Our life as a family is complicated. We are used, of course, to the many ups and downs, and the sudden hairpin turns, drops and climbs, and rattling that prevail in our day-to-day existence. This doesn’t mean that, from time to time, something can’t jar us out of what “our normal” is, and throw us into a spin.
I will spoil the ending by saying it’s a happy one, but I will tell you the rest so that you -who might have, as we do, a complicated existence- can see that there’s no real alone-ness in our individual drama. It happens to all of us at one point, and not everyone gets the happy ending…
Two weeks ago, while in the midst of cleaning the house to prep for the long weekend, the phone rang. It was my doctor’s office. The voice on the other end of the line asked if I’d received my doctor’s message. It had happened a few days earlier that Dada called from work, the call didn’t come through, there was no voice message in the system and we wondered if he’d misdialed until, lo and behold, the message popped up and the missed call was announced on the screen of our cordless phone. I guessed that the same thing had happened, and I said “no, I haven’t heard from her.”
When you are told that you need to have a biopsy because a test came out with abnormal cells, and that it has to be done ASAP, your head spins. I didn’t hesitate (even though my head felt like it was about to fall off,) and scheduled the test for the earliest possible day: last Thursday. Dada will tell you that hearing “can you take Thursday afternoon off?” is not fun either; hesitation is not our style, at least not when it comes to these things, and he scheduled time off.
Mind you, this is not panic we’re talking about, but rather the realization that biopsies have one of two results, and that action of an immediate type might be necessary. The one word we both said out loud, just because we had to get it out of the way, was “cancer,” and the next word was “J.”
We were not jumping the gun, succumbing to fear of death or illness. We were simply planning ahead in case a new type of chaos was about to enter our midst. Every parent thinks of how his/her illness might affect the family, and we are no different. The timing for this particular situation was not the most beneficial, but that’s the sort of thing that one has absolutely no control over. If surgery was necessary, what would happen to J’s routine?
Anatomy books were pulled out; online research was conducted. Calendars were looked at, and worst-case scenarios were revisited time and time again. The offending body part was joked about; there was catharsis to deal with the sorrow of even remotely having to deal with this; there was anger at how our bodies can betray us even though we’ve been quite lame in the risk factors we’ve courted over the course of our lives. TGG was informed, and -during an intense conversation- it was agreed that we’d do our best to not let our anxiety seep into J’s atmosphere.
Mind you, this was not an exercise in hopelessness. We hoped for the best, but prepared for the worst. My mother in-law died sixteen years ago of cancer. The woman I consider my mother died of cancer 21 years ago. My godmother -Dada’s aunt- was the most recent loss to cancer. All women who led healthy lives. All women we valued. The possibility of a life-threatening illness is not to be taken lightly.
We talked about surgery. We talked about the risks of it, and the recovery time. We talked about how a hospital stay might affect J’s sense of the world. We talked about how a six-to-eight week convalescence might affect my ability to be the point-person for J. We talked about how he might react to my absence, my inability to be 100% myself until I recovered. We talked about what would happen if I needed radiotherapy or chemotherapy. We talked about the pall that casts over everything in a family’s life. We talked about death. We talked about how J might process all these things.
The wheels were set in motion to cover as many bases as we possibly could. Who would help with J from the time he came home from summer school to the time Dada and TGG came home from work. How much time would Dada take off from work. How to make every routine easier to follow. How to manage all the other things J requires that I provide on a regular basis. What I’d want done if I somehow ended up in a coma. All these things became part of our conversations in such short order! Things we’d discussed before, but…not with the possibility of them actually being germane to our situation.
Last Thursday, TGG drove me to the doctor, and came home to wait for J. Dada met me there. We went in together, and he sat holding my hand during what felt like an excruciating invasion of my poor, middle-aged body. We discussed the possibilities with the doctor. We discussed the risks of this procedure, and how long we’d have to wait for a result.
Then we came home, and we tried to be the people we usually are. We went grocery shopping. We cooked meals. We slept a little. We fretted a lot. We worked in the garden. We went to the library. We looked at the calendar, and we pondered how soon we’d know.
As I said: the news was good. I am merely, for lack of a better way to put it, falling apart because I’m aging, not because any part of my body needs to come out. The doctor called around six P.M. last night, and we both stopped in our tracks when we saw the number pop up. No appointments to confirm for anyone…just the one call we needed. The doctor sounded happy; I’m sure giving bad news is not fun for anyone, regardless of how long they’ve been practicing medicine. The doctor told me to hug my husband and have some wine. TGG, when told the news, looked as if he’d just realized he was sitting on an anthill.
The kids went to the gym. We cooked dinner. We hugged suddenly, and did a little dance. We were relieved and happy, and thankful.
A few hours later, when the dishes were washed and put away, when we had consumed another chapter of I, Claudius, when we’d had ice cream, I sat next to Dada and told him that I was happy, and yet couldn’t stop thinking of all the people who don’t get the happy phone call.
One of the things that I said to Dada while we discussed all the possibilities we might be confronting was that “for me this is not a problem. If I die, I die. I’m really worried about the rest of you, though. My problem would be over, and yours would be just beginning.” Until I said that, I had never really understood that this is, indeed, true. We all want to think that we’re irreplaceable, and -to a degree- we each bring something to the table that others can’t, or -at least- can’t quite like us.
For the time being, I am in the clear. For the time being, life goes on in the way it usually does. We know better now. We are aware of the curve ball. We know that even if you don’t spit into the wind, something can come back at you. It’s the banana peel you’re not expecting to step on; it’s the step you miss because you’re in a hurry; it’s the random test that comes out “funky” and you need to go give a piece of yourself to make sure…
At our age, it’s to be expected. We’re lucky we’ve come this far with no major health issues, and that TGG is now ready to handle J’s needs better than he was in the past, but…
Parents can’t really leave things to chance, can they? Parents can’t live thinking they WILL be there always. Parents have to prepare for all these things. Parents of autistic kids…disabled kids…special needs kids…oh, that’s another story, and sometimes we forget that it’s another story.
We know now. We definitely know. Yet another thing I have to get poked more frequently than other body parts “just to make sure.” Hey…better safe than sorry…