Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Chapter 4: Is Cancer Contagious?

For awhile there, I think people were beginning to think our Hall was contaminated somehow.  Is Cancer contagious?  Was it in the water, the seats, or heaven for bid, airborne!  It sure seemed like it round here!

Not long after my first small round with cancer, we got the news that a good friend was diagnosed with colon cancer that spread to his liver.  It didn't sound good.  They didn't widely advertise the extent of his cancer, but it didn't sound especially promising.  Richard has a family with 2 kids. It's always harder when there are kids involved, the loss would be so much deeper if it went the wrong way round.  But through it all, their family was a stellar example, always helping others, rarely missing a meeting. It just shows that sometimes, just by your presence, by carrying on, you can encourage others. I applaud them wholeheartedly.

Next came dear Johnny.  When we first moved here and we met Johnny, I said to Mike, "It is going to be a sad sad day when that man goes." He had already won my heart. Shy and gentle, so kind, he always took the time to say hello and ask, in all sincerity, "how are you?"  He didn't say much, but what he did say, was genuine. Asbestos was his enemy.

I guess since it looked like so much fun, we got a whole crop of joiners. Within 3 months of Johnny's diagnosis, we added 3 more to the growing ranks. Jim was the next inductee.  Jolly, smiling, greeter Jim. I was constantly amazed at how a man with such big hands could create such beautiful fine woodwork. He swapped painting for doing our cupboards. Almost exactly one year ago, he told me how he was going to the doctor to see about a pain. He figured it was his gallbladder. Or at least that's what he was telling people anyway.

Now for Lorraine. I sigh deeply as I write her name, a mist in my eyes and a lump in my throat. What a truly sweet and caring woman.  She was a Gramma to everyone. With what little she had, she was always trying to share it with you.  Full of life, humble as can be. She was family to us. Family by choice. For a year she was trying to figure out why she felt sick all the time. Finally she found out, lung cancer. "But only stage 1!" she said with optimism.  She was more worried about me. Cuz you know, I couldn't stay out of this club.

The empathetic person that I am, I couldn't have all these people feeling alone. Besides, round One didn't make me feel like a full member of the cancer club anyway. Had to make it more official. Between Jim and Lorraine, was when I got my phone call.  You know the one.....the one that makes your world stop for a moment. The one where melanoma and lymph gland were mentioned in the same sentence. The day I stopped feeling safe.

I got my diagnosis one week before Jim passed away. He didn't even know what kind of cancer he had before it took him!  Too fast, entirely too fast.  But I am glad he didn't suffer long. He was in so much pain. His memorial was surreal and strange. With my own life in limbo, I have never been to a memorial with the perspective I came to this one with.  As I sat there listening to the talk, I seriously considered what my own might be like. What song would they sing,? Who would come? What pictures would they show? What stories would they tell? Would I have enough time to plan some of it myself?  What a strange thing indeed.

But within the sorrow, I also felt needed. I was close to so many of his family members, I felt like I was able to comfort them in a real and significant way.  When a friend feels comfortable enough to cry in your arms, to share pain and anger, you know you did your job as a friend, that your place here on earth is a worthy one.

A few weeks later it was Johnny's turn. His daughter said the sun set beneath the horizon just as he died.  A fitting symbol for a sailor to make his way out of this world.  We got to visit him in the hospital a week before.  Much smaller of a man than he was, and there wasn't a whole lot of him to begin with.  I could tell he found joy in our visit. As we left, I told him we would come again, but I knew this would probably be our last. He was going to a better time and place now, a time where he will be young again. I look forward to meeting you again Johnny, when you are young once more.

The week of Johnny's memorial is one that will stick in my head forever. What a horrowing week. I didn't even get to Go to his memorial. I was laid out on a table having my lymph glands removed and my arm being cut and patched.  The same day, our dear Lorraine was in the same hospital for her lung surgery.  And Richard was due to have his very risky liver surgery 2 days later. One stop shopping. Sunday morning we got a call............... Lorraine had died suddenly the night before....... Smack!! You have got to be kidding me!! She was just about to go home! It seems a blood embolism made it to her lung. So unfair. It felt like robbery.

I am constantly amazed at how in misery there is always light. That Sunday meeting was the most devastating and comforting I have ever been to. Our congregation was being beaten, and beaten hard. So much loss in such a short period of time. And yet we were all here. We didn't stay home.  We were where we belonged, with each other, our extended spiritual family.  The talk, the study that week, the timing was perfect. As brothers and sisters made comments, their voices were choked with emotion, but we were together. Together. We weren't letting anything drive us apart. If anything, it was driving us closer together.

Another memorial to go to. Another life to remember.  More family and friends to comfort.  Too much, yet we carried on, gave Lorraine the consideration she deserved. It was in the midst of all this that I got to play the waiting game.  Waiting to see if the cancer had spread to my lymph glands. I'm not sure we could really take anymore bad news. We were saturated. Those 3 weeks were so verrrrrrrry long. No more, please no more...........Thankfully we had a bit of a drought in the bad news department.

I hope my words won't sadden you too much. But I felt is was necessary to set the scene, to know the climate in which we were in.  These people, these events, are all tied up in my own experiences. It is hard to extract one from the other.  It was needed. And they deserve to be remembered.  I refuse to allow them to be eclipsed by my own struggles. They are part of it. By being there for others, you are able to deal with your own trials. It only proved to me how dear our congregations are.  It demonstrated how, we will beyond a doubt, carry each other through.

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