Thursday, August 9, 2012

Cancer Tries to Steal Our Summer

(From the August 9 edition of the Grand Haven Tribune)

Many will remember this summer as one of the hottest and driest on record. My wife and I will remember this as the summer stolen by cancer.

Like most Tri-Cities residents, we love living along the lakeshore all year long, but particularly in the summer. The days are long, giving ample time to enjoy many activities. There are the bike paths for our daily run and frequent bike rides. The lakes and river await for boating, kayaking, and swimming. And there’s nothing wrong with just sitting on the beach relaxing, reading, or taking a delightful summer nap.

But not this year.

Last week we realized that August was already upon us. The sun goes down noticeably sooner in the evening. And we had hardly enjoyed any of the long list of summer rituals listed above, other than the daily run which my wife insists on.

Instead, we find ourselves at medical appointments related to her cancer treatment. It seems that time flies between doses of her chemotherapy. But also in between appointments there are doctor visits, various scans, and consultations with doctors for upcoming phases of treatment. We look at our calendar each week and realize there has not been one week without an appointment of some kind interrupting what should be a summer reprieve.

When not at appointments we—and in particular my wife—is on the phone with doctors’ offices making appointments, changing appointments, asking for the notes and records from past appointments. She also spends considerable time on the phone with insurance company case managers and the human resources staff at my employer discussing various issues related to cancer treatment and medical coverage. It’s a good thing she has experience and education as a medical social worker. Otherwise all of this could seem even more overwhelming.

In between appointments and phone calls, it seems we are reading cancer literature or talking almost constantly about “el crappo,” my wife’s blunt term for the disease we’re fighting. We talk about all of the above, weighing options, making plans, and sometimes crying. Occasionally these talks happen while on a run along the Grand River, or on very rare occasions, a quick evening walk on the beach or pier. But the subject of these conversations has ruined the otherwise beautiful setting.

Sometimes, when not consumed by any of the above, we have talked about doing some fun summer activity. But then we may just feel exhausted, or just not in the mood. Also, the heat has been too tough for my wife to endure while under chemotherapy and its side effects. At times like this I have enjoyed summer vicariously, looking at my friends’ Facebook photos of a day on the lake or some other summer adventure.

But we are fighting back and trying to recover some of the losses of cancer stealing our favorite season. With the help of great friends and fellow church members, we have enjoyed some nice meals, visits, boat rides and short getaways. Sometimes it has taken a sudden invitation to get us to turn off the “All Cancer All the Time Channel.” People are gracious and caring and ask what they can do for us. The truth is that after prayer, the most important thing is to divert us and get us to enjoy a sense of normalcy and to savor summer, even in small doses.

We have had two brief evening walks on the beach, one on the pier, three or four boat rides, one bike ride, and just last week, an evening paddle in our kayaks on the Grand River. We hope to put a beach day on the calendar, maybe more than one, in the next few weeks. We made it to a handful of outdoor concerts. I am going on a brief annual camping trip with a friend and his son. In other words, part of fighting cancer is not letting it take all your fun away.

So as we approach a transition from one phase of treatment to another, my wife and I will try to take back some of what cancer has taken with us during our favorite season. And then we’ll do what we always do when the days shorten and the air becomes cooler—we’ll look forward to next summer.