When I last blogged I was staring in the face of a new diagnosis for Brent.
I wrote, wisely, that June and July were enough. I did not want to glance farther into the future.
And then I got quiet.
I was quiet because we were experiencing things and thinking things that we did not want to share with the world. For a while we didn’t even want to say those things to each other.
I was quiet because I had no insight or wisdom to give.
I was quiet because it was truly enough to just live the days as they came. Some were hard. Some were fun. Some were kind of non-consequential.
Now having lived the new diagnosis for several months, almost a year, maybe I do have some insight.
Cancer is not fun. Chemotherapy is exactly like willfully drinking poison. It’s an unknown as to whether the chemo is giving Brent more time to live in the future, or just keeping the cancer at bay while he takes it.
Is this as good as it gets? Is Brent as healthy as he ever will be again? In our case, not even the doctors know. One of our doctors tells us Brent has about two more years. The other doctor just says, “It’s hard to tell.” I understand them both. It’s impossible to know, really. I wouldn’t want to have to predict anything for anybody else, either. But then again, humans (at least American humans) want answers—some limit–to keep us grounded, to give us bearing, to push against. Both doctors are trying to give us the correct answer. Both are trying not to squash our hope.
Brent is taking the chemotherapy treatments. He is doing well. He has a very restricted diet and sleeps about 3 weeks of every six, but he is functioning. He walks, he goes to church, he gets jobs done around the house with the help of others more agile, he eats, he keeps up with friends, he drives.
He was the one to invite our Huichol friends to live with us on the weekends while they studied at the seminary. He was so happy every day they were in our house.
He sometimes cooks, sometimes does the dishes. He still makes sure the cars get their regular maintenance. He goes to his doctors’ appointments and then goes to the store to do grocery shopping on the way home.
When he is in his worst two weeks of chemotherapy (of every six-week treatment round) he gets up for a few hours and goes back to bed for a few hours.
All this is bearable.
Today we had a plumbing problem in our home. Brent spent time explaining why our toilets were bubbling up in a strange way when they were flushed and how to know that it was time to call the plumber. He explained how the pipes run through our property and how to get access to them.
I am an unwilling student of plumbing issues, but Brent says to take note, “Just in case I’m not here.”
I say, “Well, you will be.”
And he says, “Well, I’m trying. But just in case, I want to take advantage of teachable moments.”
I wonder if I will need to know about this plumbing problem in the future. I wonder if I will remember it if I do. I try to retain it, while wishing I didn’t have to.
I think we both recognize that we have been blessed with time. We’ve been given the time to see our mortality, identify our regrets and rectify them. We have been able to surrender great responsibilities and participate in choosing who carries the baton forward. We’ve seen two children graduate from college and make choices of location and vocation, and we’re about to see one get married.
We’ve been blessed with peace and hope. Our faith in God has not come up short; it has not left us alone or lonely. (I remember when Emily was little she used to combine those words. Sometimes as I was walking out of her room after tucking her in at night she would say, “I don’t want to be alonely.” Well, I don’t either. I don’t ever want to be alonely.)
There are two parts to this. When we are alone, we are not lonely. God really does comfort us. Really. Reading the Bible we are revived. The words are so full and rich and soothing, like cool water over a burn, or a like eating a good meal after hard work. It is exactly what we need and it brings sweet relief. As does praying. And praying has the added advantage of sometimes altering our reality: sometimes fear subsides after praying, sometimes a confusion at the doctor’s office gets resolved, sometimes a real, true miracle occurs, like no paralysis after brain surgery.
And others comfort us. The deep, sweet blessing of others. They pray for us, they sacrifice for us. They give us gifts to cheer us. We have received quilts and bracelets and posters of love. We have been given places to stay, rides to doctor appointments and hospital visits, flowers, wheelchairs, walkers. We have been given groceries and money. People have helped with chores around the house and with physical therapy. People have paid our bills. They have come to our home to sing with us. They have called. They have written. They grab us at church and hug and kiss us.
Yesterday Brent woke up to his first day after his first hard chemo pill and he was very nauseated. On top of that he appeared to have a nasty cold. His head hurt. He had chills. For the first time he could imagine not making it all the way through his six chemo rounds. (He is on round five, after having to postpone it for three weeks while his body worked to get his blood counts high enough to start again.)
But today was tolerable. He helped with the plumbing issue and he didn’t hurt as much.
And tomorrow, who knows? It’s enough to be here. Now.