Like many who have suffered with cancer, I have found that the support of my friends and family has been essential to maintaining what little bit of optimism I retain after all these years of dealing with the disease and its treatment. (I should note that I had little use for optimism before I was diagnosed with cancer, so the pool was pretty shallow to start.) Yet even within this support group, I have found some family members and friends are more useful than others.
Although all are well-intentioned, I am sure (it is not as though I have a huge life insurance policy that someone eagerly wants to get their hands on), some are just better at being supportive than others. It’s not really a character assassination to state this; not everyone can be good at everything. Including, apparently, the most basic expressions of empathy. Some of these well-meaning but not so well-executing relations are themselves in a degree of denial or general fear of cancer. I understand that. But guess what? I’m afraid too, and yet I don’t really have the luxury of succumbing to the fear or just pretending it does not exist. I hate to pull rank, but I think my concerns trump their inability to cope. Consequently, statements such as, “Oh, I’m sure it will all be fine” are not really helpful and, frankly, are a bit demeaning. I don’t really need on top of the cancer itself to be informed by the uninformed that my concerns are unfounded and that I am just a worrier. I know I am a worrier. But that doesn’t mean cancer is not worth worrying about. Sometimes two things can be true at the same time.
Still others who wish to be helpful but have no good concept of how to do so like to make useless suggestions. I have been dealing with this deadly disease for over six years now. And while I certainly don’t know everything there is to know about my cancer (which is actually the way I like it), I am rather dubious that someone who knows nothing about the disease is going to have a Eureka! moment. The answer to my cancer is not just changing my diet or getting a filtration device for our water supply. And while I have admittedly stopped microwaving food in plastic containers, I am pretty sure that such changes in my reheating practices are not going to influence the behavior of my bone marrow. Similarly, there is only so much green tea one person can drink.
I also am beyond the point where I need recommendations for other oncologists. As the regular readers of this essential blog undoubtedly know, I love my oncologist (in a purely professional, keeping me from dying sort of way). Melissa and I have complete confidence in her, and since I have seen a half-dozen other hemoncs along the way I have some basis for comparison. Thus, suggestions such as “you really need to see Dr. So-and-So” are not overly warmly received in our household. I don’t want to nitpick, but if that was something the suggesting family member really wanted me to consider, it might have been preferable to have made the suggestion prior to my going through six months of chemo hell. Just a thought.
So when it comes down to it, the real support system involves a few close friends and, most importantly, my nuclear family: Melissa, Will, Andrew and, of course, Casey. Even though Casey is canine, I often find that she is more understanding than members of our own species. She is, after all, a Golden Retriever so she just gets it.
Fortunately, Casey is not going on vacation any time soon and neither is Melissa (she only gets a few days off and even then her patients seem to insist on finding reasons to assail her with “urgent” matters). And while Andrew will be returning this summer to a day camp just up the road from us, he will still be here every morning and evening, although probably so exhausted by the time he gets off that little bus that I may not be able to get much conversation out of him.
So while three-fourths of my in-home support system will be more or less operating as usual, there is one glaring exception: Will is going to sleep away camp for a mind-boggling seven weeks, which I have calculated to be a full 49 days. That is a big element of my home-based psychology team that is missing. And now that he is nine-years-old (which I think is too young to be away for so long, but my views on this were overridden by Long Island Jewish norms), we have a lot more to talk about every day. Even in his early years, he and I spent countless hours together watching Sesame Street (it never hurts to brush up on one’s counting) and building every Lego set that I could possibly justify spending money on because “Will wanted it” even if he had no idea that he did. As a result, the thought of his absence leaves me, selfishly, quite uneasy.
Compounding this problem – and with cancer there almost always seems to be additional complicating factors – is that I work at home. And alone. No one really wants to deal with lawyers any more than absolutely necessary, so the vast majority of my work time (which is rather diminished in my post-chemo existence anyway) is solitary. Even when I interact with clients or others, it is almost exclusively done via email. I like email – probably more than I like people – but some human interaction is good. Occasionally. Even Casey stays out of my office while I am working as she too has had some unpleasant experiences with lawyers. But mostly I just worry how much I will miss Will. I would miss him terribly under any circumstances, but when one is dealing with a potentially life-shortening (by a lot) illness, the thought of such an extended time without such an essential part of my life and, really, me, is hard to accept. Of course, as narcissistic as I can often be (I mean, I have a blog entirely about myself, for crying out loud), I would not want him to miss out on this wonderful opportunity. And on the positive side, Will doesn’t like sushi whereas Andrew does, so we have promised Andrew that we will go for sushi all of the time while Will is away. This way I will also be able to get all of the green tea I can drink, which will keep at least some of my family happy.