Once again she has been taken from me for more scans, while I am asked to sit in a room we already know too well. The light is soft, the paintings watercolor or blended oils. Perhaps the attempt is deliberate to blur the hard edges faced by those who wait here.
Some enter with hollow eyes and a skeletal gait, while others arrive with tangible purpose and vitality. But most are here as though part of the paintings themselves: not obviously different than people you might see anywhere, but for a slight beclouding of their normal borders and range. I suspect we are all adrift, pathfinding in a landscape we would prefer not to know.
I catch myself wondering how many here are blessed with our abundance of loving family and friends. I rewind three weeks or fifteen months and try to imagine those days passing without the tsunamis of support that have repeatedly born us away from dark moments to take another step forward…and sometimes even laugh while doing it. I try to picture facing these challenges alone and find it unthinkable.
For those here who share our good fortune, they will learn that their supporters are also occasionally unmoored, wanting desperately to help but not always certain how. The people who matter in their lives will want to make it go away, to take on some of the pain, to spark a moment of relief or remembrance or joy. The real difficulty lies in the fact that they will do all of these things…except the first.
So how to help? For us – for now anyway – we’re starting to learn that the answer is so simple and true that it is immortalized in a million greeting cards and memes and clichés all of which are some variant of the title above. (Yes, Mardi Gras gets a lot of play in our house…).
Or a variant of Neva’s latest favorite song.
OK, sure, easy to say, but don’t we need to worry about stuff? Don’t you? Well…yes, and no. Worry is inevitable, and informed decisions must be made. But we have the extraordinary luxury of living ten minutes from the best brain tumor center in the world, of working in the same university as that center, of having the professional training ourselves to understand the science behind what must be done.
We also have the luxury of who Diana is. She eats a diet so healthy it is the source of frequent ridicule (another kale salad anyone?). She has a resting heart rate of 40, ho-hum in the rarified athletic air of Boulder but startling enough around here to catalyze both digital and human alarm every time she’s hooked up to an EKG. She is a woman of extraordinary discipline and drive, a woman who is quick to laugh, a woman whose mind is constantly working.
All of these things increase the chances she will be on Steven Jay Gould’s “right side of the curve”. (Seriously, go read his wonderful essay on cancer.) They also give us the freedom to trust our medical team, to trust the remarkable attributes of the person receiving their care, and to focus on the positives.
And they give you the freedom to do the same.
By this I mean that if you want to help, as so many of you already have beyond compare, please trust that we and our medical team are making well-informed treatment decisions, and that Diana is getting the best care possible. Please also refrain from asking questions about the treatment details as they evolve, or from sending treatment suggestions.
Those last requests are tough ones, I know. When you love someone, you want the details, and you want to fix it, for anxiety and pain and stress flourish in landscapes of uncertainty. But here’s the rub. Those three little bastards are also parasitic, somehow finding ways to feed off every discussion of a treatment detail, off every consideration of some alternate path. The best way to starve them out, we have found, is to focus everyone’s energy on the other elemental forces any cancer patient needs.
Hope. Joy. Laughter. Peace.
Whether you prefer your explanations to be rooted in biology or faith, or whether (like us) you do not find those to be mutually exclusive realms, these are powerful forces indeed. It’s no aberration of statistics that those who continue to engage in life, those who emphasize the positive, those who truly cultivate hope from within are more likely to thrive – no matter what challenge they face.
It helps, of course, if you have legitimate reasons for hope and joy. And we do. Some of those reasons are medical. Some are internal. But some are the emergent properties of a staggeringly generous and diverse and loving and quirky and funny and all kinds of wonderful community in which we somehow have the great fortune and privilege to reside. Whether you are across the street, town, country or world, we feel you out there. Every day.
Never has that mattered more.