Friday, February 20, 2009


We learned that my husband's 96-year-old aunt was taken by ambulence to the hospital around 10:30 p.m. last night. She has pneumonia and doesn't sound good on the phone.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

CANCER JOURNAL - The Caregiver's Role

A couple of years ago my husband underwent back surgery which included spinal fusion, and rods and screws in his back in order to treat spinal stenosis and keep him on his feet. During that time I was his chief caregiver and had continued to be up until the present crisis. He needed help with anything that required bending over. He no longer has my help and is trying to help me instead.

During this time his mother has turned 90 and developed dementia. He is also trying to be a caregiver to her, though she is in a senior independent living facility which helps. She is not happy there. In addition an aunt who is 96 and has no children is in a nursing home and looks to us to be the children she doesn't have. His sister is her primary caregiver, though hubby helps when he can. His sister's health is not good though she, a widow, still has to work. He has to work as well in order to keep up health insurance benefits for me, though he qualifies for medicare.

Having lived both roles, I've come to believe that the caregiver's role is by far the most difficult and that they get neither adequate recognition nor appreciation. All attention falls on the sick person who merely has to lay around and be sick. The caregiver must attempt to keep the house going, pay the bills, assume all the duties for care of the sick. Provide he transportation and keep up with the paperwork. It is a monumental task. I watch my husband rush around trying to do it all with grace and without rancor and my heart breaks for him. I feel so bad that I can no longer help but must be the source of even greater burdens.

He is trying to learn how to do laundry and cook and clean. Soon the outside work will begin, though I hope he will hire that done. He has used the vacation that would have been a break for him to nurse me since I've been in the hospital.

It isn't fair, though when is life ever fair? Where is the retirement that he had planned for? The fishing trips that won't be taken? The travel that the world had promised? It's been a house of cards.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

CANCER JOURNAL - The Communion of Saints

Every time we recite the creed, we say that we believe in the "Communion of Saints", but what is that?

Since I suspect that most of us haven't thought much about it, I thought I'd write some of the insights I've learned recently in the midst of this battle.

Cancer inevitably makes one address death directly. I am surrounded by people I love who love me, and faced with the prospect of losing every one of them. Then the question arises, how could one be happy even in Heaven without those we love? I think the answer to that question is the Communion of Saints.

The nuns like to talk about "energy" and "empowerment" as though this were something we can reach out and grasp. We can, but it doesn't come without a price. God is the "energy", the power source, if you will. He is the transmission line. In Him, and in love, we don't lose the people we love. Love is the one thing that can survive bodily death. We first love God. Through that love of Him, we can forge eternal bonds with others, but only if we are willing to sacrifice our own will in any given situation, and seek God's will instead. The power is grace which is the same thing as love, and it is a mighty power indeed, if used for the proper purposes.

It can also be a destructive force as the occultists discover when they try to grasp it and use it for their own purposes. We can't control it, and if we try, we end up making ourselves miserable. Grasp this power in opposition to the will of God and find out there is hell to pay. Literally.

But what a power it is if we use it in conjunction with God's will. If we seek His will first in our lives, and then go on to seek His will in the lives of those we love, our sufferings can be beneficial. We can offer our disappointments, our pain, our fears of loss for the salvation of the souls we love; and not lose our eternal connection with them. We will never be in Heaven without them. Rather we will be doing what we do on earth, seeking their good in every way that presents itself. What's more, we will truly know what is for their own good and not be blinded by the seduction of the world.

What I don't yet know, and may never know until I am fortunate enough to experience it for myself, is what is our state in Purgatory. Are we bottled up inside ourselves and unable to seek the good of those we love? Or does the Communion of Saints extend there, too? Part of it does. We on earth can pray for those in Purgatory. But can they pray for us as well? That I don't know.

There is little worse for me than being bottled up inside myself. Being so overwhelmed with pain--be it emotional or physical--that I can't escape my own self-pity is awful. I want what I want when I want it, and like a two-year-old I can descend into a tantrum that has the capacity to destroy relationships. It makes me miserable in so many subtle ways. It is a darkness that I can't fully describe. In the midst of it I can't pray. I can't seek God. I think it is a small taste of hell. The only doorway out that I've seen so far is offering it up, and there have been a couple of small miracles when I've done this. The power of suffering may actually be greater than the power of prayer, though I wouldn't invite this power because for me it would be tempting fate. Despair lurks in the shadows of suffering for me. Wrong thoughts, destructive thoughts, are right there tempting me at every moment when I'm in pain. It is a constant battle with spiritual forces. One for which the outcome is ever in doubt. If this is the nature of hell or purgatory, it is something to fear.

Monday, February 16, 2009

CANCER JOURNAL - Home from the Hospital

It seems I've gotten one more reprieve. I came home around noon. When I left for the hospital last Friday, I took a look around the house and didn't expect to see it again.

This latest episode began when I went in for a radiation treatment on my right hip. I walked into a wall in the long hallway from the waiting room back to the treatment room with a technician beside me. She decided that I'd complained of dizziness enough and was showing other symptoms and must see the radiation oncologist before I left the facility.

He ordered a CAT scan of my brain for the next morning and then called with the news that the cancer has invaded my brain in several places and there was really nothing they could do except use radiation and steroids to get the swelling in my brain to go down so that I wouldn't be so dizzy. Thankfully it is working, and although I'm weak, I can still move around on my own. I did pass out in the hospital at one point.

Ironically this came at the time when we were packing for a cruise that we had been anticipating to celebrate our 39th anniversary. A trip that alas will never be taken since the night before we were supposed to leave I knew that I wasn't capable of making it. Thank goodness we had the good sense to cancel it because this would not have been a good experience in a foreign country with rapidly progressing cancer in my brain.

The method of doing the radiation is interesting. A mask is made of the face by placing a wet substance on it and letting that dry. It fits tight around my nose, eyes and mouth and made me feel claustrophobic even though there are plenty of air holes. The lines demarcating where the radiation will penetrate can then be drawn on the mask instead of my face. Much better for going out in public.

Radiation will make my hair fall out once again. It had just grown back to the point that I looked like me in the mirror. I am simply going to have to form a new attitude toward this because I am going to die without my hair on after all.

My radiation oncologist has given me two to seven months. My oncologist said she had one patient who was still alive a year after such a diagnosis. She says it will depend upon where the cancer goes next. There is only one drug that can penetrate the brain barrier and I will be taking it.

Wish I had better news. It looks like only a miracle will keep me alive now.

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