Coping With Cancer: Sweet, Not Bitter

By Margaret Nyman

October 17, 2009

Today was an old-fashioned work day, the kind most families have on fall Saturdays: taking down the screens, washing windows, putting up the storms, cleaning house, doing laundry and running errands. Several of the guys also installed a hand-held shower nozzle for Nate, since climbing in and out of the tub is no longer possible, and we did a thorough vacuuming, since Jack the dog was pronounced flea-ridden. Despite the “normal” nature of a chore-oriented day, for us it was super sweet, because all 13 of us (plus three in utero) were together on task. Nate was in the middle of all of it, keeping up with the ceaseless activity from the comfort of his La-Z-Boy.

He seemed better today than he’s been in a week. Dr. Abrams believes his radiation treatments finally began benefiting him last Wednesday. Not that this is a reprieve from what’s still coming, but it’s a mini-interlude of better energy and, Nate thinks, better breathing. It’s very possible the radiation has shrunk the tumor in his lung enough to increase air flow, which has made him more comfortable, less panicky.

The best part of today was when we gathered around Nate, the star of our family show, for a group photo. As we set up the picture with two sweet grandbabies in our laps, I thought of the three new babies who will be with us in 2010, and ached to think Nate may not be in that picture. Nevertheless, we grinned and giggled for the cameras during this bittersweet moment. What good would it do to dwell on the “bitter”? Thinking about the “sweet” was what we all wanted to do.

During the afternoon as we worked, the cranberry chicken in our oven smelled better and better, promising a delicious evening meal. It had been prepared ahead of time and brought to our door by others, which made it twice as tasty.

Each evening we have a “small group” meeting during dinner. Since sitting in hard-backed chairs is too difficult for Nate’s aching back, we gather around his chair in the living room with plates of food on our laps. During the last three weeks, many glasses of milk and cups of coffee have gone overboard on the 40-year-old carpeting, not to mention blobs of lasagna and wayward peas. We pick up the chunks and ignore the rest, focusing instead on each other.

Now that all of us are together, our small group has become large, with a meandering circle of easy chairs, dining room chairs, folding chairs, stools and one very important La-Z-Boy. Before we eat, Nate enjoys looking around the group and choosing someone to say a prayer over the meal, once in a while choosing himself. The Spirit leads those prayers, and the words hold power.

Come to think of it, there is much more powerful praying going on around our house than ever before. Recently, while up during the night helping Nate to the bathroom, I glanced into the next room and saw Louisa, our 21-year-old, bent over her Bible with her journal underneath it, pen in hand, studying, thinking, praying. It was 3:15 a.m. To see this was a sweet blessing.

When my phone ding-dongs with a new text, sometimes it’s the kids sending what they just prayed for us. Other times it’s a Scripture verse that lifts and encourages. Bibles are open throughout the house as we search for this or that promise, and our Scripture rocks sit on the window sill above the kitchen sink. God is near, and it is sweet.

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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