Coping With Cancer: A Day of Losses

By Margaret Nyman

October 15, 2009

Nelson and Hans accompanied us today, a pleasant variation for Nate and me. The wet, stormy highways made me thankful I could ride rather than drive. After two hospital appointments, our plan was to drive the mile to Nate’s office to visit his many friends there.

My sister had arranged for a wheelchair, but once at the curb in front of his office, Nate gathered his strength and wanted to walk his once-daily routine. We slowly entered the lobby, passers-by unaware of the significant event unfolding.

Emotionally charged hugging began before we even got to the elevators, as the security guard rushed from her place behind the counter to throw her arms around Nate. She patted him as if they were the closest of pals, telling us how much she loved him. Nate seemed to love her right back.

Stepping off the elevator on the 13th floor, we walked through the thick glass doors with Nate’s name included on the list of lawyers there. What were his thoughts? Three weeks ago, when he left the office to meet me at the doctor’s appointment that fateful day, he never dreamed he wouldn’t work again.

One by one people emerged from their offices to shake Nate’s hand, most putting their arms around him at the same time. It was “old home week,” and I watched him take it all in. Several were holding back tears. One labeled it bittersweet. Everyone knew the painful truth.

The conference room barely held us all, every eye on Nate, but we quickly fell into an easy banter. If anyone was shocked at his having become a shadow of his former self, no one let it show. I looked around the room and thought of the great differences in the many personalities there, politically, religiously, culturally and in age. Somehow this group had managed to work side by side for 19 years in a happy crowd of humanity that appreciated each other for what they had in common.

In a tender gesture, many of them wore Christmas neckties and necklaces. Nate’s legendary collection of holiday ties had allowed him to wear a different one each day in December. He appreciated the joke and mustered a smile.

Later, standing behind his desk surveying the monumental work Rob and Tom had done in his badly cluttered office, he was quiet. Again I wished I could have read his mind. When we left, I believe he knew he’d never be back. He didn’t say anything negative, but surely he was struggling with the many losses … his office, his files, his clients, his co-workers, his career, his identity, his routine and even the security guard. Although he’s had losses of some sort every day, this day was overloaded with them.

Later, back at home, Nate ended his day with the comfort of a hot bath. But one more loss was added to the day’s total when he had a fall getting out of the tub. It took three people to get him up, but we were thankful a badly bruised knee was the only damage. All of us, Nate included, are wondering what tomorrow will bring … or what it will take away. I marvel at his stoicism and refusal to complain.

God doesn’t usually remove life’s hard parts but instead promises to go with us “when we pass through the waters … and through the rivers.” He promises they won’t overflow us, because we belong to him.

When Nate was finally settled into his hospital bed for the night, his face flush with the effort to get there, we read today’s comments on the blog, as well as many encouraging e-mails. Quite a few of the messages mentioned Nate being a testimony of God’s faithfulness. As we prayed together he said, “Oh Lord, I’m not worthy to be a testimony of you. Please make me worthy.” When I peeked at him, a single tear was running down his cheek.

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

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