She must have noticed how my face fell in disappointment as my head turned, first to the right, and then to the left of me. I had run into the store to grab a prescription, leaving everyone waiting in the car. As I went to close my door, he asks me to quickly grab him something as well.
I nod my head, irritated as I hurry inside.
Matthew had a craving for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups lately and asked me to grab a few. I tried to remind him that we had plenty of M&M’s and Kit Kats at the house, sitting in the freezer. The kids had been gone for several days, so the candy hadn’t been gobbled up just yet. But, no, his craving was specific, and judging from previous experience, if I don’t acquiesce, than the craving builds into some incredible hunger monster of epic proportions, often resulting in his “Go BIG or go home” philosophy that ends up with him miserable and having a stomach ache.
Now, I am standing there, prescription paid for in one hand, and three king sized Reese’s packages in the other, hoping to get through the checkout in a minute or two…not the twenty minutes it looked as if it were going to take, judging by the long line of full grocery carts in front of me.
“Would you like to go in front of me?”
I looked up into a sweet face, waving for me to come closer.
“That would be great, thank you!”
I squeezed in between the cart and her, sucking in my stomach as I did this, shuffling my feet in a strange dance as I place the candy bars down on the conveyor belt. In full disclosure, sucking in my stomach does not, in fact, make my ass any smaller as I try this…but it is always worth a try.
I had noticed, as this older lady and I had done our strange shuffle dance, that she had a bandage just under her shirt. I assume it is a port, and I try to glance away quickly so as not to make her uncomfortable that I had been staring. My eyes venture over to the stacks of pizza boxes and frozen egg rolls, and various other over-processed foods. Maybe she has a Matthew at home as well.
She reaches over to rearrange the food, smiling.
“My grandsons are coming over tonight for a sleep over. They are bringing some friends and instead of cooking, I am hoping this might be enough to fill them up for a while!”
I know all too well how hard it is to feed the never-ending pit of teenage appetites. I learn that her grandsons are in their teenage years but still love coming over to Grandma’s house. I share with her I how I can’t wait to become a grandma!
I quickly clarify that I can in fact wait, as my oldest is not quite 18 years old, but that I am looking forward to spoiling babies…only handing them back when I am done!
She mentions that she has enjoyed having her grandbabies over since she moved her almost thirteen years ago.
We talk more about parenting and the joys of kids.
She tells me how perfect her grandkids are. I nod, telling her that my children are also pretty perfect.
“It’s the parents, you know.” She leans in to tell me this as if it’s a secret between us. I laugh, telling her I don’t think I had much to do with it. I was really just blessed with great kids.
“When people tell me that kids today are awful, I just don’t agree! It’s the PARENTS that are awful!”
I can’t help but agree with her a bit on this.
She mentions the cancer.
She is doing really well with the chemo. In fact, today was her anniversary and she celebrated by having another chemo round. Her husband wasn’t doing anything to celebrate, but she seems content with feeding teenage boys with copious amounts of junk food.
She proudly pats the stylish grey bob on her head, “I did lose my hair, but I have plenty still to spare!”
I tell her I am sorry but that I am glad she is still feeling so well.
“It was more emotionally hard seeing all the other patients come in, looking sicker and sicker with each round.”
I nod in agreement again. I have no experience with that, but I can imagine it must be really scary and difficult not knowing.
She says how thankful she is, because she knows it can be worse.
I mention that my husband has ALS but that I have learned to find even the smallest things to be grateful for.
Her eyes widen, and then fall as they fill with sadness, her hand squeezing my forearm.
She gets it…
I give her a small smile, trying to comfort her as she tries to apologize for something she has no control over.
I don’t have any person experience with cancer. I know people who have had cancer. I knew people who have passed from cancer, but my experience with having a close loved one with cancer and caring for them is next to nothing.
However, there is something comforting about looking into another person’s eyes and finding compassion and understanding.
For just a moment, two complete strangers were able to connect about how life isn’t fair, but that joy can still be found in the love for family, a few boxes of pizza and maybe a Reese’s peanut butter cup or two.
And that craving of Matthew’s?
Yeah, those king-sized bars made their way into the freezer, along the other piles of junk food…
You didn’t think it would happen. Not to you. You had it all. You had a loving and supportive family. Siblings and cousins you saw or talked to almost every day. You had friends. Friends who grew up right down the street from you, buddies who had gone through thick and thin with you.
Slowly, so slowly at first, it seemed almost as if you might be imagining it all.
First, the words of condolences.
“I am so sorry you are going through this.”
“I heard about the diagnosis. I am so sorry.”
Next, they see you out and about, but instead of the happy greeting you would normally get, they avert their eyes. You sort of stop. Unsure of how to proceed. You see them look away. You clearly make them uncomfortable now. They are hoping you don’t call out or draw attention to them. They duck, they turn away, they do anything to avoid having to face you.
It seems awkward at first. You take it personally. You feel as if you have inconvenienced them in some way, but you aren’t sure how.. After a while, it becomes such a common occurrence, you do them the courtesy of simply not even looking in their direction.
The pain is less sharp with every ripped page of a calendar month. It seems that time has a way of helping you adapt. You adapt to the loss of mobility. You adapt to losing your independence. You adapt to losing camaraderie with co-workers you used to see daily. You simply adapt to losing something, each and every day.
You think you have managed to come to terms with all the changes, but then you realize that the changes never stop.
After your body has morphed into something you no longer recognize, and you only slightly look like the person you used to be, you must now adapt to a new challenge. The friends and family you hold so dear. have all just slowly dropped out of sight. You had no idea that this is the part that would test you.
You thought dealing with the disease would be the hardest thing you would ever have to deal with, but you discovered you were wrong.
The hardest part, in fact, would be watching everyone around that you love move on with their lives, and all you can do is stare at a screen and watch it all happen.
You do everything in your power not to click on that icon, you try so hard to stay away from social media.
You don’t need to be reminded of all the Christmas parties, the weddings or the birthday celebrations that you are no longer invited to.
You don’t get to be included in the phone calls, or the invites for a drink to commiserate a friend’s breakup or loss of their favorite sport teams championship game.
The connection is gone.
Funny that you didn’t notice at first. You were so focused on the loss of your legs, you hadn’t noticed that those friends who used to talk to you every day, haven’t reached out in almost a year now. No one has stopped by to visit in so long, and you don’t even bother asking for visitors. They all promised, but its been so long, you finally quit anticipating anyone knocking on the door.
The invitations you had gotten were either to someplace that cannot accommodate your new situation, or it was a pity invitation. At least, you assume it is a pity invitation, so you politely decline. You feel you have done everyone a favor by not going.
You thought the disease would be what caused your body to stop functioning. Now, you no longer believe that. Your heart is breaking, and you begin to imagine that it is possible to die from a broken heart.
If you had only known the disease would not be the hardest part to deal with. You found out the most difficult part of each day would be to live and then die from isolation, depression and sadness. The ability to see all those people you once had a connection with, posting pictures of their lives, their loves, and their ups and downs, but you somehow, realize that you were forgotten.
You want to turn away, but you so desperately need to feel as if you are still worthy of their time or effort.
Now, you scour the internet, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter…anything that connects you in some way to the people you used to know. The anger is gone. Now, you simply want a connection with them. Even if the only link to them again is by pressing the “like” button.
Would you like to know what it means to be a caregiver?
It means always…ALWAYS putting them first.
Tonight is not about me.
Tonight is not about my journey, or those around me…at least not in regards to ALS.
Tonight is about her.
Her bravery, her strength. Her beauty and love that shines through her eyes and her smile.
She tells me I am the courageous one, but I wonder if she ever stops long enough to look in the mirror. She is battling something she has little control over. The only choice she has is follow the doctor’s orders…and pray.
And still, she keeps moving…one foot in front of the other. She keeps pushing forward and she keeps fighting.
They have drugged her and cut into her body. They have poisoned her, day after day… and still, she keeps pushing forward. They give her statistics and case studies, and long tedious answers about the latest therapies, and percentages… and still, she keeps pushing forward.
She usually hides behind her wit and her charm. Her smile and her charisma. But tonight, she shared a piece of her soul.
I can’t take any credit for it, I wish I could. Because when people show up, and are real, and jump up and down and say,
“Hello world, look at me!”
they shine brighter than any star. And she has always had a presence about her, the kind of natural charm that most women envy and men desire. But tonight, she stood up, and shone bright for all the world to see.
I am not moved to tears often and this one left me rocked to my core.
Kristina ~ I am so incredibly grateful you are in my life. You are all that any woman aspires to be. You are brilliant and kind, and you show grit and determination when others would have buckled by now. Trust me, telling your story is not vulnerable. It is gut-wrenching…and it is beautiful.
The world needs more women with your strength and your grace.
I can only hope to one day shine as brightly as you do…
Here is just a small piece of her story…
How do you get through two radiation treatments in one day? Two spa treatments, of course!
That’s the positive side. Here’s the ugly side.
One week and a half left, if my skin can take it. If my mental health can take it. They said radiation makes you tired.
There’s no physical reason. It’s definitely mental.
Every day you go in, partially disrobe and lie down on a hard table. Arms are stretched above your head, goggles on. The entire time three to four people move about the room, aligning you, adjusting you, drawing on you, radiating you.
Arms go numb from the awkward position, but you can’t move. You itch, but you can’t scratch.
“Breathe, hold it. Ok breathe. Let’s do it again. This time hit the middle of the box. Now we’re ready. Let’s go!”
And repeat multiple times.
The breath holds are challenging for me. Sometimes I wiggle my fingers so they can see in the camera that I’m about to pass out. Holding your breath pushes the heart down and out of the way of the beam. Nobody wants a radiated heart. I certainly don’t.
When I breathe, a yellow bar rises. I’m to hit the center of a green box above it. It looks like an Atari game in my goggles.
I’m frustrated when I don’t hit the precise spot they want me to hit. So frustrated that sometimes my eyes well up. When I feel the water trickle down the side of my face I get even more frustrated “Hold it together.” It’s become my inner chant.
It’s all quick. 15 to 20 minutes most days. But it seems longer.
I’m tired after. God I’m tired. Not because I do anything, but because I’m confronted with The Cancer every day. I’m confronted with my mortality every day. It’s exhausting.
I lie there, my chest ravaged and my skin so red, peeled and on fire it hurts to move. I’m exposed and it’s uncomfortable, awkward and cold.
Then I’m done. I hop off the table and wave my tingling arm. “See you all tomorrow” and I go put on my clothes.
I look in the changing room mirror examining my angry battle wounds. Who is this person? How the hell did she get here? I slather on Aquafor and off I go.
Some days I just walk out as if nothing happened. Other times I linger to dry my eyes. I’ve never fully cried there, but I’ve come close many times. I save it for when I’m alone. Instead I suck it up and tell myself “Hold it together.” It works.
I hop into an Uber and either head to the airport or to a place here in Seattle, depending on the day of the week. Sometimes I walk, if I’m close enough. I did today. I like those days. I get into my head and get closer to God.
That’s daily radiation. Although today I slipped in two glorious spa treatments … just because.
Most of my posts about this topic are generally positive. I’m not nor have I ever been comfortable being vulnerable. So I tend not to share that side. But I’m inspired by a woman who so often shows the vulnerable side and I have learned a lot through her and her honest -sometimes brutally so – insights into ALS and the journey she and her husband are on. Theresa Whitlock-Wild shows me daily that it’s ok to drop the veil, to be honest and vulnerable and then gather up the strength and continue the damn fight. Thank you T. ❤️
So this post is meant to share a little insight into my journey and the journey of so many of us who have, had and will have breast cancer.
I think about my cancer sisters who have gone through radiation before me and I want to hug them tonight. I know what misery they went through. They are warriors.
I think about all the women who will go through this after me, not just the radiation but all of it.
They don’t yet know it. But they will be warriors, too.
It is the same process, every single night.
Mundane…sameness…always the same monotonous events that take place for bedtime.
- Brush his teeth, but don’t use the minty toothpaste. He doesn’t like that one.
- Wash his face, but only in certain spots. It makes him chilly to have his face damp.
- Use a q-tip and scratch the itches his fingers can no longer reach. He gets that look in his eye when you find that good spot, not unlike a dog feels when you hit the magic spot.
- Use a bit of tissue, and pick at his nose. (I used to feel squeamish getting up in each nostril, but now, my stomach doesn’t even do a little flip flop as my fingers go up and wiggle around, the tissue swiping at any loose snot balls.)
- One medicine for anxiety, one for sadness. One that is supposed to slow down his progression. We know two out of three of those meds work for certain.
- Pour a capful of white powder and swirl around until dissolved. (It helps him poop.)
- Place the pills in his mouth, his tongue is twitching again. Quickly lift the thickened water to his lips.
- Remove his lap blanket and place the hand-held urinal between his legs. Push his legs apart so that he pees in the urinal and not all over himself.
- Roll into the bedroom and start a machine. The clicking of air, pushing in and out, his cheeks puffed, as he coughs. (The cough is weaker now. Nothing much ever comes out. I can’t tell if I should be thankful for that or not.)
- He tells me he thinks he may be getting sick. His throat hurts and he feels warm. I tell him he isn’t getting sick and deep down I silently pray I am right.
- Grab the giant metal arm, attach the loops and hit the button. The arm pulls him up and out of his wheelchair. His ass scrapes along his controller, again. I seem to do that every night. He gives me a pouty face, as I apologize…again.
- My face turns red as I pull and twist the metal contraption over towards the bed.
- Grab the remote for the bed to lift the headboard up, as I simultaneously lower the metal arm down on the bed. Push with my shoulders, and pull his legs out straight, so he doesn’t cramp.
Pay attention, Theresa!
- Don’t sit him too high or too low. Keep the headboard at a little less than 90 degrees, just the way he likes it. Unhook the loops, pull the metal arm away from the bed. Tuck it back into the shower, where we can hide it and pretend for just a few hours that it is not a necessary tool for me to move him to and fro.
- Pull the straps and the sling out from under him.
- He winces.
- Place the bandaid over the bridge of his nose. It looks raw and sore again.
- The mask goes on next. Hit the ON button. It screeches to life.
- Find the remote for the headboard, which is now buried between his legs and blankets. The dog is laying by his feet. The dog isn’t much help.
- Laying him slowly back, there is one more thing. Scratches…
- Grab the baby powder by the night stand
- Dump it anywhere there is a crevice. (I’ll save you the embarrassment of describing all the places that baby powder goes.)
- Attempt to roll him onto his side. Not before he whines. He wants scratchy time to last longer. I do not
- Check for pressure sores. On the back of his legs and his buttocks.
I grunt again…I swear he is more square than he is round.
- Get his leg pillow just right between his legs. Adjust his head pillow to match. (He asks me to push him more. He isn’t on his side all the way. He will tip back over if he isn’t just so. Several more attempts. Several more grunts)
I give one more hard push…
- “OWWW, I think you did something to my back!”
I panic! My eyes scanning his body. I can’t imagine what happened. I pause looking him over, his butt cheeks out in the open, legs bent
- “I don’t think my legs work anymore!”
- Then he giggles.
- Rolling my eyes when I realize he was trying to be funny.
- “Ok, I am going to go lock up.” I say, as I pad barefoot out of the bedroom.
- “I’ll be right here!” He yells.
- “Don’t move!” I yell back.
- I shake my head with a little grin.
- It is always the same thing…every single night.
I’m sorry you had to see me like that today.
I try to keep that side of me hidden from the rest of the world. Well, except Matthew. He has seen it a few times. If only I had known you were going to walk in, I would have pulled it together before you saw me. You seemed shocked to see me like that.
It doesn’t happen all the time. Well, actually, that’s not true… it seems to be happening more frequently lately. Maybe it’s the holidays? Maybe it’s my birthday that is fast approaching? Maybe it is all the what if’s, the why’s, or the somedays….Trust me, if I could figure out how to get it under control, I would. I would do anything to numb this…to make it stop…I wish I could make it go away.
I wish I could describe what it is like. It is so strange, especially in the moment. One minute, life is fine and then, before I know it, I am just so angry. I didn’t mean to let it happen. Sometimes these emotions just seem to overpower me.
Today though…today was different.
I was so tired this morning.
I just wanted to sleep. Matthew wanted to sit up. It wasn’t even 6 o’clock in the morning. Then I remembered…the house was a mess and my list of to-do’s is piling higher and higher. I know, I know…I will always have so much to do, but today….today, it just seemed overwhelming. My wrists and hands were already aching..and I remembered that it’s a “Shower Day.”
Matthew wants to sits up, but less than ten minutes later, he wants to go back to sleep. I am sorry. I know I shouldn’t be complaining. After all, I can still sit up. He can’t.
I know. This isn’t about me. I am not the one dying….There is no reason for me to be so irritated, right?
Sometimes, with every little need, from him…from my children…from everyone around me, I feel selfish for wanting something for myself. I want to ask what happens to me when I need something? What then? But I shouldn’t think like that…should I?
I am the one who must get up, take his mask off…then wait till he decides if he wants to go back to sleep or not.
I am the one who has to reach for the cup to give him a drink.
I am the one picks him up and transfers him.
I am the one who helps him use the bathroom.
I am the one who feeds him.
I am the one who covers him when he is cold.
I am the one…
Today wasn’t any different than yesterday. And it won’t be any different than tomorrow.
But today, with each little need, and want or request, and with each thought of what I should get done: the shopping, the cleaning, the errands, the bills, the appointments, the kids, the animals, the cooking, the showering, rearranging the garage, finish the Christmas decorations, the homework….
It just seemed like so much.
And I snapped..
I never said a word. No outward reaction could be seen. But inside, I was seething.
I became so angry.
So angry, that if someone had said something to me in that exact moment…I could see myself going insane!
There was a big possibility that would have seen my face splashed across the newspapers, “Caregiver and wife of man with ALS has gone BESERK! Aggravated Assault and Battery Charges have been filed!”
I laid there, trying to force myself back to sleep. But soon the kids were running through the house, the doors were slamming,.the footsteps were stomping…and then with a quick kiss, they were gone.
Too quiet. Too easy to think, to remember, to analyze, to contemplate, and then over-react.
What was it my therapist told me?
“Anger is really just a mask for sadness and fear. It’s easier and more powerful to feel anger. Imagine when you finally admit what you are really feeling.”
I check with myself.
Yep, that is a whole lotta anger, ready to come pouring out of every cell in my body.
Instead of the rush of endorphins…the rage…instead, I realize…he is right.
I am not angry…I am sad
I am so unbelievably sad, and scared.
And just like that…I begin to cry.
I fall into a million pieces.
I am sorry that you walked in during the part where I was trying to put myself back together.
That probably wasn’t a pretty sight for anyone to have to witness.
It’s okay though.
I spent the day gluing all those cracks and crevices together.
I can’t say that I am back to my usual self. There were a lot of pieces today.
And I can’t say I am going to sit in the emotion of sadness anytime soon. Apparently, that is a powerful emotion.
Instead, I turned it back into anger.
Anger I can manage.
Anger I can control.
Anyway, I just wanted to tell you I am sorry. I hate when someone sees that side of me. It feels far too vulnerable, and too much to have to burden someone else with. And I just wanted to apologize for bothering you…
Let’s just pretend this never happened…what do you say?
❤ Matthew Wild