Wednesday, September 21, 2011

"Best Wishes"

We've been told all along that the second week of Patrick's 3-week treatment cycle would be the hardest of them all. And it seems that the proverbial "they" weren't lying. It's a doozy, I tell you. Patrick's steroid-induced energy, optimism, border-line mania of last week crested and crashed into waves of fatigue, mood-swings, irritation, indigestion, constipation, flu-like aches, and just about any other potential harrowing "side-effect" one might read about on a prescription label. The poor guy is a trooper, though, and we're holding our breath that the 3rd and final week will be a wee bit more "normal", before he begins the chemo cycle yet again. 

Somewhat foolishly, we made this hard week even harder by deciding it was the "best" time to move. So, our house is officially no longer a home. Labeled boxes are stacked where framed pictures once hung. Piles of bubble wrap are hanging out in my empty fruit bowl. Moving is always hard. Moving with a chatty toddler is doubly hard. Moving with a chatty toddler and a husband with brain cancer is especially hard. (And moving three times in one year is just plain insane.) We moved Patrick over to our new place in Great Falls this week, since the ensuing chaos was getting too much for him. I'll join him later this week, once everything is packed up in our Alexandria house. The Pod arrives Thursday night, and the movers come Friday morning. So long cherished belongings - I'll see you in a few/many (?) months, when I unpack you into a house, somewhere tbd. By then, Patrick will be done with his treatments. By then I hope he'll have a clean bill of health. By then, I hope our life will make sense again: because right now, frankly, it makes no sense at all.

Friends from near and far have been absolutely amazing through all of this. Kristin Lane Mack flew in from Chicago for 24 hours to listen to me cry and ramble, and to cheer me up in the special way only she can. Dear "old" DC friends took me out to dinner, former colleagues of Patrick's wrapped up all of our art last night, while others took a few loads of our stuff over to the new place. Kate Berman packed up my spices and seminary books. Others brought meals, cut our grass, played with Ceci, and sent tear-inducing reminders on facebook that we.are.not.alone. We feel overwhelmingly blessed and grateful for all of your prayers, generosity and support. I hate hate hate that Patrick has brain cancer. But in the midst of that hate, I am seeing God's love poured out a-fresh from each of you. So, thank you.

During my seminary CPE training (Clinical Pastoral Education - i.e. hospital chaplaincy training) at Duke Univ. Hospital, we talked and read and thought a lot about how to craft a thoughtful, empathetic response to the dying patient in a hospital bed, and their mourning/fearful family members surrounding them. I often longed to offer promising hope that they would surely be fine in just a day or two (and some were). But more often than not, they wouldn't be, and we all knew it. Probably the most authentic answer to the problem of pain and the question of theodicy is something like "I know, this really stinks, I don't know why a loving, merciful God would allow something as awful as this to happen." And yet God still allows it to happen, and for some reason is allowing it to happen to us. I don't think God created cancer. I don't believe God would wish it on anyone. I do believe God grieves with us when we have cancer. I trust that God hates Patrick's brain cancer as much as I do. And I'm trying to trust in God to heal him from it, or at least give us a few more happy cancer-free years together....

I've had to recall the painful reality of Patrick's illness and the painful reality that is now our life to so many friends and strangers this week. (I'd really rather pretend that I'm packing up and moving us onward and upward into some new, fabulously cute home of our own.) Instead, when I call our utility companies, and request a stop of service at the end of the month...they always inquire as to why we're moving, and why they're losing my patronage. (I want to say: Does it really matter!?) There's really not an easy or gentile way of saying "My husband has brain cancer", even to a stranger. But I've had to say it, over and over and over again...and each time it becomes more real to me. "Best wishes" they seem to all flatly say. When potential renters walk through our house, and ask why we're moving out, and brain cancer is my answer, I'm greeted with the (now) redundant "....oh, best wishes". Best wishes on your new job or new orchid plant, but not on our "new" life! (But, thanks for the thought.)

(How should one respond to such sudden, sad news? How should I respond to the daily reminder of that news? How does Patrick respond to the tumor hanging out in his brain? How will Cecilia respond when she remembers her early years in DC?)  Perhaps I'll learn to respond with a grateful heart and steadfast faith in a merciful, loving, grieving God, who hates this cancer as much as I do, and who promises never to glibly say "best wishes", before moving into the next room.


  1. Julie, You don't know me, but my husband and I have been praying for you and Patrick every day since Kristin (our niece) emailed me a couple weeks ago with the very hard news. We recently went through a very hard time after my daughter was terribly injured when a car crushed her into a cement wall. The prayers of our family, friends and people we didn't even know (like us to you!) literally held us up day by day. So I write this in hopes that in some small way you are encouraged to know we are joining with all your loved ones who are praying too. Also, since we don't live very far way from you (Gaithersburg, MD) I hope I can help with some meals once that option is available. If I can ever do anything for you, Kristin has my contact info! In His love, Wendy (and Steve) Lane

  2. Julie, You write beautifully. I feel what you are feeling when I read your words. There are no good words to say except peace be with you. Peace through the process, peace through each treatment, visit and side effect. Peace through the good days and bad days. I can't imagine how you do it but for the grace of God. Bask in the love He is sending your way because we have to be his physical arms on Earth and hold each other tightly. We love you and are on our knees praying daily. Katie, Charley, Abby and John

  3. I believe God hates cancer, too.

    Patrick and I are friends from college. I just saw this link via facebook. I'm so sorry. So, so sorry.

    May the God of grace and peace and compassion be in your midst as you fight like anything for your husband. And may God's healing hand be the author of the day.

    Grace and peace...shalom-

  4. Julie, I love you so much, and I hate cancer so much. You write so beautifully! I can't wait to read the book!
    I am crying, crying right now. (best wishes, though. best wishes.)

  5. Hi Julie,

    You don't know me either...I bet you will get a lot of these messages. My husband Matt and I graduated from JMU with Patrick. I just wanted you to know that we are praying for you up here in Philadelphia and standing with you believing in God's goodness over your family's life. May you know God's peace and His presence during this dark time.

    jenn and matt lozano

  6. Well spoken and from your heart. Always praying for you and yours.


  7. Julie,
    Thanks for the honest response to "how are you doing"? Just take each day and deal with that day and try to find something you can be happy about or be thankful for each day, even just that first wonderful cup of coffee or a smile from your daughter! We love you and are thinking about you. You will get through this dreadful time!
    Aunt Jennifer

  8. Julie,
    thank-you so much for taking the time to write from the midst of your chaos!
    Writing is a good therapeutic tool for you, and your news helps strengthen the web of support for you, Patrick and Ceci,... but I'm amazed you're finding the time (sitting on a pile of boxes?), and really appreciate that you are keeping us all informed.
    I wholeheartedly second Aunt Jennifer's advice...

  9. Julie, your honesty is so refreshing and a wonderful window into what you all are walking through. I'm so glad that in the midst of all this crap you are surrounded by loving helpers!!! We'll be close by after this weekend, when we move to Courthouse and hope to see you soon.

    All our prayers for peace and mercy,

  10. Julie,
    It’s amazing how in the midst of such fear you have the ability to be a blessing to others with your words. Each of your post has brought me closer to God and helped me understand that God still loves us and grieves with us even during the worst of times. Thank you for your words. I feel so fortunate that I could spend 30 minutes with you the other day when PK was still at NIH. Even with the chaos you’re facing you welcomed me into your house for a cup of tea. I watched you being the most wonderful mom to Ceci during a time when it would be so easy to just give in and give up. We’re close to Great Falls and looking forward to helping in any way you may need.

  11. Julie and Patrick,

    How terrible is cancer. How utterly terrible. Thank you for opening your heart. Our hearts ache with you and we long for the Kingdom of the Son to break into your lives with power, and light, and healing.

    Peace and grace,

    Randy Forrester


Thanks for your prayers!