Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Only One Stone - Lucky Me

I went to the monthly support group meeting on Monday. (I missed last month, because it just fell out of my brain. Thought about it that afternoon...and then, poof, it was gone.) We begin with a freebie fast food dinner courtesy of one of the drug manufacturers. Not my ideal dinner, but if I don't snarf something at 5:30, it may be 8 or 8:30 before I get a chance to eat.

I introduced myself to another late-arriver who sat next to me. I usually ask if someone is a patient or caregiver, but nothing beyond that. They can volunteer whatever they want to share. It turned out this dear lady, we'll call her Alice, was a caregiver. In a few brief sentences, she filled me in: her son is the patient. His brain tumor is back, for the third time. Clearly, they don't think he has a lot of time left. Alice and her husband have moved here for a month from a far western state. Then her exquisite daughter-in-law arrived with her 14-year old grandson. An older grandson wasn't up to attending a meeting; he'd decided to just wait in the car.

My heart broke in a thousand pieces for all of them. I can't imagine how they felt, but I was glad that they came, and told her that. I also told her about other programs, like the personal counselors and free massages. I told her about a cancer program at another facility that offers different services, like yoga and meditation. I gave her the number of the social worker, who could tell her about all this in greater detail, and hook her up directly with the appropriate agencies. It felt like nothing. I know it wasn't, and I know she appreciated it all, but it felt like nothing. It was just the tiniest glimmer into a caregiver's sense of helplessness.

We separated for the support groups. There are meetings for children, caregivers, and cancer patients, divided by cancer type. In my group, almost all the caregivers attend the MM meeting with their spouse, instead of the caregivers' meeting. I went in with a heavy heart, thinking about Alice and her family. In many ways, cancer is harder on the caregiver and the family than it is on the patient. We've got clearly defined goals and objectives, and few responsibilities. But the caregiver's role is less defined, and more challenging, especially when there are minor children.

I was distracted by an excellent meeting. But I have thought about Alice and her family every day since then, realizing that by the time next month's meeting rolls around, her son will probably be gone. I usually struggle with envy when I go to support meetings: I seem to be the only unmarried MM patient and going through this without a partner/caregiver is, I believe, my biggest challenge. But maybe that's a blessing in disguise, too.

by Piet Hein

If a nasty jagged stone
gets into your shoe,
thank the Lord it came alone –
what if it were two?

1 comment:

tim's wife said...

You are a brave gal facing this
without someone always by your side. I'm humbled by your courage.
And you are so right about the difference when children are involved. The hardest thing that Tim and I deal with is our young daughter. It breaks our hearts to think of how her life has been altered and the fear she now lives with everyday. So unfair for any child. The only time my husband ever got down about his diagnosis was when he thought about the possibility of leaving her and what it would do to her. It's an agony I wouldn't wish on anyone.
I just caught a few moments of that Susan Sarandon movie last night where she is saying goodbye to her kids because she is dying of cancer. I burst into tears and turned it off. There are many who have more "stones" than us and it looks like all of us can be just overcome with sympathy.