July 1, 2004–a day when I said one of the dumbest things I’ve ever uttered in my life.
Richard lay half reclined on a hospital bed in the oncology ward, his khaki-clad legs crossed casually atop the neat white blanket and his shoes suspended carefully off the side. Not one to make a mess. The ambulatory center was full that morning, so they had to put him in a regular room for his transfusion. It had been 12 hours since a hematologist/oncologist here in town had confirmed that Richard had leukemia. And not the good kind. In another 12 hours, he would be in Baltimore, admitted to Johns Hopkins, but he had to receive some platelets before any doctor would allow him to make the trip.
We were both in a blind panic, but pretending that everything was going to be fine. Just. Fine. (smile)
His contract at the university had expired on June 30, the day he got the news. He had a new contract sitting on his boss’ desk, ready to be signed. What if she found out that he wasn’t going to be able to teach that semester and pulled the contract…along with his health insurance? I, in panic mode, suggested he run over and sign it before anyone said a word. Richard, being honorable, called her to explain the situation. His boss, also honorable and kind, told him that he was cool–he had a job and insurance and her full support.
Here’s where the stupid utterance comes in. While Richard was on the phone that day–with his parents, his friends, his boss–he broke the bad news over and over and over. Even while putting a chipper spin on it, he kept saying, “I have cancer.”
After he hung up with his boss and we took a deep breath about his health insurance coverage, I said, “Stop saying ‘I have cancer.’ You don’t have cancer cancer…you have leukemia.”
He looked at me across the IV pump pushing blood and platelets into his body and replied, “And leukemia is….what?”
We laughed, but I’ll never forget the feelings that were piling up inside me as I sat there by the tidy white bed watching someone else’s blood drip into my sweetheart. All while he called person after person and said, “I have cancer.”
All of those feelings added up to NO. No no no no no. NO. I refuse to believe this. No. Nope nopety no.
I don’t want this to be true.
It’s called denial, and it exercises a powerful pull. If I can just prevent this from being true for a couple more hours…NO.
I’ve been thinking about the “cancer cancer” conversation over the last few days. When I wrote about my fears regarding Carlos’ speech problems, several of you who are educators (or with-it moms!) commented about the tendency for people to deny that their child might have a problem. “He’ll grow out of it.” “Boys will be boys.” Teachers dread having to break the news that a kid needs extra help. I hear you. I blanched when I got a packet of forms on his first day at the new preschool and the header said “Special Education.” That voice of denial in my head said, “What?? No. He’s getting specialized education. Not…that other thing.”
La la la la la…my kid is in Specialized Education. It’s tooooootally different.
Well, regardless what we call it, Carlos will be getting every kind of education we can find for him. In the words of his pediatrician, “We don’t hide from this.” I hold on to that.
Being afraid of a word is OK, I guess, as long as I’m not afraid of the work.