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March 31, 2005

Popping Cancer Reflection: What the caregiver needs.

You know, Mrs. Popping Culture does an awful lot. Because of my cancer, she's now the primary grocery shopper, dog walker, hunter/gatherer, pastor's liason to the church, financial officer and a hundred other jobs she never wanted, all on top of caring for a husband who suddenly has a potentially fatal disease. She's just barely in her thirties... can you imagine?

And yet I, just because I may or may not be dying, remain the center of attention. All I do is pretty much sit in a chair and watch television, or take naps, and yet websites and pretty Hallmark cards all come with messages to me.

Not too long ago I quoted Anita Tejedat and her masterful piece on how you can lose your health and still have everything as long as you are loved. I found her work in the book How to Live between Office Visits by Bernie Siegel. Her husband had cancer at the time.

She also provided this letter, which stands in defense of the caregivers who give up so much. It allows them to be angry. Pardon the language, but it's there.

"What about the person who is not the one with the illness? Yes, how about me? How am I doing? No one ever seems to ask. A selfish thought when I am not the one who has the disease. No, my pain doesn't have a medical label, my fear is abstract, there isn't any medicine that can take it away. It is the pain of sharing my life, my love, my hopes, my dreams, my future with someone whose life seems to be shattered and all those things stolen from him.

How am I doing? Well, since you asked, I'm scared shitless. I'm scared to love all the way now, because the loss is too great. I'm scared because I'm real angry and I want to scream out to God, 'Are you nuts?' Or to my beloved who is sick, 'Snap out of it and make it go away,' or to friends and family who have become distraught over trivialites, "Shut the hell up, you don't know how lucky you are.' I'm scared because my own life and love, and hopes and dreams and future are so connected to my love's that I wonder what will become of me. I'm scared because I see and live the reality of what is and still reach for the idealism I've always had and wonder if I'm fooling myself. Maybe you could say a prayer of courage for me, so I can continue on and care."

It's easy being sick. You don't have a choice.

It's hard loving someone sick.

I invite you to use the comments section to say something uplifting to Mrs. Popping Culture, who has the worst of it by far, not counting the nausea.

Posted by Dan at March 31, 2005 09:36 PM

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I pray for Dan, but I always say one for you, too. My husband got sick two years ago and is doing better but has never fully recovered. It's one of the toughest things in the world, to have to carry your share and suddenly have to take up a LOT of slack.
Added to that the sick-to-your-stomach sense of terror whenever your thoughts run away on you and you start picturing possible futures... nope, no fun at all.
I have great admiration for your strength and courage and your ability to keep on plugging when it would be so much easier to curl up in a ball with your hands over your eyes yelling, 'Enough already!' My thoughts and prayers are with you. Send me your favorite colors and I'll make you a charm, good for clipping in your hair, dangling from your rear-view mirror, or clocking irritating husbands over the head with.
Not that Mr. P.C. is EVER irritating...

Posted by: Kimm at March 31, 2005 10:23 PM

I took care of my mother for six months after she was nearly killed in an accident. Big truck hit her head on, going pretty fast. She nearly died--suprising she didn't.

I remember watching her scream and cry while not really conscious in the hospital. I remember exhausting trips back and forth to social service offices. I remember constant doctors visits and buying various drugs, shopping around for proper shoes and such. I remember going every day to the physical rehab center and spending hours there. I remember sudden bouts of depression from her, crying jags, apologies. I remember the greatest stress I've ever endured, the hardest six months of my life.

And that's not cancer. That's not a potentially fatal disease. That's a mother--who is important and loved--but not a significant other. So I think I have a taste of what you're going through, Mrs. Popping Culture, but I can't even begin to understand completely. And knowing that, and comparing that to what I did go through and realizing that it's just a fraction of what you're experiencing--well, you must be one hell of a strong person. And I admire you for it. And yes, you deserve praise and kudos and all that--and you deserve to never have had to go through this and whatever comes next. But life just happens that way sometimes.

I have no doubt you're a lucky man, Dan. And I have no doubt, Mrs. Popping Culture, that you are a brave and wonderful woman.

(Okay, I'm not sure that was actually uplifting, but it's what I got.)

Posted by: Joel Caris at April 1, 2005 03:34 AM

I've watched friends go through divorces, the loss of children, and the loss of parents. In each instance, the seemingly hardest job was the one done by he/she who was gifted in comforting the one going through the pain or loss. Nobody can ever say they know what it feels like until they've been in the situation. Nobody ever plans to go through this stuff, but it happens too often. Just as Danny realized his calling into the pastorate when he was able to offer comfort to other sick people in the hospital, you have identified one of your own callings by going through this with Danny. You may have never wanted this role, but you got it. God places each of us in seasons or trials to make us what he wants us to be. Our handling of these situations doesn't give us character, it defines our character, and our wisdom grows with each character-building episode. I'll pray for like I do for Danny, because I have neglected to do so til now. The blessings that are ahead will never compare to one day hearing, "Well done good and faithful servant.", or in today's terminology...."You go girl!"

Posted by: Doug at April 1, 2005 10:14 AM

Mrs Popping Culture,
My prayers, the prayers of my congregation, the prayers of my home congregation, and the prayers of my work prayer group have been with you at all times. I was once a caregiver and understand that this is a ministry all unto itself.
It is indeed a calling from God and one of the hardest ones to hear and listen to. I know Dan loves you and is eternally grateful to you
but I want you to know that all of us who love Dan (even though some of us may not know him that well) love you and are eternally grateful to you for your loving care of him. You and Dan have touched my heart and soul as no one has in a long time.
May God bless you and keep you now and forever Amen and Amen.

Posted by: Carla at April 1, 2005 10:54 AM

I only know Dan in the cyber sense but I feel extremely grateful to know him. I am also grateful for the updates that you have posted. I can't offer much other than moral support and I hope that is worth something. If you folks ever need a hand with anything, I hope you feel free to contact me. I'm a cafeteria Catholic in Michigan prone to bouts of anger and doubt but I have plenty of free time these days. My love and prayers are with you both.

Posted by: Ralph at April 1, 2005 03:49 PM

PS: Joel, you're a damn good man. I'm proud to know you as well in a cyber sense.

Posted by: Ralph at April 1, 2005 04:06 PM

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