A(nother) New Chapter

Guess what? We are still here! Adam met with his doctor at Clearview Cancer Institute today for a routine check, and it was indeed routine. Thank you God!!! Last Friday February 28th marked two years from his initial diagnosis, and this Sunday marks the second anniversary of the surgery that officially changed all of our lives. That was just the beginning of the hardest year of life so far – it’s a chapter that never fully ends but does get overshadowed at times by the newer ones. Again, thank you God! I keep thinking about where we were then and where we are now. I often get discouraged by where we still aren’t, but then I remember….

A son who hated to leave the house and could barely tolerate the presence of anyone besides his immediate family still values his privacy and doesn’t want to be mentioned at all on my blog. A daughter who was terrified that her dad would die or that her parents would divorce (we’re still not sure why that was a fear – it was never a concern for us…). A husband who was barely there in any manner but the physical and who was always sick or in pain, not to mention roughly 15 mentally. Have I told you about the time he said that it wasn’t that he wasn’t listening to me, it was just that he didn’t care what I said? No? He did. Word for word. Out loud. Chemo brain is a thing. I didn’t consider divorce, but I wasn’t sure who exactly the guy in my house was. And I didn’t like him. And me? I worked at the after school program at our church and kept all the balls in the air as best as I could. I didn’t sleep or eat well, and I cried and yelled way too easily. That was 2013, and actually a good part of 2014. Did I mention that it wasn’t much fun?

When the school year ended last May, Adam was on daily medication for neuropathy, a side-effect of chemo, as well as being dependent on medical supplies for his digestive issues; one kid was on a pill for seasonal allergies that had always been a problem; one kid was using an inhaler semi-regularly for her newly diagnosed asthma; and I was on one daily medication for stress- and hormone-induced acne and another for acid reflux. When school started back and I was still crying and yelling too much, I went to see my doctor. She listened to me spew my worry about my kids’ mental health and Adam’s mental health and all the things and people I was worried and stressed about and then…then she did something amazing: she looked me in the eye and asked why I didn’t do something about the only person’s mental health that I could actually change. Yep. Mine. So we added another daily medication and counseling to my life. And something amazing happened. I was re-introduced to this person I used to know. Her name is Lydia and she had been missing for a long time, at least off and on. At about the same time, Adam hit the first anniversary of the end of chemo. Yay!!! And not so yay: that basically meant that any remaining side-effects were likely permanent. In Adam’s case, he is in for a lifetime of peripheral neuropathy (numbness in his hands and feet) which is exacerbated by cold weather and by being on his feet a lot. He is on medication to treat the symptoms, but the condition is persistent. So yay. And ugh. We are doing better physically and mentally, but we are still dealing with a lot and we are on lots of medicine.

Meanwhile, the whole world is going crazy over the latest, newest, most natural, most traditional way of improving wellness: essential oils. I’ll be honest. It was hard to be told by well-meaning friends or family that we should eat better / drink this thing / exercise this way / try this new treatment / eschew western medicine while Adam was faithfully slogging through the hell that is chemo. It was impossible to contemplate that chemo was a bad decision because it was such a horribly difficult one. I know no advice was meant to call his decision into question, but when everything is hard…EVERYTHING is hard. So while we were not theoretically opposed to trying alternatives to western meds, we weren’t in a big hurry to actually get into it. Until September of last year.

A friend from our seminary days had been commenting on facebook for a few months about the amazing results she’d seen in her family, and Hey! in September, there was this group online that she could add me to if I just wanted to learn a little about what oils can do. So I joined the group, tried to win some giveaways, and asked a lot of questions. Allergies? There’s a oil for that! That one works especially well for us – Private Son takes almost no allergy meds these days, for the first time since he was 2, and Adam swears by it. Depression and anxiety? Yup! (I use several of those, but still like my anti-depressant too.) Headaches? Another I use in conjunction with other meds – to great effect! Weight loss? Trying…. Acne? I have a whole new skin care system, and I think it’s really helping…. Pain? Numbness? Nerve damage? Focus? Anger? Hair growth? Lice? Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. Okay. At that point, I was torn between wondering if these people were crazy pot-smoking hippies or if I was going to have to re-mortgage my house to get in on this miracle! The truth? I didn’t have to mortgage the house, and while I am certain there are oil users who are also *ahem* herb users, everyone is their own brand of normal. Even the hippies! So I’m using oils and I like a lot of them. Nothing works for everyone, so not everything works for us, but many of them do. They aren’t magic, but they are useful. And I am doing my homework so that I don’t harm when I’m trying to help. And after enduring a treatment that was almost as bad as the illness…which was CANCER, for the love of all that is holy, it is amazing to see positive results from something that makes us feel better.

So that is our new chapter. We are taking life one day at a time – even though I really want to be able to plan and control everything – and are enjoying each other and life again. We are using oils and trying to get off some medications, but not all, and we feel better than we have in a long time. Which is amazing. So amazing that now I’m looking for a job and praying about sending the kids to a new school next year. ‘Cause, you know, we were afraid things might settle down and get boring. (No!!! We weren’t afraid of that! What is the matter with us? We are insane!)

 

Being Proud of Myself

I think I might actually have a new emotion about last year. In the midst of the screaming anger, shrieking fear, and whimpering helplessness there is a new whispering pride. We made it. I made it. Adam’s year was awful…but so was mine. For the first time in our marriage, we struggled through something that we didn’t and couldn’t share, as chemo isolated him from everyone – including from the kids and me. It is not an overstatement to say that we survived by the skin of our teeth just as he did…we all survived different trials.
I often feel guilty for talking about my difficulties last year. Don’t get me wrong – that guilt doesn’t seem to stop me from talking about it, it just makes me feel vaguely wrong. I’m trying to get over that. I’m also beyond ready to feel better. I want to feel like doing something again. I want to be done mourning and to rejoin real life. I’m not yet ready to say that I do feel like doing anything, or that I am done mourning, or that I have rejoined real life…I’m mostly at the “want to want to” stage for now. But that is a step, and it is one that allows me to be proud of the things that I actually am doing – whether I enjoying the doing or not. And that is kinda what real life is about anyway.
Have you seen that video about doing things “like a girl?” The upshot is that being a girl isn’t an insult and that we can do things well regardless of our gender. It, of course, made me cry like a…38-year-old, overly emotional, easily moved…girl. (Or woman. Or lady. Or whatever.) It also reminded me that I have strengths, not just the weaknesses I’ve felt plagued by. I hope that the pride I feel in them is thankfulness and not hubris, and I know that it feels a lot better than fear….

The End of Chemo…

…can’t come quickly enough.

I live with this person who answers to the same name as the man I married 15 years ago. He looks a little different and his behavior has led me to dub him Bizarro Adam. My previously responsible husband now lets 18-month-old children play with balloons…’cause what could possibly go wrong? He is tired of sleeping, which was his major hobby and nemesis in college. He drives like…well, like everyone in Atlanta, basically. He wants a tattoo. And he’s okay if I get one too. He, a man who never wanted to spend money or venture too far from home, is planning multiple trips for us in the months to come. And he bought me jewelery. That’s right: unsolicited sparkly things! See, Bizarro Adam is sweet, funny, fun and a bit reckless. He is recognizable in some ways, but key inhibitors seem to have malfunctioned. He keeps referring to himself as “the little drunk guy.” He has lost a lot of weight, so the “little” is fitting; and if you speak to him, the reason for the other adjective will become clear. So I have three kids in the house, only one of them is about 16 and is in charge…at least nominally. (Insert his mischievous laugh here.)

People are asking me when he’ll start recovering. We all miss the old Adam. I’m okay with the tattoo-liking, trip-taking, jewelery-giving part – don’t get me wrong! But the rest? I want him to outweigh me. Seriously. I want him to stay awake for all but about 8 hours a day. I want not to get requests for $42K for a grad school program in Arizona that he’s never cared about before. (Besides, it’s MY turn for grad school!) I’m ready to have a husband and father in the house again. Full time. He may have looked 15 when we got married, but he didn’t act that way. He kinda does now. Except for when he preaches. If I could stop worrying that he would go off the rails or have his legs collapse out from under him, I would love hearing him preach. He saves up all his wisdom and maturity for those 25 to 30 minutes every other Sunday. I cry every time.

He’ll start recovering when he can eat and sleep normally and when his body isn’t being pumped full of poison. See: he’s sick, exhausted, starving, and on drugs. We’re thankful for the ability to treat cancer and the very real hope of a cure in his case, but the process is horrible. He can’t even open sealed Coke bottles at this point, due to muscle atrophy and skin sensitivity. It’s a crazy way to feel at 37. We hope and pray that radiation won’t be as hard on him as chemo has been. We are also praying that the coming four weeks will bring significant healing so he won’t start radiation at a such a physical low. We are thankful that the end of chemo has brought him hope and encouragement, though I have been a real mess. So. The end of chemo. The last cycle starts tomorrow and will be history on Friday. Praise God. Cancer really, really sucks. Give us strength!

If you saw what I don’t post….

I just saved a draft of a post that may or may not ever see the light of day. I entitled it “Doing what I’m told.” Stop laughing. Seriously. Guess why it’s still a draft? Suffice it to say, when my happy husband – who is happy even though he has cancer and didn’t sleep last night, for the love of all that is holy – tells me to write a “happy post”…well good things didn’t so much happen. I first asked him why he didn’t write said happy post, then sat down to do what I was told and ended up with…well, it wasn’t execrable. It certainly wasn’t sublime. It was just sort of…schla. I don’t know where my friend got that sound or how she spells it, but I’ve decided it’s a good onomatopoeia for my feelings on my mediocre post. So. No happy post from me. Unless it makes you happy to laugh uproariously at the idea of me doing why I’m told…I suppose that is possible.

I’m not unhappy. I’m just exhausted and feel like my bones are currently being held in position by stress alone. Which means I am really happy about the massage I’m having next week. I don’t promise I will still be able to stand when it is over, but I do hope to relax some. And I am really happy to have a dear friend who is treating me to the massage…and the dear friends who are coming to clean my house next Wednesday while we are at the first day of the second chemo cycle. I am also really happy to have Adam feel up to coming out of town with the rest of the family this weekend for Ethan’s soccer tournament. Mini vacation in beautiful Hoover, Alabama – check. I am thrilled that another dear friend is responding well to his new cancer treatment. I am relieved that some of the details I needed to arrange for the summer are coming together. I am thankful for the good visit we had with my mom, and the upcoming visits we’ll have with other family members. I remember that the visits are prompted, at least in part, by Adam’s treatments and I get considerably less relaxed…but I am still looking forward to spending time with everyone. I can still find it in me to be cheerful, excited, amused, and content. So happy is as good a word as any, I guess.

Making the most of the good days…and even the good micromoments. That is the new reality. Not a bad lesson, all things considered….

We have a big week coming up…

This time of April is always fairly momentous in the Tisdale house: Kara’s birthday is the 7th, mine is the 12th, and spring is springing…. Usually, I have been trumpeting my birthday present requests for weeks so that no one has any excuses if they are able to forget that my big day is upon us. In fact, my focus on my birthday rivals that of my children. And we like it that way around here. Of course, this year is Different. With the obligatory capital D. This year, Adam is celebrating my birthday with the beginning of chemotherapy, not with the previously planned weekend away while my mom came to stay with the kids. I haven’t bothered him with gift ideas, because what I want is for him to not have to deal with any of this cancer shit. I want that for all of us. But we do have to, and we will. So on Wednesday, the birthday of our dear friend Michelle, he will go for his very first treatment. Thursday and Friday (that would be my 37th birthday, for those who are keeping track of little things like that) are also treatment days, though shorter ones. Part of me is glad it’s here, because that means the end is a little bit closer. Part of me is terrified because it’s chemo. Adam is trying to maintain realistic expectations of side effects…I think I might be the pollyanna in the scenario this time. That’s novel…. He can’t find the adjective that describes how he feels. Anxious, fearful, reluctant, horrible, terrified, vomitous…. I would survey him, but I think that would make it worse. So. The big week is here. And it has nearly nothing to do with birthdays. In fact, I’ll almost be glad to be done with birthdays so that I don’t have to worry about them being overlooked in the chaos. Because in the midst of everything, I still have the energy to be worried about stuff like that. I seem to have a large, perhaps nearly infinite, capacity to worry. And then I remember that worrying doesn’t help anything. So I get up from the computer, stop playing silly games on Facebook, and try to do something to head off the eventualities that I most fear. At least the ones that I have some degree of control over. I can’t cure cancer, but I can plan skating parties for nine-year-olds. (A big thank you to Marian Singles for her tremendous help with that.) And I can talk to my kids, take them shopping for birthday presents, and remind them that God loves them and so do we. And I can update my blog so that all my thoughts stop swirling around in my head. And I can plan a post-treatment getaway with my husband – not the precise timing of it, but at least some details – as a belated birthday present…for myself…’cause I’m not shy about stuff like that!

So, anyway…

A lot of my previous posts are on subjects about which I have more to say than anyone could conceivably listen to, so I wrote my rants for any and everyone to enjoy. And then I didn’t repeat myself quite so many times. My husband is grateful! Now, however, I don’t have anything to rant about. I know. I can’t really believe it either. So here’s a little thing that sits at the back of my mind all the time…except for when it comes to the forefront, of course. Yes. It is hard to be a pastor’s wife. Just like it’s hard to be anyone else’s wife. Or not a wife at all. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it’s no easier to be a husband or a non-husband. Life can be hard. Our relationships make some things harder, and others easier. Am I in a fishbowl? Sometimes, but in our congregation, it’s not usually a big deal. Of course, I like attention…I think I’ve mentioned that before, so I’m not bothered by all aspects of the fishbowl! I don’t like being found wanting or inadequate – I’m weird that way – so there are definitely times I can point out where the conflict in my life can be laid at the feet of my husband’s job. But most of the conflict in my life comes from an entirely different source. You know, me. We have dear friends – some still in and others now out of vocational ministry – who have had very difficult times. We know that could be us at some point, though we certainly hope it won’t be. In general, we are glad to be in a place where we can be who we are – we are really bad at being anyone else anyway. Who are we? Is Adam’s job, his calling even, our only defining characteristic? Of course not. All the assumptions you have about what it means to be a pastor/minister/preacher/reverend or whatever else you may call it? Some of those fit us and some don’t. And that’s okay. I assume things about doctors, plumbers, teachers, accountants, lawyers, carpenters, engineers, mechanics, and everyone else. And don’t get me started on what assumptions are made about stay-at-home moms. Or moms that go to work outside the home, either. The thing about assumptions is that we all have them, but we don’t have to be imprisoned by them when we meet real live actual people. That part is a choice. And the way to find out if our assumptions (let’s, for fun, call them what they are: prejudices) apply to the specific person we’re meeting is by being willing to communicate, which we cannot do if we talk without thinking and listening. So. I don’t mind being asked if it’s hard to be a pastor’s wife – it’s certainly not for everyone. Which is great, because my husband is taken anyway! But it’s not the hardest part of my life right now. It may be at some point, but life always has hard parts. Not for nothing…it’s people who make each other’s lives hard. And who soothe the hurts. We all have to choose which of those we’ll do. Everyday. Often lots of times. I like people. And I like being Adam’s wife. So this is my calling. And I like that too.