve remained close. I could go on for hours about why I think of him as MrAwesome, but for right now I’ll stick to the story at hand.
In December, MrAwesome’s handsome, strong, funny and wonderful son was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. Since then, he and MrsAwesome have spent their time, energy, creativity and passion in helping their little boy get better. They have been amazing caregivers, and inspirations to everyone that they know.
When CrabbyCancerMan was first in the hospital, we were just beginning to figure out the tremendous depth of the suckiness that is cancer. One of the things that is so awful about it is that it is totally overwhelming, and every decision feels extremely important. The thought might cross your mind: “If we get this one wrong, he might die.” It gets to be so stressful that you find yourself having fights about what kind of pillows should be used on the bed, or how many blankets are necessary, or whether it is okay to use deodorant (for future reference: latex, three, and yes, but avoid any that dry you out).
While CrabbyCancerMan was still in the hospital, MrAwesome called me. His sympathetic words of “Wow, this really sucks, I am so sorry, you need chocolate” were very kind, but at that moment, they were echoing around in my head as I was trying to figure out what on earth we were going to do. But then, he gave me the advice I needed right then: don’t forget to eat, call your insurance company in the morning to tell them what is going on, and take notes. His practical advice anchored me. Until that moment, I had been trapped in what I was feeling, which mostly was helplessness (which to me, is the equivalent of Hell) for not being able to ease CrabbyCancerMan’s pain, and uncertainty for what was coming next. MrAwesome’s practical tips for getting me through the next 24 hours brought me back to reality and able to face what was around us.
In those first two weeks, MrAwesome continued to call and check in, and sharing what he had learned, and , earning his moniker of MrMentor. He talked me through the finances of cancer, and how to deal with the insurance company. He helped me figure out what to say to our families, our friends, our communities. He coached me through what was in store for the coming few weeks. But most importantly, he didn’t tell me what was right or wrong, he just helped me figure out what was right for our family.
We were lucky to have several friends to talk us through what to do (and you’ll hear more about them in later posts, I’m sure). But somehow, shifting MrAwesome’s identity to MrMentor made the difference in my confidence as a caregiver. That very specific mentor-mentee relationship feels like a safety-net as we take our first trapeze leap.
And maybe that’s part of what this blog is for me – a chance to give the benefit of my experience if someone needs it.