Hello folks. Kim and I are heading home from Nashville after another round of treatment, for which we are very, very thankful. We are fortunate to have access to cutting edge medicine, and, so far, we have seen exciting and promising results. But I feel I should be honest and admit that I’m not always feeling positive and hopeful, even if the mood of my posts gives that impression. Despite circumstances, it is my faith drawing me towards a hope. As from the beginning, my darkest days are treatment days. Allow me this indulgence.
It was typical day in a chilly, fluorescent-lit clinic filled with sick people from all walks of life sitting in vinyl recliners and being tended by like-dressed nurses in purple and blue. As I scan the room to wonder about the other patients around me, who they are, where they’re from, what kind of cancer they have, how long have they battled, I know that we all have at least one thing in common: we carry the burden of a percentage, the statistical probability of the likelihood that we are going to be alive in 6 months, a year, 3 years, etc. That’s a reality for everyone, but for people with chronic and perhaps terminal diseases, it’s a more recurrent thought. It is very discouraging. You can feel captive.
This feeling is exacerbated by the very medicine keeping you alive. Capillary tubes taped to the skin lead to an infusion pump attached to a shiny metal pole, and you are effectively confined to a chair. I picture a dog tethered to a tree, free to explore a restricted space but frustrated by the unattainable life just outside its reach.
One such dog was our family pet, Eagle, one of several high-end, pure-bred Golden Retrievers that my father kept when I was a kid. Eagle came from a bloodline of circus dogs, so he inherited great athletic ability, as far as dogs go. We kept him in the backyard, which had an 8-foot fence surrounding it. The yard was pretty big, so Eagle had plenty of room, and yet, he still longed for more freedom. Somehow, Eagle kept escaping our yard, presumably by either leaping the fence altogether or by a combination of jumping and scrambling. Regardless, we would frequently wake up and find the dog missing. There were no signs of digging under, so we amazedly assumed he was going over the fence to get out.
In a seemingly innocent and certainly naive attempt to constrain the dog, my father tethered him to a tree inside the backyard at night so he wouldn’t escape. I will never forget waking up one morning, sensing a disturbance outside on our driveway, and walking out through the garage to find a group of people gathered just outside the gate. There, hanging just feet from the ground, hung that beautiful animal, still attached to his chain, which was long enough for him jump over the fence but not enough for him to land.
This image darkly came to mind as I contemplated my impatience, restlessness, and frustration at the need for continual treatment to fight cancer. Sometimes, I too want to do something rash in order to break free, but anything other than contentedly staying the course might be deadly.
Upon telling my wife this story, she looked at me and said with a smile, “That’s quite a story! Now why don’t you go take a Xanax.” We laughed. I asked if I should write about this, and she said no. It’s macabre. She’s been encouraging me to be more humorous, and this is decidedly not.
Recently, we’ve been exploring podcasts to help spend the time on these 300-mile journeys to and from Nashville every other week. As we left Nashville today, I put on episode 1 of Lore (link below). It’s funny that we would listen to a podcast that explores the dark side of life, given my wife is encouraging me to not dwell on the dark side of my thoughts. Our oldest daughter, Joy, introduced us to this podcast, and we listened to about five of them before we came across episode 6 which is called “Echoes”.
“Echoes” is largely about a psychiatric hospital known as the Danvers Lunatic Asylum (this post’s featured image). It has been closed for some time, and though originally a place of good medicine when it opened in 1874, overcrowding and the work of a particularly demented doctor led to the intolerable treatment and deaths of hundreds of patients. Strikingly, at the podcast’s end, the writer and narrator makes an assertion about our fear and fascination with psychiatric hospitals that has made them a source of many fictional books and films:
“Perhaps what we really fear is losing control over ourselves. Restraints, locked rooms, medication and irreversible medical procedures represent for many of us the opposite of freedom: the fear of losing our dignity, losing our well-being, losing our very minds. Death, however, is chasing all of us. The curse of mortality is that we are already handing those things over, day by day, until the time when there’s nothing left to give.”
We gasped and looked at each other for a long moment. These coincidences! “OK, you can write the blog post.”
Kim has told me on several occasions that she feels like I’m getting treatment at an insane asylum (forgive the insensitive wording). The clinic is filled with seemingly inanimate bodies. Helpless people, sleeping, quietly talking, others laughing and making the best of things with their companions and those around them. Still, the passive infusion of chemotherapy is not the most human of experiences. It’s as if something’s being taken from you as you receive it, which I think is what the narrator describes as losing your dignity. It is a reminder that this is not how life is meant to be.
Again, we are extremely thankful for the opportunity that we have to come to Nashville and for the good news of the cancer’s response to the experimental medicines. But, when you are surrounded by others for which the news may not be as hopeful, your mood is subdued. Such brokenness. I so long for that promised time to come when we can celebrate without restraint.
Blessings, all. Thanks.
** Lore, by Aaron Mahnke: http://www.lorepodcast.com/