Monday, February 14, 2011
It is always well documented among Survivors. The diagnosis. The shock. The crying. The treatments. The pain. The questions. It’s a personal journey that too many take. It’s not a simple test of character. It’s a slamming of the very faith you might have in life itself. That’s when you are on the inside of the game. You are under the microscope, both figuratively and literally. The spotlight is searing. The poking and prodding are maddening. It is a macabre show and you are the unwilling star. But what if you had to watch? What if you had access, twenty-four seven, to one of the worst reality shows every produced? Many know of my often-documented journey from six-year-old Hodgkins patient to scarred adult. Many more don’t know that my wife is a very recent survivor of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. A different situation indeed. It was December 2006, almost two and a half years before I had another round to deal with myself. My family was preparing for a usual Friday night dinner out. Pam was in the middle of changing to go out when she noticed her right leg was suddenly swollen. Puffed so much, she couldn’t fit her leg into her regular jeans. We agreed it was time to go to the ER. She travelled herself and I stayed behind to watch The Boy. It’s the very moment of hesitation before the roller coaster plummets. The skip in your heart when the murderer jumps from behind the door. After all of the treatments. After all of the pain. After all of the caring that I had received from countless people with names that I never knew, I was out of place. Pam called me from the ER and the process had started. She was admitted after an MRI showed that a mass was blocking a major vein in her right leg. A mass. She had never spent a day in a hospital in her life and there it was – a mass. In a flood of surrealism, she was subjected to biopsies; scans and the word came back – NHL. From under the microscope to outside the bubble, a new level of pain washes over you. Someone you care about now is the subject. She was now the guinea pig. Radiation was first. Silent. Invisible. Deadly when misused. After effects still unknown to science. Next came the barrage of chemo. I remember when the first hairs began to fall out. The first tears. Pam never flinched. While I fell to pieces with panic, sorrow and pity, she stood her ground. At the time my son was about three years of age – a blessing at the time. She was going to watch him grow up. She refused any other option. She would be tired. Ever so tired as the radiation sucked the energy from her. Her will had stamina, however. Bald, she strapped on her head kerchief or plopped on her cap and went on with life. Our son has very little memory of her ever being sick. Doctor visits dwindled. Scans are now the norm. Clean is a way of life. NHL can be nasty but we have faith. Very recently her doctor made the statement that is more fact than opinion. “You will just have to get used to being healthy.” Watching outside of the bubble is like viewing a person drowning. All you can do, sometimes, is press up against the glass and scream. You can use supportive words. You can work to pay the bills. You can hold them in your arms but in the end, it is they who must learn to swim again. I have survived the disease and I have watched a love one walk through the carnage. I am unsure which is worse.