Monday, July 23, 2018

Cancer: Dark Thoughts

At the hospital, waiting to be called. It was 5:30 AM.
We were both drunk on no-sleep and fear.

I used to think I had a dark sense of humor. But there is nothing in the world like a potentially terminal cancer diagnosis to send you rocketing into the basement of your brain, in the darkness, where you think you’re at your most grim, and then a firepole opens up underneath you and sends you into the earth’s core and you realize you’ve not been all that dark, after all.

It was a month between us being told “We’re pretty sure it’s cancer,” and being told definitively “It’s cancer, ovarian. Stage 3.” I wouldn’t wish that month on anyone else in the world. There may be nothing worse than being told you might have something that will kill you, but before we can tell you that, you gotta go jump through these hoops and make these calls and drive to these appointments, and then, only then, four weeks later, will we let the other shoe drop.

This is not to say that Cathy isn’t getting good care. It’s just that because of where her cancer is, in the Lady-Business, it’s a little, um, unclear as to what’s going on down there at any given time, and so we had to wait for a Gyno-Oncologist to have an, um, open slot, in his schedule (and yes, I know how that sounds, but that’s how the nurse said it). As you can probably guess from the above title, this guy specializes in cancer of the Lady Business area. That guy knew what he was looking at. I was tempted to ask him where the clitoris was, but by the time we got to see him, I was just ready for him to tell us something, anything concrete. Also, Cathy would have probably strangled me in his exam room with him watching.

When we weren’t driving hither and yon and people weren’t stabbing at my wife with needles that looked like they could stitch a moose carcass back together, we spent the month either cheerfully planning out what color to paint the bedroom and talking about what we’re going to do next year, and staring at each other, lips quivering, eating lunch and listening to Jackson Browne sing “The Load Out / Stay” and wondering if the next time we hear that song will be on her deathbed.

Everything gets seen and experienced through this dark lens that drops down in front of your eyes when you hear the word “cancer.” It’s inevitable. You eat a sandwich and wonder if it’ll ever taste the same after someone’s gone. You hear a song and suddenly, it’s not about getting out of a small town, but it’s now inexplicably about a terminal disease. You flinch any time someone says they are dying on the television. And every so often, you can push it back, and the sun comes in, and you feel like yourself, and if you’re us, you crack some horribly inappropriate joke and you laugh, and God, it feels good because it sure as hell beats how you’ve been feeling for the last three or four days…

I was going to share some of these frighteningly off-color and off-kilter jokes with you, but I have changed my mind since I first started writing this post. Those little breaks of dark laughter were some of the only sane moments we had in an otherwise insane month. For now, they need to stay ours and ours alone. But I will say this: we figured out, the two of us, that the only way we were going to get through the rest of the year is with laughter. It breaks the tension, forces us to breathe, and connects us through a shared experience. There's probably a life lesson in there somewhere for us all. 

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