Coping With Cancer: Sadness and Worry

By Margaret Nyman

October 25, 2009

This morning began with a bang. Actually, I should say a crash. Nate lost his balance in the bathroom while I was still sleeping and went down between the sink cabinet and the tub. The weight of his fall pushed his shower chair up against the tub faucet so hard it severed a pipe joint there. Amazingly, he didn’t hurt himself, except for a slight cut on the top of one foot.

Nelson had been up a while and heard the crash, racing in to help his father. I thought of the many times Nate had helped his children get up after little-kid falls, comforting them and giving them the universal parental encouragement: “Hey, you’re all right!” Usually it was true. Now the roles are reversed, his child is helping him up, and the “You’re all right” part is not true.

By the time I arrived, Nelson had Nate back into bed, and everything was calm. There is wisdom in the Ecclesiastes quote that says, “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.”

As we sat together and I held Nate’s hand, I said, “I’m so glad you didn’t hurt yourself.”

He responded, “Oh, I’ve got strong bones,” apparently forgetting his bones have cancer and are extremely frail. I nodded and decided it was me that needed recuperation, not him. He seemed fine.

All of us are trying to handle the strain of cancer in our lives. None of our kids have complained, but every so often I see one or another of them sitting quietly just thinking, not reading, not talking, just staring at nothing. There’s a lot to think about.

As for me, I don’t know what to think. Yesterday while running an errand, I passed an elderly man standing on a corner in the rain with a bent cardboard sign reading, “HUNGRY. HOMELESS. GOD BLESS YOU.” An all-consuming sadness came over me, and I burst into tears so overpowering I had to pull my van to the curb. Having grown up in the Chicago area, I’ve seen many homeless people but have never wept like that.

The only thing to do was to buy some groceries and bring them back. As I handed the bag to him, I looked into his eyes and ached all over for his misery. Since I was feeling miserable, too, it seemed we shared a valuable experience in that brief encounter. He thanked me four times and said he was going to find immediate shelter (from the drizzle) and eat whatever I’d put in the bag. “It will taste so good!” he said. His smile showed a half-dozen missing teeth, and I promised to pray for him. Back in the car, as I brought his plight to God, I wept all over again. I still can’t figure it out.

I worry about Nate, wondering when he’ll fall again, and I worry about the kids, hoping they’re talking it through with each other. I worry about myself, hoping I don’t come up short when the needs increase and I have to be stronger than I am today.

But God was ready for all this worry and sadness. He had us find another one of Mary’s Scripture rocks today, just in time.

“The God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

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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