I'm letting the bad cat out of the bag. My husband has terminal cancer. I don't say that word much, terminal. It sounds defeatist. When the oncologist says there is no cure, or the radiologist says we're just administering palliative care, I try and ignore the offending phrase. But the real truth is there is no cure. The definition of palliative is to treat the symptoms and pain without dealing with the underlying cause. Cancer is a nasty, nasty beast.
But we are living with it. And I mean living with it and ignoring it to some degree. Dan's had chemo for the last year and a half and is now receiving radiation as well. During the chemo years, he would have treatments once every two weeks, and then a break. The chemo week was sometimes pretty bad, but the off week was usually pretty good.
That is where we live: in the good weeks. I was a mess when I first heard his diagnosis: Stage IV recurrence of colon cancer. But a dear friend came and gathered me up, mopped up my tears and took me to see our rabbi. He hugged me until my sobbing subsided, then let me spill out all my fears and sadness. He voiced some pearls of wisdom, some sympathy, and then this. "We're all going to die," he said. "It's never easy. It's never easy when you're staring it down. But, don't go to the funeral today," he said. "Today, you have your husband with you. Today you love each other. Today you can be together. Don't go to the funeral today."
That phrase broke through the heavy curtain of my grief. Don't go to the funeral today. It even let a little sunshine in. He was right. Unlike a sudden death, we have more time to live together. We have each day.
So, I put on the cloak of happy caretaker. I pulled out my Obama campaign shirt from 2008 -- "GOT HOPE?" -- and it became my chemo ward uniform. It also became my mantra. For every day I have hope, I have oxygen. For every day we wake up together, I have joy. For every day we are a couple, I'm singing. I have this man for my husband. I'm beyond words thankful.
All this is not to say we never acknowledge the bum rap. Or that we never realize, separately or together, that we won't live out the sunset years together It doesn't mean that we don't talk to each other about it. But we don't have time to wallow in our plight. We don't need to. Cancer is random. It does no good to be angry. Being angry just takes away another minute, another particle of energy I get to spend with the man I love. People who know our situation wonder at our ability to stay cheerful. It's simple. We're here today. We get to be together, we get to be with the ones we love today, we get to hear music, hike the mountains, and feel the sun or the rain on our faces. Love is simple. Hope is oxygen for the soul.
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