I was leaving UCSF after my scan on Tuesday, paying my parking bill (I was running late so I didn’t have time to park on the street) when a woman, obviously sick with cancer, her blurry-eyed, blood-shot but blue-eyed husband and her mother sat down across from me. I overheard their conversation.
“So-and-so said that Camp Kesem is really good but the bereavement camp would be good for….after…you know.” Mom with cancer said.
Her own mom tried to steer the outlook by saying, “you don’t know when….”
Daughter with cancer, “Mom, just…we have to talk about it…”
Husband- in his work suit- sat, staring into space. I think I was reading his mind-he couldn’t believe they were at the point of having this conversation.
I stood, watching for my car, and said, “I overheard you talking about Camp Kesem. I have Metastatic cancer and my four kids all loved Kesem.”
Talking to the woman, I was seeing her as an individual, not really imagining myself in her place, but seeing her struggle as hers and impossible-yet she was a mom and she wanted to plan a good summer for her two teenagers. She asked me about my cancer, I gave her a brief description and she said….
they said I may have around two months.
My mind spun. They had that conversation today. The treatment isn’t working anymore and we’ve done all we can do conversation. We talked about my impression of how many kids at camp had lost a parent versus kids whose parents were still living. I wanted-in that small space-to help her come close to a logical decision about camp. Moms plan summer camp schedules for their kids and she is still their mom, dammit! It was a short conversation and she stood up (slowly-She was frail.) and sobbed loudly as she hugged me. I looked over her shoulder at her blue-eyed husband, his chin quivering, tears falling down his cheeks and saw my own dear man in him. He loves her so much and can’t believe it’s come to this. He’s helpless to make her better. He wonders how his two teenagers are going to do this life without the one who loves and cares and takes care of details and the camp plans….
My car was there. I looked at her and said, “I’m so sorry you’re at this place.” I looked at her husband and said, “I’m so sorry.” No sugar coating or fancy encouragement. I hated that they were there and so did they.
Climbing into the car I couldn’t close the door fast enough. I cried-moaned and sobbed-for the next five minutes. NOT FAIR-Oh God, the pain was tangible for them-and me-
I really felt my scans were going to bring similar news. We already tried the first chemo that didn’t work and now I was positive I would hear that the trial drug wasn’t working either. It would be Eric’s blurry eyes I’d be looking into, making uncertain plans for my babies’ future.
But Thursday came and I think my brilliant oncologist was pleasantly surprised when scans showed the tumor continuing to shrink! Eric and I -again-looked at each other and exhaled. Why me and not her? I’m not unhappy about my good news, of course, but I just hate that she didn’t get the same news. And I keep picturing her husband’s face.
It’s strange to feel so thankful for a few more months of exhaling while also feeling guarded against too much hope. In a moment, our world could crash. I tend to protect my heart from falling from a place of optimism and hopefulness because I believe the crash will be worse than falling from a cautiously hopeful place. In reality, either crash would be the worst so I should live at the top of Optimistic and Hopeful. But how?
More on that later if I ever figure it out.