This morning, while standing and chatting in front of Jack's school, huddled with 2 friends under umbrellas in the driving rain, one asked about my book party and said how sorry she was to have missed it. Her husband hadn't been feeling well. After several back and forths she told us he has stomach cancer and is going for surgery next week. There was a palpable shift from imagining flu or a virus to confronting the reality of second opinions, stomach bags, chemo/radiation, long term prognoses. I then found out another friend, who moved out of the city recently and I ran into having lunch in a cafe last week, was in town for chemo. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at the end of the school year. Yet another mom I know, responded to my FLOW invite by saying she wished she could make the party but had inoperable brain cancer and was starting a new round of chemo that day.
It's amazing how in a second, a moment, a breath, everything is fine and then reality crashes into something else entirely. Something too scary and overwhelming and life-changing to absorb. And nothing is the same after that.
I can't begin to imagine what that's like for the person who's been given the diagnosis. Or their family. Cancer is just about the thing in life I'm most afraid of. I think it even trumps skiing (and that's a major fear). My father is an oncologist and I grew up with stories about patients and chemo, living wills, and grieving families. His detachment is how he survived a heart-breaking job. He learned to search out, and create, humor (often cringe-worthy), as a defense against the bleakness. And as a way of bringing a moment or two of joy to his patients. Distraction can be a powerful thing when life is crushing down with brutal force.
I am queen of distraction. I can entertain, tell a story, involve a room, get people laughing, talking, engaging. I can keep people, at least for a little while, from falling into the depths of despair, from spinning in the dark, from letting the terror pull them under.
I am terrified about when I have to confront it myself. For myself, my family. My veneer is so effective, but it's just show. I can pull it all together on the outside, people see me as ever strong and capable, but I know there are some things I can't handle.
I couldn't handle the seizures Jack had when he was little. Blood, hospitals, emergencies, I'm fine. But his seizures and the fear he'd have another paralyzed me for years. When he'd get a fever, which was often, I'd panic, barely able to get medicine into him, praying his body would handle it all and I wouldn't have to live through another moment when his eyes would role back into his head and his little body would quake until it fell so silent I'd have to check for a pulse. When he felt warm, I couldn't breathe. It got so bad sometimes I couldn't check on him during the night, even though I needed to know, every 10 minutes, if anything changed. I dreamed of making it to his 6th birthday, the time when febrile seizures apparently stopped. It's only been in the past couple of months, he's now 8, that I've been able to leave him alone in the bathtub. His next to last seizure happened there, as I was running out to get the phone. He was seizing, under water, when I got back, Iz screaming that he was turning blue. I remember the fire department, 13 men in smoky uniforms in my apartment, trying to help as I got him dried and dressed, still unconscious, Iz petrified yet excited to be in the ambulance. Going for food for her and finding out he'd had another seizure in the hospital, after I'd begged them to give him more advil and they'd refused. 2 seizures in 24 hours wasn't typical and so then we had to put him through far more extensive testing. In the end, all was fine. He never had another seizure. But I will never forget the fear that paralyzed me, turned me to stone. Fear that was so powerful I couldn't be present.
I'm afraid of that happening again. Hearing other people, other families, other friends being plunged into that terror, terrifies me. Our souls are so resilient, but I hate how beaten they have to be.