A Parent’s Perspective

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Dear Jack,

In dealing with the devastating cancer diagnosis of an adult child, parents often process the situation differently. Ann and Al write about working through the emotions surrounding their daughter Megan’s battle with the Stage IV disease.

From Ann:
So do not fear, for I am with you. Isaiah 41:10.

That became my mantra once we learned our daughter, a newlywed of six months, was diagnosed with Stage IV reproductive organ cancer with metastasis. As a registered nurse, I knew at once what the diagnosis meant. Somewhere in the depths of your heart, the pain comes out. It is against the natural order of life for children to die before the parents. Once you get through the “I can’t believe this is happening” phase, we moved into what we can control. My husband found “The Chief” – the leading gynecological cancer specialist in the area. Just weeks after the diagnosis, Megan was receiving 12-hour chemo treatments every three weeks.

The kindness of strangers still makes me tear up. Sharrie C., the wig specialist, came up to Megan’s chemo room on the first day of treatment and we went home with a free wig. A relative sent her a Blessing Jar. We cut out little hearts and each day we thought of all the good things that happened, then wrote them on the hearts. When the bad days came, and there were bad days, we pulled out those hearts and talked about what was written on them.

One of my friends who is a licensed therapist spent an hour with me asking if I was sleeping: No. Has my marriage been affected: Yes. She recommended a video by Mark Gunger, “Men’s Brain, Women’s Brain,” Jan. 13, 2008, on YouTube. It was a saving grace. We were able to come together and recognize the differences in processing this devastating diagnosis.

Megan’s mother-in-law sent me this quote that I try to live by: “Sometimes you have to let go of the picture of what you thought life would be like and learn to find joy in the story you are actually living.” – Rachel Marie Martin.

From Al:
Take me instead. Why not me? Please, let me trade places.

From shock to anguish to a determination to fight, there is no textbook range of emotions to deal with an adult child’s battle with a life-stalking disease. Parents are suddenly helpless. All their lives we bandaged the boo-boos and wiped the tears. Now, all we could be are cheerleaders and the best damn support system anyone ever had.

The journey came with two separate paths:
— Be there for our 34-year-old daughter Megan every step of the way during her battle with Stage IV reproductive organ cancer.
— Navigate this devastating news within our own relationship.

Ann is a registered nurse who was at Megan’s bedside for five of the six chemo treatments. She was able to identify Megan’s needs almost before she needed them and made sure they were met. I was with Megan through one of her marathons, an eye-opening experience that helped me gain a perspective and an appreciation for what she went through.

Men and women process such a traumatic occurrence differently. Women, especially those with medical training, focus on the long-term gravity of the situation. Men are focused on the here and now. There is no wrong or right. It’s just different. Accept it.

When we both came to that realization, my wife and I became a team again. I learned to sit quietly and listen to my wife vent about the grim facts and very unstable future. She understood when I focused on how Megan was doing today, then we’ll worry about tomorrow tomorrow.

It was an absolutely terrible time for Megan. And it was the most stressful thing we had faced in 40 years of marriage. Tackling the day-to-day anxiety of the ups and downs was much more comforting as a solid unit. There’s something about having everyone involved on the same team.

After those six treatments, the reports have been good. More than a year later, Megan won’t be cured but she’s getting the most out of life. There’s weight training, road races, a Polar Plunge, and now…a Pomeranian puppy named Sparkles. Anything to feel normal.

Her Dear Jack vacation to Marco Island, Fla., last summer for a family celebration was nothing short of terrific. We’ve learned that it’s OK to cry, but laughter really truly is the best medicine. Of course, sunshine and warm sand weren’t bad, either.

Sincerely,
Ann and Al

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