Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Bit About My Family

So I have had a lot of people ask me how my family is dealing with my cancer diagnosis and treatment, so I guess it is about time I write something about that.

I think I have done a pretty good job of keeping my spirits up through it all. A lot of it has to do with the family in which I was raised. My large, loud, rowdy family has a tendency to turn tragedy into comedy. I have spent many a day sitting in a hospital waiting room laughing my head off. It's how we handle trauma. We laugh about it. Loudly. Probably completely inappropriately. But it seems to work for us. And it works for me.

My wife, Ruanita, was not raised in the same type of family. She tends to approach tragedy a little differently. I should probably set this up by explaining that Ruanita and I share everything. I tell her everything. We discuss everything. We share the same weird sense of humor and slightly askance view of the world. To put it in Gray's Anatomy terms, she is my person. And I am hers.

I am very much a glass-half-full person. I tend to look on the bright side of things. I search out the silver linings...even in situations where silver linings are unlikely. Ruanita, on the other hand, is much more of a realist (with a heavy skew toward pessimism). She sees worse case scenarios clearly. And, of course, the obvious worst case scenario of cancer is that I won't survive.

This is her greatest fear. Losing her person.

That said, however, this is not something she can talk to me about. I believe 100% that I am going to beat this. I have to believe this, and I have to surround myself with people who believe it, as well. So it's been really difficult because she can't talk about her greatest fear with her person. So there have been a lot of tears shed. On her part.

Weirdly, I have not cried at all since my diagnosis...until this past Sunday.

Sunday evening, I shaved my head. My hair was coming out by the handfuls all day on Sunday, so I decided to bite the bullet and shave my head. In my family's typical fashion, we made a party out of it. My mom and my two sisters came over to watch. My sisters, my 13-year-old son, and my 13-year old nephew took turns with the clippers. The four or them enjoyed it probably a little too much, if I am being honest. We shaved me a cool green mohawk before shaving it completely. We took lots of pictures and had a grand old time of it.

Ruanita wanted nothing to do with the party. She stayed in the room with us, but did not care to shave my head and did not really join in the festive nature of the gathering. Afterwards, as everyone was posing for pictures with my bald head, she refused to be in the pictures. Obviously, the whole scene was difficult for her to watch.

After everyone went home, Ruanita busied herself with chores around the house, saying very little to me and not really looking at me for the remainder of evening. It was uncomfortable, as you can imagine.

As I was preparing for bed, I walked past a mirror and caught a glimpse of myself. I looked like the one fat women at the concentration camp (there had to have been at least one with a glandular issue). In actuality, rather than a concentration camp victim, I looked like something I never wanted to be...a cancer patient. Everything kind of hit me at that point. And I believe my finally looking like a cancer patient brought everything painfully home for my wife, as well.

At bedtime, I cried for the first time. Not so much about my hair. Honestly, the hair didn't bother me nearly as much as Ruanita pulling away from me that night did. I thought that she clearly saw me as hideous and that was why she didn't want to look at me or talk to me. I even told her "You need to do better," which was a really shitty thing to say, considering that she has been an absolute rock through this entire thing.

I think everything just hit her that night when I suddenly looked like what I am--a cancer patient. Ruanita worries about the things that I cannot worry about. She worries about how we are going to manage with my making only 60% of my normal pay on short-term disability. She worries about how we are going to pay the medical bills that have started coming in. She worries about how the kids are going to handle everything and how we can manage to keep their lives and schedules as normal as possible. She worries about how sick chemo will make me. She worries when she is at work and she worries when she is at home. Everything has fallen on her and it was incredibly unfair of me to tell her she needed to do better. She is doing the best she can. I think we sometimes say the cruelest things to the people we love the most. Maybe because we need them the most. Or maybe because we know they are the only ones who can take us at our worst--our pettiest, our most afraid--and still love us. Still stay with us. Still hold us tight.

So I apologized. And she apologized. And we are fine. Well, as fine as two people can be in the midst of cancer treatment.

And we are doing our best to keep the kids' lives as normal as possible. Sophie still goes to karate and violin lessons. Lucas still goes to choir. We've shifted some things around and found a way to make it work. We've been honest with them about every aspect of my treatment. They are handling everything like champs, all things considered.

Lucas, my 13-year-old,  is a born care-taker. He is constantly asking, "Do you need me to get you anything, mom?" "Do you need me to do anything for you, mom?" He has become the water police, making sure that I am drinking my 60-80 ounces of water a day. The first thing he says to me when he gets home from school each day is, "Have you been drinking your water?" He wants to know everything that is going on with my treatment. He asks lots of questions. But he has been, first and foremost, my #1 caretaker.

Nicholas, my 9-year-old, doesn't want to talk about cancer. He's prefer snuggles. He wants lots of snuggles these days. And his two blankies that he has slept with since birth now go everywhere with him. If we go to a restaurant, his blankies go to a restaurant. If we go to a movie, his blankies go to a movie. They are his constant. His source of comfort. He's quite sensitive and he cries at the drop of a hat. His tears seem to come much easier now than before my diagnosis. He is easily overwhelmed. So I try to be gentle with him. We rarely talk about cancer, but we snuggle A LOT.

Sophie, my other 9-year-old, has become our cancer comedian. She doesn't mind talking about my diagnosis or treatment, but she has to make a joke or a snarky comment every time (I have no idea from where or whence her snark comes). And she is very hot or cold with me. She vacillates between sitting in my lap snuggling for hours on end and hating me with every fiber of her being. It's kind of like our pre-cancer relationship, but on steroids. It's difficult to manage at times, but I try to remind myself that she is not only dealing with a mom with cancer, but also all of the other trials and tribulations of a typical tween existence. It's not always easy being an almost-ten-year-old girl.

All-in-all, I would say that my family is handling everything quite well. They've impressed me, for sure. You never know what to expect when something like this happens. You don't know how people will respond. How people will treat you. In this regard, I have been so pleasantly surprised by everyone I know. And no one has surprised me more pleasantly--more perfectly--than my wife and my kids.


Anonymous said...


Barb said...

Awesome, Madge. I was going to suggest just that, and I'm off to donate right now. Sending love and hugs to a fellow NextFamily family, Shannon.

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