Friday, March 6, 2009

"God, I'm in a pickle."

the sky on the drive to class

If you want to feel some true reality and humility, attend a cancer victim support group--especially if you have never had cancer.

Every first Tuesday night of the month, Tom and I attend Cancer Class
at the local hospital for an hour or two. We started going about two years ago, 3-4 months after his diagnosis.

It is like a book club at the library or something like that. The people in his group are not his friends. We don't know these people personally at all. We don't meet out side of the group. We don't have lunch together. A lot of times, we forget their name as soon as the evening is over. But while you are there, you become a strange sort of family.

It is a place to say it like it is. It is mainly cancer victims, with some caregivers sprinkled in. I have heard some memorable things attending, and I thought you would like to hear some too.

Just for clarification: When you are free from cancer for less than five years--you are in "remission." When you make it to that magical five year mark (which we have heard doesn't really mean anything to some people in their cancer journey)--you are "cancer free."

This visit, we had some new faces. We had a wife and her daughter. The cancer victim, the husband/father, refused to attend. They found out seven weeks ago that he has stage four (terminal) lung cancer and give him perhaps to the end of the year to live. They said just that morning that he said he wished someone would shoot him in the head.

Such pain. During our time, the mother screamed across the room at the daughter. The mother looks like she has been run over and the daughter cried most of the time. I remember the crying feeling. It washes over you and you can't stop it. It shows up almost instantaneously.

The best advice I think I have heard given to Tom of these last two and half years is that "there is no expiration date stamped on you." That is what we told the mother/daughter team.

There was a cancer free lung cancer man who started out instantly explaining that he got cancer from genetics and not the smoking he did for decades. I see a lot of variations of sympathy levels depending on the cancer people get. Lung cancers are embarrassed to admit they were smokers. Maybe because people kind of go, "Well, that was your own fault" and their sympathy levels go way down.

One time in cancer class, we had a man who has had cancer four or five times. His 19 year old daughter has it. Every sibling in his family has had it. His father had it. This man's last bout came from the radiation from the scans that he had to get for his other bouts. Can you imagine? You beat cancer several times only to find out you have radiation cancer in your back from the scans you got to monitor the other cancers? Crazy.

My new favorite person there is a young woman there who was about 35 and is in remission of Lymphoma. She told us the most interesting thing. She said that they had tried for 8 years to have a baby, and then finally conceived. She delivered normally, and when her baby was 14 months old, she was diagnosed. She said she was mad. She was shocked. And then she said "I told God, 'God, I'm in a pickle.'" The ironic thing about her is that right before her diagnosis she had donated TWO FEET of her hair she had grown to Locks of Love (google it if you don't know what it is). Her mom teased that maybe she could call them and get her hair back for her own wig she now needed. She laughed when she told us.

The cool thing that I liked about Tuesday's class was what the facilitator said to Tom and I alone after everyone had left. Tom is like the shining star, the true example of humility and hope in the class. The grandmas love him. The young people find strength in him. He is actually living a very inspiring life in example. Mary, the social worker, pointed out to us that we are on the other side of grief. We all were where the mother/daughter team was when we started attending, and by the grace of God and with time, we are now on the other side of our grief. Will it feel that way when Tom dies? No. Does it feel that way right now? Yes, and for that I am most grateful. Thanks Heavenly Father.