"You know Dad is in the hospital and he's sick, really sick?" I started. "He actually has cancer, bone cancer." "No, not my dad." he began to cry and collapsed into me." Here was my baby; twelve years old having to face something he shouldn't for many years to come. "Jack, this is not the end of the world. The good thing is that they have found it. They will try to do everything possible to make him well. You know lots of people with cancer. Grandpa was diagnosed with cancer before you were born. Grandma was diagnosed before Michael was born" I explained. He looked at me with his big blue eyes and said, "They did?" "Lots of people have cancer. We don't know all the details yet, and we're going to take it one step at a time."
"Will he be okay?" he asked. Here comes the tricky one. "Well, I don't know, Jack. We'll have to pray and be strong and enjoy every day we have. Jack, we never know how many days we have; think about Dermot". He was our neighbor across the street that had died of a sudden heart attack and the only person Jack knew other than my aunt who died. "We're all going to die some day. We never really know what our future will bring; we have to hang in there." We sat on the bench for awhile, my arms around him.
I had to leave, yet again, to go to the hospital. When I arrived, I discovered they had moved Rick to 9 West, the oncology ward. Suzy and Rick's mom were there when I walked in, as well as Steve and Paul. Suzy was telling me about how great the floor was and how they had everything here and the room looked like a hotel room. Overload! I shouted in my head. It wasn't her fault; I couldn't see the positive in any of this. It looked to me like I was losing my husband.
Rick's nurse came in and introduced herself to me She would be on several days and we would see her again. Mary was one of the first angels God sent to us. She had a gentle voice and a beautiful face and a way about her that made it seem like there was hope.
Steve, Paul, Karen and I made a pact that we would not leave him alone in the hospital again. We spoke in hushed voices in the hall. It was a deal. I needed to be with the boys that night so Steve would stay the night. There was a small pull-out sofa in his room for family to spend the night.
Chemo would start that night; radiation would start in the morning. Next, he was ushered to an MRI, full body scans, blood work, surgery for a chemo port and a whole schmear of tests too numerous to mention.
No one gives you a manual for helping your husband with terminal cancer. The book list should include, How to Survive the Worst News of your Life, Caretakers Guide for Idiots, and Cancer Sucks; How to Deal with All the Abominable Events that Will Happen to You and Your Loved One. People do not think about these things; they do not think these things will happen to them. Wham! It happened to me. Even if there was a manual I had no time to sit and read a book.
A woman from Life with Cancer arrived to give me the cursory pamphlets, websites and a lovely laminated card with "stress buster" phrases. The pearl that she left me with was the suggestion to get a four inch, three-ringed binder, a calendar and a notebook. These were my tools for waging war on this monster. I found out soon enough that if you act like you don't know anything, doctors treat you like you don't know anything. Act like you understand it all and they speak to you as an intelligent human being.
They hooked Rick up to all kinds of medications with a pump. He was gone to La La Land, which by all indications from the night before was a better place for him to be. Steve and I sat quietly chatting while the beeping echoed in the room. He was so overwhelmed; this was his baby brother. He was a priest and he would take the time he needed to be there. What could they to do, fire him?
It was a beautiful view from the ninth floor. It was easy to look out and think. I'm not here; this is not happening to us. I could see the lights twinkling, the stars and the haze of light from all over Northern Virginia; it was dazzling. The loud roar from a helicopter landing on the other side of the building brought me back quickly to the reality that was mine.
Off I went back home to kiss my sleeping boys goodnight. Oh, there's that jersey wall calling to me again, inviting me to take the easy way out. Keep on the straight and narrow path, Jane. Jack and Michael need you; you have to be strong. God grant me the serenity…