Coping With Cancer: T-Shirt Time

By Margaret Nyman

October 6, 2009

I have a confession to make. Both Nate and I sleep in t-shirts. Although I have memories of frilly nighties that looked good, they all had scratchy seams. Nate remembers wearing guy-style pajamas with drawstrings and chest pockets. (We still wonder what he was supposed to keep in those pockets while sleeping.)

These days it’s tough to climb out of bed before dawn and leave our t-shirts behind, but no matter how difficult the day, we know their soothing comfort will be waiting at the end of it.

Today we had three medical tasks to accomplish. First was a blood draw, then an appointment with the head of our chemotherapy team, and lastly, radiation treatment #6. On paper it doesn’t sound like much, but pacing through it is like pushing a boulder uphill.

By mid-morning we were listening to our chemo doctor describe a study being conducted on pancreatic cancer patients. Nate had been “invited” to join this exclusive group of 15 participants. As the doctor described it, signing on for a new and controversial combination of chemo drugs would extend his life. He wouldn’t say by how much, but extending life sounded wonderful to both of us.

When he said, “There might be some extra discomfort,” I thought of our comfortable t-shirts. Nate’s life has been overloaded with discomfort during these last two weeks. Adding more didn’t sound very good. What he needed was more t-shirt time.

As we left the doctor’s office, he handed us six typed pages detailing the study, along with a signature form if we chose to participate. While Nate was getting x-rayed, I studied the study. Potential side effects filled one whole page, a list written in prose style rather than as a column, to camouflage how many there were.

Harsh words jumped from the page: “risk of bleeding, abnormal function, blood infection, inflammation, kidney failure, mouth sores, severe allergic reaction, unforeseeable side effects, potentially serious, long-lasting, permanent,” and the list continued. Also described were endless blood draws, scans and tests to monitor responses to the new drug combo. These translated to scores of hours driving to appointments and waiting in doctors’ offices.

I decided to wait on presenting these findings to Nate, who was too worn to hear them just then. As we buckled our seat belts to leave the hospital, he sighed. “I’ve just had it.”

“I’m with you,” I agreed.

Finally back home eight hours after we’d left, we both napped and then enjoyed a nourishing dinner brought by our generous next-door-neighbors. As a fire crackled, we sat in a circle with our older kids and talked about the study. I read from the six pages and each person contributed an opinion.

Listening to our grown children offering excellent counsel, I was reminded of the blessing they are to Nate and me. We value their opinions and common sense. They are, well, a comfort. Nelson suggested we pray, after which the vote on the study was unanimous: don’t sign up.

We look forward to the end of radiation, possibly followed by limited traditional chemotherapy. After that it will be all about just staying home and relaxing in comfy t-shirts.

Guest contributor Margaret Nyman takes us step by step through the 42 days after her husband Nate, a patient at Rush University Medical Center, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Read more of her posts by visiting the Coping With Cancer section or subscribing to the RSS feed. Nyman’s personal blog is at

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