Spending a lot of time in the cancer support group, Curing Cancer With a Smile, multiple subjects come up. One of them is making memories. Mike, one of the co-founders, is in the end stages of brain cancer, and also has ALS, which is no picnic all by itself. Setting that aside, Mike is still a husband, and a father, so when one of his kids has a sporting event, the whole family gets enlisted to help Dad get to participate. Yes, these participations come with a cost – cancer does not like to be pushed out of the spotlight, and it exacts some horrid revenge. But with each event, each time Mike defies his illness and does something the medical texts all say should be impossible, a memory is created. The Beatles sang a song “A Day In The Life”. Each one that is granted to this very special family is a gift – another day, another memory. Those of us in the support group are blessed too – blessed to be allowed to “tag along” on this journey, on the journeys of all our fighters, all our caregivers, all our supporters. I don’t think there is a single one of the over 1500 in this group who take one second of life for granted. We have all been witness to its fragility, to its unpredictability.
But this week, the miracle was derailed. For whatever reasons, there was just no way that his health concerns could be accommodated and allow the trip. So adjustments were made, and Mike stayed at home. But don’t kid yourself for one minute – no one was happy about it. The following blog is for Mike – and his family, and all the families of all the Mike’s in the world.
There are billions of people in this world. Those who are “healthy” – whose only concern is now, who see before them innumerable tomorrows. They put things aside for “later”. They tell their children “not now”. They skip the little league game this week, maybe because of work conflicts, maybe because they are tired, maybe because they will go “next time”. They don’t go to the high school drama production because they “can’t stand those things” and even though their child has a small part, they say “I’ll go when he/she is a senior, that’s the only one that matters anyway.” But let that person get a diagnosis of cancer, of ALS, of MS, of Lupus, of leukemia – any illness that defines your lifespan not in decades, but in weeks, or months, or just a few years – and suddenly every event is important. No event can be skipped for “next time” because there may not be a “next time”. It may take a little time after the diagnosis, but there is bound to be the “IF” party. Yep, I said the “IF” party. After all, a party is a gathering of friends, and at this party are your bestest friends – ME, MYSELF, and I. You lay in bed, on the couch, sit in your chair, your wheelchair, and in your mind your 3 besties proceed to beat the tar out of you. There are no party favors at this party, only layer upon layer of guilt, piled on top of regrets, laced with depression. If you had only gone to all those games, all those programs, if only you had volunteered to go on the field trips, work the concession stand, ride the busses with the band. You do not come away from this party with a feeling of accomplishment, oh no. You leave this party bruised, battered, and feeling like your terminal illness is actually a good thing, because you were such a rotten person anyway. You are determined you are worthless, just a bother to your family and friends, and you can’t see why anyone would even want to be around you, let alone spend time with you. Just when you start thinking you have it figured out – BAM – in steps the real world! It may be your wife, husband, child, sister, brother, or just a friend. Suddenly you are reminded – you are still here NOW. You still have TODAY. And you tell your three besties that you can’t come play the pity game today, you have to go LIVE first! So you go to the game – quietly being thankful that today, the pain pills are working, and the side effects have taken a day off. You go to the concert – and every single note is the sweetest one ever heard. You LIVE every minute of every day like no other – you ABSORB life, you taste it, feel it, enjoy it, love it, hate it, but you are still ALIVE, and your illness is just going to have to be happy with a backseat, because shotgun is taken. You make more memories.
Oh, but a life altering/terminal illness is a jealous being. Yes, it gave you your day – your evening, your couple of hours. But when you are done, it looks at you and says, “Okay, PAYBACK!” It has to extract its revenge for allowing you to pretend it didn’t exist! You have no choice but to take whatever it throws your way, medicate it, live with it. Unfortunately, this causes memories too. Bitter memories. Memories best forgotten. It enlists the help of those three besties – yep, they are back, Me, Myself and I, and they are ticked. You left them behind. You didn’t allow them to invade your all-too-brief foray into the land of life. They have their payback as well, for they saved up mountains of guilt, buckets of regret, and truckloads of depression. You don’t slide down the mountain into the valley of despair, oh no. They have greased your path – you slam head on into the floor of that valley. They start their mantra in the back of your mind, about how you know you wouldn’t feel this bad, be in this much pain, if you would have been a good little patient (victim) and let them quietly erode every positive facet of your being. If you would just quit fighting and give in to their ever-increasing demands, they promise they will play nice. But they lie. They don’t want you happy – they don’t want to have to vie for your attention with your GOOD memories – they want to pile up the guilt, the remorse, the why me pity until the brightness of your good memories is clouded by their angst. They have no good memories. They exist to destroy, to decimate. They work hand in hand with your illness to try to erode every positive thing from your life.
However, there is a catch. They never take into account the one variable they have no control over – those who love you. Your spouse, parents, children, grandchildren, even good friends. THEY are the antidote. They are the reason, no matter the illness, no matter the pain, no matter the severity of the side effects, you summon that last ounce of energy that has remained hidden from your foes. You dredge up that last piece of ammunition you were saving, hiding so they could not destroy it. You feed off the loving care of those around you, and you do everything you can to push your “besties” away, to push that illness away, and allow those who love you to pull you up from the floor of the valley of despair one more time, to make one more memory. Sometimes, it’s an altered version of what you had planned – conceding to the wounds your illness had inflicted, to the side effects the medication has provided. Maybe instead of a trip to the theater, it’s a dvd and popcorn in the living room. Maybe, instead of getting to go to the band concert, its watching the videotape later. Maybe, instead of going to the game, it’s sitting with the star athlete and getting the best play by-play ever. But it IS another memory. Another moment in time you have been granted. Oh yes, the pain is there. The illness is there. Even the dark depression and despair are lurking. But in the light of the love of those who love you, of those you love, they are relegated to the shadowy corners, for now. Because it boils down to life – just a constant series of memories, good and bad, and as long as you breathe, you are making them – for yourself, and for those you love.
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