The Cancer Center

This morning JJ had his first appointment at the Cancer Center.

JJ was given pages and pages of forms to fill out. While he was busy writing, I observed the people in the waiting room. I pondered that every person there was fighting the battle of his or her life–or was with a loved one who was fighting. It was rather sobering. I prayed for everyone there.

I’m learning that cancer is a difficult battle. Fear walks beside every hope. There’s always fear that it could be the worst even while we hope at every step:

First: “It’s probably just an infection.”

Next: “The mass is probably benign.”

Then: “The cancer was contained in the mass. It hasn’t spread.”

Today we learned that JJ’s cancer has spread to some lymph nodes in his back. He officially has Stage 2a cancer. This is not news we wanted. We are no longer temporary visitors to cancer, moving quickly through it. We are here for the long-term.  We are entering a whole new world and learning a new vocabulary.

I know everyone has different beliefs of how a person ought to fight cancer. Many people swear that their own method is the best and only way. We have been advised to fight with chemo, to fight with holistic methods, to eat certain seaweed, to use certain supplements…or not, or to travel to Mexico for methods not approved in the USA. Which is the best method? I don’t know, but I would offer the following thoughts to those who accompany a loved through cancer. I started this list a few weeks ago and am adding to it as I go along because I think it’s not easy to know how to be supportive to people who are suffering with serious illness. I think it’s helpful to have tips and reminders. I especially want to take note of this for myself for the future when I encounter people who are suffering.

  • Each person and family fights cancer differently. Let them fight their battle in their own way. Remember it’s not your battle, it’s theirs. Be supportive no matter what.
  • I am not sure that there is a right or wrong way to fight cancer.
  • I think that God is not limited. He can heal using any method of treatment, including making mud out of spit and dirt and putting it on a blind person’s eyes. We can’t always know why God moves one person to fight one way and another person to fight another. Who knows? Maybe He wants His children in various places to pray for those who are going through the same treatments.
  • I think it’s important to limit the amount of advice unless it is asked for. Your advice might be excellent but it can also be overwhelming. We can ask if we need advice or we can do our own research. What we most need are friends who will  be there with us.  It’s amazing how comforting it is to have a friend cry with us, freak out with us, and  laugh with us. That’s more beneficial than all the advice in the world. 
  • It’s impossible to not ever give advice. I mean, we all do it. How can we not? However, if you give advice, give it and then back off. Your advice might be awesome, and we might use it, but we have a lot of stuff going on in our lives: tons of new information, medical tests, doctor visits, caring for our loved one. Don’t get upset if we don’t acknowledge your advice or use it. We are very busy now and not every bit of advice works for everyone.
  • I talked to a friend the other day who said one thing she hated when her former husband was dying of cancer was strangers coming up to hug her. Me? I love hugs. This made me think that people find different things comforting and helpful. I think the best thing to do would be to ask them what they want or need.
  • Please, please, do not tell scary stories about how a loved one might never get better if they don’t use your preferred treatment. I think that two of the most important things a cancer patient needs are a positive attitude and faith. Scary stories increases our fear and weakens our hope. We have enough fear and stress to deal with without adding more.
  • It’s not easy to know what to do or say. So if aren’t perfect in giving comfort, that’s ok. We love you and forgive you for being human. We’d rather have you reach out than not.

JJ is choosing to fight his battle with Chemotherapy. He will have four cycles of chemo. Each cycle will involve chemo every day for a week, and then three weeks off, and then back to a week of chemo. Each week he will have to have blood tests to make sure his body is doing ok. At the end of his chemo, the doctors will test to see if the cancer is gone. If not, he will probably have surgery to remove the lymph nodes. If the cancer is still not gone, he will have more chemo.

The weeks ahead are going to be busy. Next week we attend a cancer class to learn about chemo–what to expect from it and how to care for JJ as he goes through it. At some point he will have a port put in. There’s also other tests and procedures he needs before he begins chemo.

Despite the seriousness of the day, we had a few funny incidents that made us laugh. We laugh whenever we can.

There was a gate at the entrance to the Cancer Center Parking lot with a speaker. Apparently people are supposed to push a button on the speaker, tell an Unseen Guy they are there for an appointment, and then the Unseen Guy releases the gate. This is stupid to me. Why the gate? To keep out bad people? A bad person is hardly going to say, “I’m a bad person and I’m coming to do bad stuff. Let me in.” Duh. Anyway, EJ pressed the button and nothing happened, so he pressed it again. And again. And then he said, “Hello?” And the Unseen Guy answered. EJ pressed the button again to tell the Unseen Guy that we were there for an appointment. Every time he spoke, EJ pressed the button. That’s how it used to work. But as he was releasing the gate, the Unseen Guy said, “Just for future reference,  you don’t need to press the button to talk.” Later, we were talking about this in the exam room, and the doctor laughed that when someone presses the button, the Unseen Guy leans in to talk, and when EJ pressed the button again and again, he was blasting the guy with an alarm. Laugh.

Another funny thing: As I was growing up, if I heard about an injury or ailment, I would feel as if it happened to me, so I would get nauseous or faint. I think I’m too empathetic. Science classes, doctor visits, blood tests, descriptions of accidents, gory or medical movies, and so on were very difficult for me. Sometimes it was even difficult to visit people in the hospital. When I was in my mid-20s, I went to a behavioral psychologist to learn techniques to deal with this. The techniques were helpful, and through the years I have been able to bravely undergo many medical procures without any problem at all.

But today, as the doctor described the port that was going to put in JJ, I began to feel hot, nauseous and light-headed. I alerted my family and the doctor that I was not doing well. The doctor had me put my feet on a chair and EJ got me a wet paper towel for my head. It didn’t help. Apparently my face was very pale. Then the doctor said to JJ, “Get off the exam table and let your Mom lie down,” and he fixed the table so my feet were elevated and my head was down. We laughed. Here was my son, the cancer patient, forced to move out of the way so I could lie down.

With me lying on the table, the doctor continued. He asked if we had seen the CT scan results. “No,” EJ answered. “Would you like to?” the doctor asked. EJ said yes, so the doctor said to him and JJ, “Follow me.” Then he turned to me, “Not you. YOU stay here.” Laugh. By the time they returned, I was doing better.

JJ was delighted by my weakness. “You know that I’m never going to let you live this down, right?”

I replied, “Go ahead and laugh. I’m the comic relief.”

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