Two years ago, my wife had cancer surgery. Once the bad parts were removed and she was back on her feet, we figured we were in the clear. But my wife’s cancer has returned.
Two years ago, I disproved skeptics predictions that this blind husband would fail as post-operative home health aide. I brought earnest imprecision to my duties and, mercifully, did no harm. This time around, I am dogged by feelings of inadequacy and frustration that I can’t run interference—drive my wife to treatments, navigate the medical maze or pore over the fine print in her medical records. Instead, we’re finding ways I can help with our shared vulnerability.
I’ve discovered 111 NLS Talking Books on cancer and I’ve read seven so far. I’ve learned how rapacious breast cancer is, how relentless and necessary are side effects of chemotherapy and how to be the best and most supportive husband I can be. I’ve learned not to fill her with false hope, ply her with vacuous cheerfulness or burden her with my anxiety. For once, I avoid trying to fix things. I’m learning the value of being there, the power of being present. I listen to content and tone and sometimes say the right thing and sometimes the wrong thing. Sometimes I don’t know what to say so I say nothing at all. I’ve learned to accept and support her decisions about her health, her body and her life.
We each carry conditions without cure. My aberrant RP gene kicked in thirty years ago; my wife’s cancer has been hit and run for fifteen. Despite my symptomatic head start, I must not presume to know what she’s going through nor pretend to have the answers. I recognize that she uses her strengths and meets her needs in ways different than I. I must honor my wife’s experience as hers, separate from mine. Honoring her reality, and she mine, values both.
I’m encouraged how briefly either of us dwelt on fairness. So easily I could rail ad nauseum, “If life were fair, I wouldn’t be blind and my wife wouldn’t have cancer.” Still, I catch myself murmuring, “Please make her well because I don’t know what I’d do without her. I’m not asking for cures, just containment.” Selfish prayers from my own needs may seem unseemly. Writing about my blind needs rather than her cancer needs may seem self-centered. For this, I beg your indulgence for my self-indulgence.
My wife and I are not islands—Cancer and Blindness. We are a system, a constellation, a family. We’re ordinary people—we let the dog up on our bed. We’re ordinary people in extraordinary reality—we get too up or too down based on events of a single day. As for the fluffy parable that adversity brings perspective, we’ve got perspective up to our ears. We practice surrender and strive for acceptance. And every time we think it’s OK, we are stung by the reality that no, it’s not OK. It is what it is and that’s all.