Sooner or later, everyone is a wounded storyteller.
- Arthur Frank
On a Friday night last fall, several of us from the Portland Myeloma Support Group went to the Newmark Theatre here in Portland to hear Siddhartha Mukherjee give a lecture on his book "Emperor of All Maladies-- A Biography of Cancer," which recently won him a Pulitzer Prize. He talked about his book being a biography in which the main character, Cancer, is not featured, but reflected in people's stories illustrating their experience of it. Some of the coincidences and connections he talked about were haunting.
After the lecture, my husband Alan was approached by a coworker from a job he had over ten years ago. I split off and talked to his ex-coworker's wife, while they caught up. I really liked her. Our conversation was strange because it was apparent that we were both caregivers on a cancer journey, but couldn't talk about it until we knew that our husbands were sharing the same story. Our hesitation seemed to be tied directly to the lecture we'd just heard-- it's not "if" but "when" your life is going to be touched by cancer. And our very real connection didn't address directly the cancers that colored everything in both of our lives.
That Friday had been great day because, for the first time in weeks, Alan had been able to eat three meals without suffering from G.I. issues. It was fun to be out with our gang. It felt like a 'normal' date night- a better-than-normal date night! However, by the middle of the night, Alan was violently shaking with a fever. I covered him in blankets, called the clinic, gave him a Biaxin, and began reading to him out of a book I checked out of the library, called "The Mythic Journey." The chapter I started reading to help calm the shaking was on 'Separation, Loss and Suffering', and was represented by the Biblical story of Job's Trials.
It's a very different story when you are reading it to your husband who has been living with a disheartening cancer diagnosis for six years, who is shaking with fever, whose feet are bleeding and who is struggling with G.I. problems at three in the morning. But its message about accepting the hand you have been dealt, and not looking for something to be 'fair' was the right story for both of us. I am still amazed that it was the one I picked up. Thankfully, by early morning, the fever was on the way down, and Alan was sleeping soundly.
Much of what has resulted from this myeloma diagnosis has been both bonding and isolating, though not usually packed together so closely. As one of my friends, who is also on a cancer journey, said, "One thing about troubled times, and 3:00 a.m.-- it just doesn't get any more real than this. Real, vivid, fully awake and aware." And that is atonement.
P.S. I have a friend who is a myeloma caregiver wife, whose husband is on 'day twenty' of an allo stem cell transplant. It will be his third transplant, and the process has been challenging and unusual enough that I ought to recruit her to write a 'guest caregiver blog.' They still have 70 more days of living away from home. I want to send them a list of movies with a theme about "beating the odds," and I would like help from you, fellow travelers -- Do you have a movie title that you think would uplift and entertain?