“How in hell does Bethesda support so many mediocre restaurants?” I think as I cross Montgomery Avenue on a sunny day. It’s like a tourist trap, but the locals are the tourists! A Twilight Zone episode.
I’ve got the day off of work to take care of some appointments. It’s almost been two weeks since we announced Trish’s cancer to everyone and five weeks since we found out ourselves. An eternity.
The streets of Bethesda are busy with lunch-seeking people but I’m just wasting a little time before my first appointment (with our great financial planner/advisor.) To most, it’s a classic spring day in Maryland; cool and sunny and bright.
The sunlight doesn’t warm my skin though, I absorb it like a black hole. It gets converted to nothingness. I’m depressed.
In 1994, I was struggling to understand my first (and deepest) clinical depression. I expected depression to be like sadness, but that’s not the way it is for me. I couldn’t feel anything. I was puzzled.
A friend described depression as being “when life feels like a distant radio station you can’t quite tune in.” And then I understood it.
Static. Low signal-to-noise ratio. That’s what I feel like today. I’m here, but I can’t quite tune in reality. My body shut off my feelings as a defense mechanism.
A Dim Star
Trish, I think, is suffering too. But she hates the word and the clinical diagnosis ‘depression,’ probably because to her it signifies weakness or emotionality, which she abhors. Instead she calls herself ‘mopey’ but I suspect she is dealing with the same thing.
A few miles down Wisconsin Ave, Trish is doing her best to stay lighthearted. She fakes being a rich lady at Saks Fifth Ave and made the sales staff attend to her while she tried on their most expensive evening dress.
We’re not talking ready-to-wear. This shit is couture by Zang Toi that you can only get custom made and probably costs $10,000. She looks magnificent in the photo they took. (Since you can’t tell the difference, I’ll tell you. The runway model is the one on the left.)
Good for her! Walking in sunlight, trying on a couture dress: we do small things to combat the depression. They work a little bit, but honestly, not much. It’s too powerful a force.
Beowulf and the Big Bang
When I was about 12, I sat at my Brooklyn parent’s breakfast table. I don’t know how the subject of cosmology came up over kippers and scrambled eggs, but any topic was fair game at that dining room table. You had to stay on your toes.
(Years later at that same table, Trish’s jaw would drop when Thanksgiving dinner conversation turned into a spirited discussion about Beowolf, including some guests that could quote original passages from memory.)
I have never read, nor will ever read, Beowolf. But I did try to read the book recommended to me that Sunday morning about the birth of the universe; ‘The First Three Minutes’, by Steven Weinberg. It’s a 200-page account of the first 180 seconds of this universe, during which everything we know and don’t know was created.
Weinberg predated Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking’s more eloquent writing and I couldn’t get through most of his lessons in physics. But for a young kid, the idea that you could spend 200 pages describing 3 minutes of cosmic-scale activity was a paradigm-shifting perspective.
It is hyperbolic to compare, I know, but the last few weeks have felt like a big bang. From nothingness has erupted a mind-boggling spread of debris that is changing so fast we barely have time to recognize it as it hits us.
Interestingly, it was the the ‘public’ announcement to friends and family and the outpouring of your thoughts, prayers and offers of help that triggered the explosion. I don’t know why, but even though we knew about the cancer a month earlier, it wasn’t real until we shared it with you all.
I suppose the ‘secret’ we held protected us from the pain of the reality. And by getting public consolation, we no longer can ignore, even for a brief moment, that Trish has been diagnosed with a deadly disease.
Once again, my words in this blog are completely inadequate to describe what happens when you learn your spouse has terminal cancer. But I will try.
At first it was crying and grief, on and off, unpredictably. I burst into tears driving on 495, and had to pull the car over to maintain control. Trish, who is even less comfortable crying that I am, couldn’t even drink a cup of coffee one morning without sobbing. “I just don’t know what to live for anymore, or what the point is” she weeps. It’s not like her to question life like that without being in real pain.
The outward grief then became a begrudging, silent despair and then finally to anger; anger at her misfortune, anger at cancer and sadly, anger at each other.
The patient and caregiver relationship is not always a supportive and healthy one. There is a lot of resentment and frustration, although much of it misdirected. Even though we share a lot of love, we are each going through this alone, in a way.
The grief, anger, despair and depression rise, fall and rotate, making each day an unpredictable mess. And eventually as the burden becomes to big, depression sets in and I feel lifeless. (Again, I think Trish does too, but not sure.)
We try to protect the kids from it, but it’s hard. The kids are managing okay outwardly, and fortunately there is a lot of school activity right now.
Their spring Shakespeare play begins soon and they have frequent rehearsals. (Picture above is of Emma performing Measure for Measure set in modern Afghanistan with Lumina Studio Theater. )
A medical update
There isn’t much to report medically. Trish has completed two weeks of radiation and the doctor says the lump feels a little softer which means they are killing it. The radio-oncologist told us to be confident that he would eliminate cancer in the node.
And if she gets a clean scan in a few more weeks then she will be in remission. After the radiation and a month-long break, she will begin chemotherapy and will hopefully remain in remission for a long time.
Joy of Motion 35th anniversary
Saturday evening Trish and I get dressed up and drive in the rain on a date. We eat in Bethesda at Guardado’s and it is predictably mediocre. Rod Serling chuckles.
Afterward is the Joy of Motion Dance Center 35th anniversary event. (Who invented the word ‘gala’ and isn’t ‘gala event’ redundant?) Trish has attended JOMDC’s classes for years, and she really loves them. All her friends from her regular Monday night modern class are there doing goofy stuff like the Electric Slide. They all look great. My job is to sip club soda and do my best to look like Trish’s trophy husband.
Hopefully things get easier, but I’m not too optimistic. Last time (2010) I was surprised at how long it took to adapt and deal with this. I’m preparing for an epic journey.