Coping With Cancer: Tired

By Margaret Nyman

October 26, 2009

Last night was lively. Although Nate had his usual medications for pain, nausea and anxiety throughout the day, by evening he was restless. As bedtime drew closer, I wondered if he would go to sleep. It reminded me of the feeling I got with a newborn, wondering when I put him/her to bed if we’d have an active night or a restful one. New babies are unpredictable. A man with pancreatic cancer is the same.

The rest of the household drifted off to their various beds and their expected sleep. Once Nate was settled, I sat beside him in the dim light of his room and began the blog, wondering why he didn’t “clunk” right off to sleep. By 1 a.m. he seemed to settle, so I went to bed, too.

By 1:45, I was awakened by Nate checking to see if I was sleeping. I remember the same experience with one of my pre-schoolers tapping me on the shoulder during the night and saying, “Mom, I’m not going to wake you up. I just have one question …” That, of course, was after he’d woken me up.

I took Nate’s hand and led him back to his hospital bed. He wasn’t tired and wanted my attention. “I’d like a drink of water.” After that, he said, “I’d like a drink of milk.” He seemed to be in toddler-mode trying to postpone bed time.

I opened the shade in his room, and we looked out together. “See?” I said. “It’s nighttime. Everyone’s in bed. You have to sleep, too.” He nodded and obediently got back into bed.

Around 3 a.m. I heard kitchen cabinet doors and water running. Shuffling toward the commotion, I found Nate making coffee. “I’m feeling like a cup of coffee,” he said, as if it was the middle of the afternoon. “Want one?”

Taking the decanter from his hand and pouring the water out, I shut off the lights and said, “Look at the clock. It’s still nighttime, and we’re both tired.”

Once again he nodded and without resistance took my hand to head back to bed. I wondered how many more episodes we’d have before dawn. This kind of a night goes on forever.

A little after 4, I heard him again, rummaging through the bathroom cabinet. “I can’t find my comb,” he said, as if he was getting ready for work. “I have so many but can’t find even one.”

Around 5:30, I heard him vomiting in the bathroom and found him struggling to stay standing while hanging onto the towel shelf above the toilet. It was long-distance vomiting, but of course he couldn’t get down on his knees.

After coaxing him back to bed for the fifth time, I crawled into my bed across the living room, wondering if I should just call it morning. As I drifted away, a verse came to mind: “Though He cause grief, yet will He have compassion according to the multitude of His mercies. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.”

Very soon the morning chatter of two toddlers woke me up. Walking to Nate’s room fully expecting to find his bed empty, I found him sleeping with his mouth open and his hands clasped across his chest. Just like a baby who’d been up all night, he needed rest.

At 2 p.m., I wondered if he’d slipped into a coma that was keeping him unconscious. It was difficult to wake him, but he finally roused and sat on the edge of the bed. He looked out the open window shade and said, “Oh. Morning. I can get up.”

“You’re partly right,” I corrected. “You can get up, but it’s not morning. It’s afternoon.”

During what was left of the day, he mostly slept in his chair, waving away our attempts to bring him food. The mug of coffee he requested had been reheated four times by the end of the day but still unsipped, and when he finally crawled into bed, he was completely worn out from doing nothing.

As I tucked him in, I sang two hymns, but his eyes were closed, and at the end, barely moving his lips, he whispered, “I’m so tired.”

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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