I never forget that Phil has cancer.
But sometimes I pretend he doesn’t. I like to pretend that I have all the time and energy in the world to drive a carpool or volunteer at my kids’ school or plan a trip. Pretend there’s no possibility that I’ll have to scramble to find coverage at work and for the kids at the last minute. Pretend that Phil won’t have to be rushed to the ER, put in isolation, and end up on antiviral meds and morphine through a picc line. Pretend that the month he has to take off from work to recover is really a vacation.
Pretend that our life is normal.
But occasionally circumstances pop up in my face to remind me that our “normal”… isn’t.
Last month, Phil came home from work on a Friday with a headache and fever, and by Saturday night he had been admitted to the hospital with Shingles and Meningitis, probably a result of the chemotherapy he currently takes. He was in a ton of pain. I know this is true, not because he was complaining (he never does) but because he asked me to take him to the hospital which just never happens. He ended up hospitalized for a week and just went back to work this week.
We live our lives in a way that probably looks typical… school, work, church, soccer, doing housework and homework, getting together with friends, exercising… but most moments of most days I am braced for chaos. I evaluate Phil’s headaches and heartburn with the same scrutiny as his quarterly blood work. I sort medications into one of the biggest pill boxes I’ve ever seen. I carefully craft soft words into gentle sentences to explain to our tender-hearted kids why their dad is in the hospital again, and when he will be home, and why he has to go there so much.
(The reality is, he doesn’t go there “so much”, but they are observant enough to know that most of their friends have parents that have to go to the hospital exactly NEVER, so the few times they remember are just a few times too many for their comfort. But still I do my best to comfort.)
My whole life revolves around making sure everyone stays out of the hospital, and when that becomes unavoidable I do everything I can to make sure we all survive with as little trauma as possible. I still pack the lunches and get the kids to school. I still read to them and sing silly songs in the car. I still make sure we have clean clothes and clean dishes. I still get up with kids when they have a tummy ache or a nightmare. I control the things I can when chaos erupts. It’s how I survive.
Phil and I don’t feel sorry for ourselves. We realize we don’t have any other option than to push forward and keep living our lives. But sometimes we look at each other, shake our heads and say, “Damn. How much more do we have to endure?” Then we laugh. Because that’s also how we survive.
And then we continue with the parenting and the working and the living. And I continue with the caregiving. I do it because I have to. But also because I want to. I feel responsible for making decisions about Phil’s health and advocating for him when he’s unable to. (That’s marriage.) I feel responsible for making sure our kids know they are loved and safe. (That’s parenthood.) And I feel responsible for making sure I don’t go off the rails once the dust settles. (That’s good sense.)
Here’s hoping we have another good, long run of health and hospital-free living. Hoping the same for all of you.