And now we wait. A month ago, CrabbyCancerMan finished his second (last? please, please, please) round of radiation. With the first tumor, at this point, we thought we were finished. We started making plans. The school year was almost over, and we were going to take a vacation. We were going to go to the beach, and sit on the sand, and hold hands as we walked along the boards and smelled the salt air. One month later, we were back in the doctor’s office and learning that there was a metastatic tumor.
At that time, the days did not feel endless. The days were busy. They were scheduled. There was an itinerary, a plan for how to proceed. Sure, it wasn’t fun, but happier days were just around the corner, and we would most assuredly get there.
This time it is harder, much harder. While the doctors continue to be optimistic, it is much harder to have faith that tomorrow will be brighter when we’ve been through this before. Or rather, it’s much harder for CrabbyCancerMan. I have my good days and my bad days, but generally, I see the light at the end of the tunnel. He’s not so sure that it is not an oncoming train.
Once again, xkcd.com says what I am thinking in a very clever and graphic way. When you’re in this land of cancer, for however long after you finish treatment, you fear every bump and every bruise that you can’t quite trace. What would have been chalked up to a “mysterious drunk injury” just a few years ago now looms large in our minds as a possible tumor, a cyst, or a corpuscle of something that is going to make life difficult.
Last weekend, we went to a big family celebration. Many of my relatives hadn’t seen us in a long while, when CrabbyCancerMan was much weaker. While the occasion was festive, it was very much a strain on my dear husband. Everyone wanted to know how he was. Everyone wanted to hug him, to tell him he was loved, to hear from his own lips that he’s doing better and it is going to be all right. He quickly became exhausted from repeating the answers to the same questions over and over, however well-meaning they were, and in a fit of exasperation told my-cousin-the-med-student “I’m looking forward to when this is all over if only so I don’t have to talk about it any more. No one knows what to ask me, and I wouldn’t know what to say if they did. Do I tell them that I hurt all of the time? That I’m tired? That it sucks? Do they really want to hear that? They just want to hear that it’s all going to be okay, and I don’t think I can tell them that.”
So the question becomes, what conversations should you have with a cancer patient? What’s safe to talk about? What conversations will be new and welcomed?
We found that the number 1 safest topic was television. CrabbyCancerMan loved talking about what he was watching, and what he should be watching. He’s particularly into Dr. Who and Boardwalk Empire. Our family was quick to share their commentary on latest episodes, and what they thought would happen next. It was a joy to see him giddy with excitement as he dished with cousins, aunts and uncles about what Nucky might do in next week’s episode.
And so even as the nights grow colder, the days grow shorter, and we’re not quite sure what’s coming down the pike, we’ve found one way (there are others, but one is a start) to get through the social piece of coping with cancer. We’ll watch some television and worry about a fictional character’s problems instead.