“We’re a triangle family!” my son proclaimed proudly to his therapist.
“A triangle—me, mom and dad.”
“Oh, I see.”
“What shape is your family, Dr. Peg?”
“I guess you could say we’re a line. It’s just me and my mom.”
My husband—tall, strong and stubborn, yet chill—had just been diagnosed with cancer. We had gone from packing for vaca to packing for chemo overnight. And the unfairness of it all now beat me down in a new way. What if our cozy, comfortable and safe triangle were turned into just a line?
In the nearly two months since our diagnosis, “rollercoaster of emotions” has become the new normal.
There are good moments. For instance, the Father’s Day errands run—son whining in backseat about how he NEEDS to get home and how “wasn’t Dad’s Great Father’s Day of 2017 plan to be ‘doing nothing at all?’”, while Mom and Dad pump up the volume on Sirius Radio’s Hair Nation and tease that we might, just might, have 25 more errands to run and maybe he won’t be back home relaxing for another three days! Gullible boy screeches, and I exchange a playful glance at the guy I’ve built my life with over the past 25 years.
Life is pretty good. Chemo may begin again tomorrow, but wow, that first round wasn’t so bad and we’ve had 10 good days. Count them: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 days of feeling almost as if the Big C had never made an appearance in our lives at all.
Then there are the sad, scary, dark days when I can’t get percentages out of my head and every “what if?” fear closes in on my body, reducing me to a puddle of salty tears. Tears he doesn’t want to see because they scare him even more.
Comfort in, dump out, they say. I share my worries instead with my cousin during walks at dusk or with the unlucky co-worker who asks how I’m doing today.
Ever the practical couple—the “us” that has worked hard to realize shared dreams, many of them first expressed the summer before college—we have moments of calm “what-if’s” too, where we talk of needing to get the wills in order and to ensure probate difficulties get avoided should the unthinkable happen.
I can have these discussions. I am strong. When my love tells me he thinks he might pre-write birthday cards for our son to open in the future—if things wind up looking bad, that is—I wait until hours later, when I’m in the hospital parking garage by myself, to let the tears appear.
The odds are pretty positive, they say. There are worse cancers to have. But the doctor’s words about pieces of our reality making our case “higher risk” bounce around in my head. No, actually they slam from one end of my brain to the other.
Our son’s birthday is almost here. Double digits. He should be that age times four before the possibility of life without Dad ever even comes up. But I’ll push that thought aside as we plan a low-key but awesome celebration for which Dad will hopefully be joining us.
And if Dad needs to be in bed that day, maybe we can at least make what our son calls our “sandwich”—he in the middle with hug from me on one side and hug from Dad on the other. Kind of a nice straight line. Not the usual triangle, but filled nonetheless with strength, hope and love.