Life in Cancerland

After asking the nurses in post-op the care instructions for my husband’s new port, I said, “Okay, let’s get to the stuff that really matters. Do doctors and nurses really have affairs?”

“Oh, yes. You bet,” the nurse said. “It’s disgusting.”

I have learned a lot so far on my husband’s march on his journey through Cancerland, that carnival of hijinks that life has thrown our way.

While going for his pre-op for cancer surgery, between taking Nick’s blood pressure, temperature and listening to see if he had a heart, the surgeon’s nurse assistant and I filled in my NCAA form.

“North Carolina or Syracuse?” I said.

“Blood pressure is fine. Ah. North Carolina.”

“Good. Gotta go with Gonzaga. At least the first round,” I said.

“Oh yeah. Gonzaga. Heartbeat’s good,” the nurse said.

My husband sat there like a trooper. Laughing.

Which was the point. I wanted him to laugh. I am a firm believer in laughter is the best medicine, along with a dose of chemo and radiation on the side.

Which must be why the first thing my husband did when brought to his room after surgery was to moon me.

Of course the nurse saw his moons too. A couple of days later, when she came into Nick’s room she said, “Oh, you’re the guy who mooned his wife.”

It was obvious by Nick’s morphine-induced smile, that he was quite proud of his performance. While the nurse checked Nick’s incision and drains, I hummed his new theme song … There’s a moon out tonight.

It is not that we don’t take cancer seriously. How can you not. But who says you cannot or should not laugh in its face?

I spoke with a man who is a director for a blood cancer society. He was recently treated for colon cancer. His family joked that he couldn’t even get the right kind of cancer.

My husband and his brother both had colon/rectal cancer. You can imagine the jokes that this now, club of two, can tell each other. Something about one being a bigger, well, you catch my drift.

Part of our decision making process when selecting a surgeon for Nick ended up being a sense of humor. The first thing I said to the surgeon when I met her was, “I saw your picture on the internet.” Her response? “Dressed or undressed?”

Her sense of humor plus impeccable credentials helped us know we were in good hands.

My mother, when fighting leukemia, named the pole that held the clear plastic bags filled with high octane chemo that were pumped into her body, Tilly. When a nurse puts thick rubber gloves on to avoid touching the drugs going into your mother’s body, you know what is happening is no laughing matter. But in our attempt to not fold under fear, we used humor to help us deal with our fear.

One day I thought about bringing in an outfit for Tilly so she would not have to be dragged up and down the halls naked. But I was afraid I would mess up doses if I manhandled her computer box stomach. So instead, Tilly was relegated to a hat. We talked to Tilly, about Tilly and behind Tilly’s back. We focused our fear and anger over this cancer at her. The nice part about focusing our feelings at her was she could not talk back. She just beeped.

At my mother’s funeral I showed a large black and white photo I had taken of her and father. I got them to cross-dress. Mother, bald from her treatment, and dad, nearly bald by God’s own device, switched roles. Mother put on a tie and my dad’s suit coat and my father wore an apron and a scarf. As mother looked forward, dad leaned over and kissed her head. We all laughed during our photo shoot. People at mom’s funeral all told me how that photo epitomized my mother’s sense of humor. She fought with everything she had, especially her sense of humor.

Do not get me wrong. Cancerland is no comedy club. There are times when all you can do is look in the eyes of your loved one, knowing if either of you blink, the tears will fall. There are days when, after my husband’s chemo, when he has deep bags under his eyes and is more tired than I have ever seen him, that I don’t want to run and scream at God and ask Him, what kind of joke are you playing on us? And there is that moment in the doctor’s office, when it is as if we are standing before the judge to receive our sentence, waiting for results of a CT scan, funny does not have a place.

But other than that, if you hear people laughing in a room at the hospital, while sitting in the oncology treatment center, or in an elevator, between floors of life’s ups and downs, it will probably be Nick and I, laughing our way through Cancerland.


Post script … This is part of a series of essays that were published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer Magazine, shortly after Nick went through cancer treatments. He has been cancer free for eleven years.


4 Comments Add yours

  1. Judy says:

    Boy oh boy. A flood of memories. Dad’s urine bag after a urostomy was Matilda. Is she leaking, was she full? Once, when my counts went to low during chemo and I was in the hospital around the holidays, I made a poem up about my fluid pump. It had red and green lights and became my Christmas tree through blurred eyes. Wish I had remembered to write the poem down. I forget now but it was pretty good. Made me laugh at myself. Laughter is healing.


  2. Teresa Donley says:

    I know that the sense of humor both you and Nick have, along with a never give in attitude, made all the difference in his recovery. God bless you both.


  3. Brenda Schmidt says:

    The humor is what got us through cancer land. Now my husband has a ostomy bag with a big hernia under it the doctor said he looked like he was 6 months pregnant we have so much fun with that. You have to have a sense of humor if not you won’t make it.


  4. Laughter gets you through.


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