We do not have a “set in stone” appointment time for JJ’s injections this week, so I woke my guys up around 8 a.m., and we got in the car about 9-ish for the drive to the Cancer Center. We figured that arriving at 10 a.m. was a good time–not too early and not too late.
Our drive was quite eventful. Everything was going well, the sun was shining, the snow beautiful when JJ suddenly started vomiting. He heaved after heave after heave. Poor guy tried to catch it in a blanket we keep in the car, but it went all over the floor, his boots, his hoodie, his jeans, his hands. As soon as he could, EJ pulled into a party store parking lot. I stayed with JJ while EJ went into the store to buy paper towels, garbage bags, and Kleenex. After he stopped vomiting, JJ took off his hoodie. He didn’t want to go into the warm store, he didn’t want to sit in the car, and he couldn’t stay in the sub-zero cold wearing only a T-shirt so I searched and I found an old sweatshirt EJ had left in the car some months earlier. It was dirty and stained, but better than a vomit-soiled hoodie. JJ went over to a snow bank at the edge of the parking lot and used snow to wipe off his hands and clothes. EJ came out with his purchases and he quickly cleaned out the car, throwing out the blanket, the car mats, the hoodie, and the now soiled paper towels while I put them in garbage bags.
JJ felt bad that he had messed up the car–I don’t know if the vomit smell can ever be fully eliminated? But we reassured him that it was absolutely ok. It came without warning and it’s not like he could have prevented it, for goodness’ sake. “And besides,” his Dad reminded him with humor, “We are giving you this car, remember? So it’s YOUR car you vomited in, not ours.”
JJ was feeling better and he still needed the injection to boost his white blood cell count so we continued on our way to the Cancer Center in a car reeking of vomit. What else could we do? JJ handled it all with a good attitude, saying he was willing to continue on and that he’s had worse days. But note to selves: We will now keep a change of clothes, paper towels, and garbage bags in the car for future vomit emergencies.
JJ asked what we were going to do when we got to the Cancer Center. The thought of sitting in a waiting room of people with a dirty sweatshirt and jeans and boots splattered and smelling of vomit was horrifying. I had already been pondering this problem. “This is what we are going to do,” I said. “JJ, you won’t stop in the waiting room. You will go on through the door (the one we walk through every time to get back to the Chemo rooms) to the bathroom on the other side and stay in there. I will go up to the counter in the waiting room and inform the receptionist that you are here, and I will also tell her that you vomited on the drive in, and that you would be in the bathroom, and that it would be extremely helpful if you could get your injection as soon as possible.” And that is what we did, although when EJ and I got back to the bathroom, JJ ended up coming out and waiting in the hall with us for the nurse to take us to the Injection Room.
While we waited in the hallway, we were able to see again the elderly couple whom we had encountered yesterday–the ones who I knew throughout my childhood. Their daughter was with them, and it was good to see her too. We had only time to share what types of cancer our families were dealing with and what our treatments were like before they continued on their way. We also saw the woman we had shared an Infusion Room with a few weeks ago. She is almost finished with her cancer treatment, and we congratulated her and wished her well. She said JJ was an inspiration to her because after she had heard how intense his treatment was and how courageously he endured it, she realized she had nothing to complain about.
The nurse came to get us and JJ got his injection and we drove home in our vomit-mobile. As soon as we got home, JJ took a shower. I went outside and sifted through the garbage bags for JJ’s gloves and favorite hoodie, but threw everything else–floor mats, blanket, and all–away in the trash. No use trying to salvage those. Then I threw the soiled clothes into the washer and got it going.
As we endured the trials of the day, I did a lot of pondering. In many ways this battle with cancer is very difficult: The long hours of chemo, the various surgeries, the unending blood tests, the many doctor appointments and exams, the mouth sores, the hair loss, the vomiting, the weariness, the humiliations of such things as entering the Cancer Center splattered with vomit…Ugh. I wouldn’t wish this awful disease on anyone.
Yet, at the same time there are special moments that a person can only experience at such difficult times as these. It’s easy, as a parent, for example, to get focused on the negatives–on the frustrating battles to get a teen to pick up after himself, speak politely, and “I don’t care how old you are, you still live in this house and you still have to do your chores!” During this time of illness, however, those irritating negatives fall away and we are reminded that he is our beloved son who is facing a tough battle with a strength and courage that we admire. We are reminded that our son is more important than the dirty socks on the floor. We are reminded that we would do anything for him.
It’s easy for a young man to get exasperated with his parents and to feel they are unreasonable and “just don’t understand!” But our son can now see our unceasing and unconditional love for him as we take him to unending medical appointments, sit with him during long hours, care for him, make him laugh to encourage him, sleep on uncomfortable furniture so we can be near if he calls out in the night, and wipe up his vomit.
It’s easy to get battered and cynical in this world when we encounter dysfunctional, selfish people. It’s easy to think no one cares. But all of that is forgotten during this battle of cancer as we become overwhelmed by an outpouring of love from so many people–from both friend and stranger.
And most of all, we are experiencing a deep, deep strength and peace from a God who loves us. HE is why we can keep going with hope. He is why we can laugh. He is.
Going through a serious illness with a loved one (or any suffering, really) has great benefits. It enlarges our capacity to love and show compassion and mercy. It increases our humility. It teaches us to take one moment at a time and to be more thankful for each blessing, no matter how small. It helps us appreciate each other more and draws us together. So, yes, this is very difficult. Yes, we’d rather not go through it and will be glad when it’s OVER. However, this is also a very special time of love.