HAP Posted September 9, 2013 Report Share Posted September 9, 2013 Dear friends, Bilbo Baggins used to say you have to be careful when you step out your door in the morning--that the road outside your door can sweep you off to places you had no thought about going to. Sunday's Marathon Walk in support of the Jimmy Fund was exactly that type of journey. This was my third time walking the route from Hopkinton to Boston. Each of the previous walks have taken me, mentally and emotionally--if not physically--to new places in this Odyssey through NET cancer and grief. I was emotionally a wreck the first year. I was angry at myself for letting Jane die; angry at my body, which kept threatening to quit on me over the final ten miles of the course; angry at the medical community that had let Jane down for decades; angry at the federal government that had abandoned NET cancer patients to their fates in the late 1960s and never looked back; angry at the survivors of other cancers who had had all the advantages Jane never got; angry at the other couples I knew whose lives got to go on unchanged after I had lost my other half. I bottled up my rage that year. It helped me cross the finish line and do the day-to-day work of setting up fundraisers and Walking with Jane--but sometimes it leaked out at inappropriate times in inappropriate ways that left my friends wounded and left me increasingly convinced that I needed to withdraw from the world until I could trust myself with people again. I am not, generally, an angry person. I've seen what I am capable of when I allow myself the luxury of letting it lay claim to me. I try to repress it, deny its existence, and control it. Even now, over three years after Jane was diagnosed--and 33 months after she died--there are still times I feel that anger building to an unhealthy eruption. But those times are fewer and fewer--and i like to think I have become better at dealing with them. Last year I walked most of the day alone. That walk was about sorrow. Every step called up vivid memories of the last months of Jane's life: her constantly swollen feet, the swelling in her legs, the abortive walks, the day her doctor told her he thought she probably had cancer, the last vacation together, the biopsy, the diagnosis, her first hospital stay, the first tripnto Boston, the day we learned how damaged her heart really was, the final drive to Boston, pushing her in a wheelchair , waiting for the surgery to end, seeing her with all those tubes and wires in her, being there when she first woke up, the first carcinoid attack, the second carcinoid attack, the night before she lost consciousness for the last time, the words--"there is nothing more we can do"--my last words to her when she was awake, holding her hand, reading to her, her last breath, the calls,coming back to this empty house, the wake, the funeral... Yesterday was different. The tone was set, I think, on friday night at a dinner one of my former students did to support her walk. She invited her friends from high school--all of whom had Jane in class. They talked about their memories of her 20 years before the diagnosis--about how people had tried to guess what our relationship was, about being in class with Jane and learning chemistry and physics and life--and about earning whatever you got. That night and Sunday's walk took me through a wall I have wrestled with for months. Finally, I could see, for a sustained period, something beyond the memories of the end. We had a good life together that how she died had veiled from me emotionally for a long time. For a good part of the walk I was able to see those times with the same clarity I have seen those last months. And that ability has carried over into today. Will there continue to be days that are too painful for words? I am sure there will continue to be those days. But it is a blessing this morning to see her coming down the aisle in her wedding dress just as vividly as walking behind her casket down that same aisle at the end. While that is the most important part of what I discovered yesterday, it was not the only realization. I think we lose track of just how physically damaging the death of our spouse is to our own health. We talk about the importance of self-care and we focus on the obvious psychological trauma of watching hopelessly as half of our self vanishes. But we often lose sight of the physical damage we take in the process as well. From the beginning of Jane's struggle with cancer until her death--about six months--I lost over 20 pounds. I lost muscle, strength, endurance, and God alone knows what else in that time. I was focussed on Jane and Jane's health, not my own. I ate poorly, slept poorly, and exercised neither my mind nor my body in any significant way if I did not see how it would help Jane. At one point one of the nurses handed me a razor and told me I needed to shave because it would help Jane see I was less worried than appeared. That was the only thing that got me to shave. Summers, we climbed mountains together, Jane played tennis, I ran several miles a day. That stopped or was severely curtailed when she got sick--for both of us. Yesterday, as I plowed through Heartbreak Hill, I realized my muscles didn't hurt, that there was nothing labored in my breathing despite the pace I was making over what is universally considered the toughest part of the course--the piece that has daunted runners for years and had always pushed me to the point that the last miles become an effort of will more than of physical endurance. It came to me then that I had spent the entire day to that point passing people--and that very few had passed me, save for the period right after lunch when I had been loosening up my muscles again. And other than as we got close the finish and the crowds became too dense, I never slowed down or got out of rhythm. Yesterday, there never came a point when the walk became an effort of will for me beyond ignoring the blisters that always form 20-odd miles in no matter how I tape my feet. While I am not emotionally healed by any stretch of the imagination, my body is, at last, physically healed. Given that my emotional health has always been closely tied to my physical health--and I think that is true for most people--I am at least hopeful that eventually the emotional wounds will become increasingly less debilitating. I don't expect I will ever stop grieving for Jane, but if I am to finish the work she and I started--and the additional work our fight with NET cancer started--then I need to keep moving forward no matter what obstacles get in the way. That requires a daily act of will. At first, it was about getting out of bed in the morning--and sometimes it still is. Then it was about eating and exercising--and sometimes it still is. Then it was about doing the reading and the writing and the organizing--and sometimes it still is. Jane was addicted, especially in the hospital, to Kenny Rogers' song The Gambler: "You never count your money/when you're sitting at the table/There'll be time enough for counting/when the dealing's done." It is easy to get caught up in each individual project and judge the success or failure of the entire enterprise by where you are at any given moment. But, to echo Sophocles, we only really know whether we have been successful or failed when our lives are over. While Jane's life did not end the way we wanted it to, she told me the day before she went into the hospital that no matter what the outcome there was, she'd had a good life--and that I had made it good. I think she knew, for her, the dealing was done and that she was playing her last hand. She played it with grace and courage and turned what most would see as a losing hand into a winner. She did that through the most incredible series of acts of will I have ever seen. Beside her physical pain and endurance what I face over 26.2 miles is nothing. That knowledge got me through the first two walks and the preparations for the third. But yesterday's walk did not require reminders of her pain or her struggle. It required I remember the totality of our life together--and that the cards are still on the table. Peace, Harry Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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