I can’t stop thinking about two men. One is my cousin, and one is a classmate from high school. It’s been more than a year that my cousin has been on my mind, and only a week that my classmate has occupied my thoughts.
I don’t know the exact number of years my cousin has been married to his wife, but knowing his age and how long they’ve been together, I’m guessing they’ve been married about 35 years. John and Jenny make an adorable couple. They have three beautiful daughters and a couple of grandchildren. Probably close to two years ago, Jenny suffered a seizure one day after taking her dog for a walk. One thing led to another and she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Since then, John has taken up with journaling about their journey and has compared Jenny’s fight with that of a boxing champ. Think Ali vs Tumor. John has a fabulous sense of humor, but an even greater love for his wife.
I’ve sat back, ringside as it were, and watched John do everything in his power to make Jenny comfortable and to offer support, encouragement, and laughter. The extended family has rallied and circled the wagons with prayers and more support, encouragement, and laughter. Reading John’s journals has given me new insight into what my parents must have gone through when my father was diagnosed with colon cancer around 1971 or so. Then when my mother was diagnosed with uterine cancer in 1973. My mother died in 1975. One year later, my father learned his cancer had returned and he passed away in 1977. I was so young and so sheltered, I had little comprehension of all that was happening in their lives. Reading my cousin’s journals has helped me understand just a little more. I am grateful to John for sharing his thoughts, and all that he has learned about chemotherapy and blood cells and lasers.
My high school classmate has also been journaling, thrust into that role a week ago. Phil’s wife, Shelly, experienced a rapid onset migraine so severe that she was rushed to the ER. Several tests brought doctors to a diagnosis of a rare disorder causing internal bleeding in her brain. As of this writing, the doctors still are not convinced that they’ve figured out exactly what is going on in Shelly’s head. Phil has been by her side nearly nonstop, to help Shelly communicate through her pain and drug-induced confusion, to offer a moment of laughter amidst the fear and the tears. Shelly’s not altogether thinking right, so I suspect Phil’s words are chronicles of the experience for Shelly to read when she is restored to good health. But they are also a testament to how far he will go to provide support, encouragement, and laughter to his wife.
Since Phil and Shelly are close to my age, and have two sons the same ages as two of my daughters, their plight hits a little closer to home for me. I am awed by Phil’s ability to stand beside Shelly and hold her beautiful long blonde hair away from her face as she vomits profusely from the pain and the meds. And my heart cries as I read Phil’s words scolding himself for losing his patience, yelling at a nurse-in-training.
John and Phil were going about their lives when one day, BAM!, everything was turned upside down. They are the healthy ones in their relationships. They are the ones who must hold down the fort and remain strong for their wives and their children. They are the ones who must listen to a nurse or doctor’s report, then summon enough “good thinking” to know to ask questions or seek clarification when something doesn’t make sense. And even though they are exhausted, they still find energy to sit at their computers and research their wives’ illnesses. And then, in the wee hours of the morning when nightmares want to invade their minds, instead they take to journaling their thoughts.
As I’ve watched John from afar all these months and now Phil for the last week, I’ve wondered about my own stamina. Could I do it? Could I offer round-the-clock encouragement and support to my husband? Could I find a morsel of humor to share in an otherwise dark and hopeless moment? Could my husband do that for me?
Surely, I want to believe that if put to the test I could and my husband could. There are all kinds of stories about superhuman strength and resilience people experience when put to an extreme test. The bottom line, I assume, is that love prevails. Love trumps all.
I pray I am never tested as John and Phil, and many, many others are being tested tonight.