My mother has said on occasion that memories are among God’s greatest gifts. I tend to agree. Annual milestones of special events and notable challenges seem to bend time, putting us right back in the moment as if it just happened, while highlighting the fleeting days that move us forward in unfathomable measurements. The gift of the memory, from my experience, is the days between happening and remembrance which are filled with the time needed to find the full view of the event. The perspective to see a greater story than what, in the moment, feels often too overwhelming or myopic for appreciation.
It has been a year since driving Jonesy to the hospital for the super dose of chemo they were to administer into his body. COVID protocol would allow me to walk him into the building and sit in the hallway with him as he awaited his name to be called and he would walk alone back to the infusion room. That reality was this cancer experience reduced to a small metaphor. I could walk with him to just a point, but the experience was fully his. While cancer was happening to the both of us, it was happening IN him. Just as I could not go into the inner rooms of the oncologist’s office, I was fully aware that there were no depths of empathy or intercession that would allow me into the inner parts of what this was doing to him mentally and spiritually. I could not insert myself into his fears or pain any more than I could force myself into that room. In that moment, I began to fully understand how powerful the theological reality of Christ in us was for gaining peace. The only person able to walk into those lonely places was already there, walking before him preparing to minister to him.
I had packed a bag for him. In it a beautiful handmade blanket to keep him warm. A couple of books, water, earphones, snacks of every variety (would he want salty, sweet, savory, light?), his tablet and earphones, lotion, lip balm, a variety to be sure to meet his every craving of food and entertainment. The open top duffle overflowing with things to do, to eat, to drink, to keep him comfortable topped by his winter coat did seem bigger in his hands than on the table as I packed it. He quips that he felt like the new kid in school walking into the chemo room, overpacked while everyone else just had their cell phones. The oncologist had shared that he could be there for upwards of four to five hours. I was determined he would have everything he might need, to which he jokingly jabs, “Except my dignity.”
We had been fighting. I cannot recall what about, but I remember I was at the point of the argument where I was still angry and found it better to stay quiet than to say the words I could easily deliver. My collection of words includes the razor-sharp ones that through the years I have learned to harness and use with great effect. The silence, while still damaging to him, was the lesser weapon, so I was armed with it. Something was bothering him, I could tell, but my frustration in the moment allowed me to assume it was the tension between us. Finally, he called me to our room and closed the door. I thought this was going to be a moment of “let’s talk this out,” for which I was unprepared. My mind began to prepare the speech I would give about needing to be allowed to be angry….”I need to show you something I am concerned about.” My angry mind swelling with all the reasons I should be allowed the room to be angry was caught off guard by his words.
There was a lump. He was concerned. For the first time in days, I really looked at his face and saw not a reflection of the anger I had read through the lens of my own emotion, but instead fear and concern. My tongue worked quicker than my heart and mind could, “Go get in the car.” I said harshly. I can hear it even now coming from my mouth. Those words had been marinating in the anger I had been feeling and so they were harsh and lacking in any compassion or love. I often wish I had remembered the practical objective of silence in that moment. I long to say that I was able to shapeshift from the emotion I had been holding onto into the partner my heart longs to be, but to pretend it would not serve the lesson I gained from the experience. I did not hold him tight and offer him words of comfort. I did not touch his face and reassure him of everything being ok. Instead, I commanded him into the car with words harsh and hateful. About two second after they flew from my mouth my heart and mind caught up. We quietly rode in the car, me driving to urgent care.
While in the midst of confession, I must share with you my absolute ignorance about all things emergent health. I have absolutely no clue when it is appropriate or not appropriate to go to the doctor. In my twenty-two years of parenting, I have sat in the parking lot of an emergency room debating If that arm really looked broken or not or if I could just super glue that cut and it be fine, as opposed to going in and letting trained professionals make the call. I am also fully unsure about what the diagnostic protocol is for when you should go to urgent care. More often than not, we just don’t go to the doctor. This is not because I have a problem with doctors, per se, but I do have a healthy distaste of paying a large bill for something we could have dealt with at home. And for the sake of full disclosure, I do not want to be the topic of conversation of health professionals in the break room, “Yeah, and what about that woman who brought her kid in unnecessarily….” (I have issues, I know. I am working through them.)
Yet, somehow, in that moment, amongst the idea of moving from consuming anger to shame, to fear, to self-loathing, it somehow made sense to me to drive my husband at 6:45 in the evening to an urgent care that was going to close at 7:00 because he found a lump. In a world-wide pandemic, we would let the urgent care doctor on call tell us what to do.
As Jonesy gave the receptionist our insurance information, I began to wrestle with the words I would need to make-up for by abhorrent behavior up to this point. I sat on the hard chairs in the waiting area as far away from other people as possible. This was made easier by the “Do not sit in this chair” signs scattered around and taped with masking tape. I was ever so grateful for the mask requirement which allowed me to hide all the emotions I was certain my face, ever animated, would be unable to hide on its own. We sat looking forward at the wall.
Within minutes, he was called back and the COVID restrictions were posted, only the patient would be allowed. He walked through the door, and I felt, once again, on this evening I was failing him. I negotiated with the duty nurse, and she agreed to let me go to the room with him. As I walked in, he was sitting on the patient bed, humped over with concern in his eyes. I could see hurt in his face from my deplorable behavior. Our eyes met and for the first moment both our eyes softened.
The doctor entered the room, heard Jonesy’s concern, then performed a physical exam. He sat down looked at me, nodded, and then turned to face Jonesy. “There is something for sure there, but I am not prepared to say I am overly concerned at this point. However, I am concerned enough to want you to come back in the morning and get an ultrasound and bloodwork done. I am going to go ahead and get you in to see a urologist next week. I think you need to follow up on this immediately.”
Tears poured from my eyes. All of it, the whole night finally hit me right in the tear ducts. So, I lied. I did have an opinion about the diagnostic protocol of urgent care. You go to urgent care with small things, and they give you a prescription of this is not big deal, here take these things and if it does not get better in a few days, come back. I drove Jonesy to urgent care because I wanted this to be a small thing. It was not.
We sat in a new physician’s office. Three days had passed. Bloodwork had been taken. Ultrasounds had been secured. I sat in the small chair on the wall of the sunny room. I brought a green notebook already opened to a blank page and held my pen, fiddling with it to calm my nerves. Jonesy sat in a chair on the perpendicular wall and bounced his leg. Dr. Rutter walked in sat on the circle wheeled stool and looked Jonesy right in the eyes and with a confidence, but sincerity, announced, “You do have cancer.” We looked at each other and then focused our attention on the doctor. Every single word he said, I wrote. Transcription was going to be our salvation and I was not going to miss a single word. Jonesy listened intently to every word, and I wrote. Occasionally, we would look at each other. “The lump you found is not cancer, however in looking at the ultrasound images, there are three tumors.” At this, he pulls up on his laptop the images taken the day before. He pointed out the lump, a cyst of some sort, but there to the left of the cyst were three tumors. “These will be fast growing…..I have scheduled your surgery in two days….we don’t want to delay…..we will do staging after surgery….” My pen flew across the page capturing every word that came from his mouth. I was hearing him, but I knew we would need this information later to comprehend what he was saying. Looking at Jonesy’s face, I could see we were united in only fully hearing, “You do have cancer.”
We received the instructions for pre-op. Numb, overwhelmed we walked out to the car.
To be continued….