The Tears of Strength in Cancer’s Wake.
I’m not an emotional man. As such, I rarely experience the extremes of sadness or joy. This is not to say that I do not experience joy or sadness – I do. I take great pleasure in life and also feel the pain that comes with it. But, I am very stable and steadfast – very familiar and comfortable with the middle of the emotional spectrum. Some might say that I am too serious, and that they have.
Because of this disposition, I don’t cry very often – in fact it takes a lot to make me cry. It is not as though I actively resist crying, or that I view it as a weakness. I just seem disinclined to go to such places. It is my composition.
Lately however, things have changed and I have found myself more inclined to tear up. My wife was diagnosed with breast cancer about six months ago and has since endured a great deal. I guess one might say that I too am a bit more vulnerable and raw.
The tears that I have shed have not sprung from fear or even from empathy. I have sustained confidence that she will survive this. And at times when she has been fearful or just exhausted and frustrated, I have instinctively been her rock. My tears instead, have fallen quite unexpectedly at times of great relief.
I vividly recall meeting with my wife’s surgeon just after her diagnosis and tearing up as he left the office having reassured Kimberly that she will be okay. I held Kimberly firmly in my arms and we both wept.
On the day of the lumpectomy I sat with my mother and our college aged children as we anxiously awaited news from the surgeon. At that point in time Kimberly had also been diagnosed with thyroid cancer and we did not know whether her breast cancer had moved to her lymph nodes. It was a very tense and scary time. When her surgeon called me out for the post surgical conference, he shared with me the good news that her lymph nodes were clear. I choked back tears as I thanked him. The emotional relief emerged forcefully and tearfully when I walked back into the waiting room to share this news with my family. I’m sure that my children have never before seen me in such a state. A few minutes later, as I tried to share this news with Kimberly’s mother on the telephone, I could not talk and again tears streamed down my recently moistened cheeks.
Since that Spring day, Summer has come and gone, and Kimberly has endured prolific post surgical bleeding, mammosite radiation, a reevaluation of her thyroid nodules (negative for cancer), completed 50% of her chemotherapy treatments and I have resumed my steadfastness. I have been a rock – steady and sure. Of course this is not completely true. I am less able to endure violence for entertainment on the television and I have little patience for the malicious or ignorant forays of others. But generally, I have held it together.
Then one day my wife came to me in tears after reading a letter sent to her by my daughter (Meghan), her step-daughter. I read it and it shook me to my core. I cried as thoroughly as I ever recall. She wrote (this is just an excerpt):
All of the things you are going through really, really, really suck and it is out of everyone’s control. I’m sure you’ve heard it all before with the flood of cards you have been receiving since mid May. But maybe you haven’t heard what I am going to say…
Life is amazing. We are all so truly lucky to be here. Out of all the stars, out of all the systems WE are here. It is a one in infinity probability. And despite all the suffering, you are here and you are unique; the only one that thinks like you… you are the only one that hears your thoughts… you are the only one here right now experiencing what you’re experiencing and feeling how you feel about it. And maybe that makes people feel lonely, but I feel lucky and I hope you do too. So whenever you’re having one of those moments when you’re hating everything, “Why me?!” turn it around to “I am lucky to be here and living the life I’m living.” You’re the only person who can have the relationship you have with me, my Dad, with Alec and Paige, with your siblings. With this random chance of us all being in the same time, we are all so lucky… So keep going, hang in there, stay strong, let weakness, vulnerability, and sadness take over when you feel it fitting, but after, breath deeply (because you are the only one in that moment feeling what you feel, breathing that 78% nitrogen, 20% oxygen & remaining percentages, that is your breath and only yours). We have to cherish and recognize the awesomeness of it all, it is truly incredible and it blows me away almost daily. So the next time we are all together at dinner or bumming around, take a second to think “Wow, there will be no moment like this, we are truly unique!”
My daughter in that moment became the rock and I could let go. And I did let go! This morning I read a quote posted on Facebook by a friend that read:
People cry not because they’re weak. It’s because they have been strong for too long.
It is immensely touching and life changing when your “child” rises and shows the capacity and wisdom to be the rock. And I am thankful that I had the capacity to let go of that role in that moment. I am fortunate to have a wife that helped nurture such love in my daughter, and a daughter who has herself persevered through adversity and grown into an incredible woman. Meghan is right, we are so very fortunate to be here at all, to be together, to be loved, and to be aware of the uniqueness and improbability of it all. A wise person of unknown identity once said “Adversity does not build character, it reveals it.” This cancer has given us the opportunity to appreciate the strength and character of those around us who take turns being the rock. It is this strength of others that gives me the occasion to let go, and shed some tears.