We are now a family who lives with cancer every day. We are a family who functions in the unknown. We are family who lives day to day, not planning for the future. Not thinking too far ahead. We are a family who will take no vacations this summer because mommy can't wander too far from the hospital. We are family who can't go to the park on a whim because mommy is tired. We are a family who structures our activities around chemo days and side effect nights. We are a family who functions at a constant anxiety level that we were certain three months ago would have broken us by now. But we are stronger than we think. More resilient than we ever thought possible. We are no longer just a family.
We are a cancer family.
In every cancer family, there are two opposing forces that are always in conflict - the desire to be careful and the desire to be normal. On any given day, these two desires can wreak havoc. The thing is that there is a never a day when every person in the family is on the same page where these two desires are concerned.
The kids crave normalcy, for the most part. They want go to the park. They want to go the pool. They want mommy to take them to karate. To cheer at their soccer games. To smile proudly as they sing with the choir. They want mommy to help them with their homework. To cook them dinner. To tuck them in at night instead of crawling into my own bed at 7pm. They want to snuggle me. They want to get mad at me. They want the right to hate me at times. How can they hate me when I am laying bald and exhausted on the living room couch? Other kids are allowed to hate their parents. But my kids must take care not to upset mommy. They must take care to ensure mommy gets her rest. They must take care not to tire mommy out. At all times, they must take care. And it is unfair.
My wife wants nothing more than to take care. To be careful. Whereas the kids live in the moment, my wife thinks long-term. Taking care now ensures normalcy later. It is a logical thought process. It makes sense, but there is very little about cancer that is sensical. She begs me to rest. To lay low. She wants me to eat nothing but fruits and vegetables. Lean protein. She wearily watches every morsel of food I put in my mouth. She gets defensive when others ask anything at all of me. She screams with her eyes. She rages with her posture. Can't you see she has cancer?! Can't you see she is fighting?! She is a lioness. Frightened. Protective. Angry. Dangerous. She thinks I do too much. She thinks I try to hard. Given the choice, I am pretty certain she would encapsulate me in a sanitized bubble until I was healed. Until a cure was certain. Locked away from anything and everything that could harm me.
I fall somewhere in the middle. I know I need to take care. I know I need to rest. To eat healthy. To listen to my body. I know I need to take my medication and heed my oncologist's instruction. I know what I need to do, but I want nothing more than to be normal. I want to scream, "Fuck you, cancer!" I want to do everything I can to spite cancer. To show her in no uncertain terms that she can't change me. I want to eat my body weight in Mike and Ikes. I want to sit in the sun and absorb every last molecule of UV rays. I want to spend hours perusing the aisles at Target. I want to go to the park. And go to the lake. I want to rip the port-a-cath from my chest and run away. Far away. I want to leave the country. Leave everyone and everything I know. I want to pack up Ruanita and the kids and go somewhere where no one knows us. No one knows we are a cancer family. I want to forget. I just want to be normal again. To be the me I used to be. To be the us we used to be.
But I know that is impossible. I am not the same person. Cancer has changed me no matter how fiercely I grapple for the old me. I know what I need to do. I know I need to stay and fight. To ground myself in the here and now. I need do everything I can to beat this. I have to forgo normalcy. To take care despite every impulse to the contrary. To acknowledge that I can't be everything to my children right now. And that's okay. I need to heed my wife's sometimes less than gentle advice, realizing that it is rooted in both fear and love. I need to do these things to ensure the survival of my family. To ensure my own survival.
We are a cancer family now, and whatever happens, we are in this together.