Coping With Cancer: The Excruciating Truth

By Margaret Nyman

October 13, 2009

Now that Nate has 10 radiation treatments under his belt, we’ve gotten acquainted with the 11 a.m. crowd in the waiting room. Each of us has the same time slot five days a week. Some arrive in wheelchairs and others with canes or walkers. One elderly gentleman has a gleaming cane of clear Lucite with a thick, see-through handle. Gorgeous. Another man brings a white flannel blanket, wrapping himself in its comfort as he awaits his turn on the ice-cold table. A young mom, waiting for her husband to finish treatment, brings their 4-year-old daughter with her bag of crayons and coloring books.

Creative head gear abounds, keeping bald heads warm. We see everything from baseball caps to fancy scarves, knit hats and head wraps. The waiting room is freshly decorated in dusty green with cushy seating for 32. Making sure coffee, tea and hot chocolate are available for all of us, a receptionist keeps the pots fresh with new brew. A flat-screen TV tuned to CNN reports softly, but no one is paying attention.

Looking around the room, I wonder about everyone’s story. All are fighting a battle they might not win. The bottom line is that they want to beat the greatest enemy of their lives: death.

Several precious friends of ours are praying for Nate’s complete healing from his metastasized pancreatic cancer. Although I have no doubt about God’s ability to do that, he probably won’t. And if he doesn’t, I trust he has excellent reasons. We’ve already experienced some of them as our family has drawn together and shared unnumbered blessings from each other and countless others.

I’ve polled all the friends I know whose mates have died of cancer. Some of those spouses never accepted their own mortality, even on their death beds. Others believed they would die, based on the probabilities. Which is better? Continue reading

Coping With Cancer: A Rocky Road

By Margaret Nyman

October 10, 2009

My sister Mary and I love rocks. Beach stones, to be specific, from the shores of Lake Michigan, our childhood hangout. There is no end to the variety of stones that appear on the sand day after day. Each is striking in its beauty, and no two are alike. In our opinion, a pendant made of a beach stone ranks right up there with a “real” jewel.

Mary and I are in our sixties, but we still get that same childhood thrill when we find pretty stones. Handling them is a stress-reducer for sure, and we look for excuses to do so. We’ve glued them on picture frames, mirror frames, candle bases, centerpiece runners, birdhouses, flower pots and clocks. We’ve backed them with magnets for the fridge and have filled crystal bowls with them.

Last week Mary found a new way to use our stones. The morning after we learned of Nate’s pancreatic cancer, I was standing at the kitchen sink, a million miles away in my mind, when I spotted a pink beach stone on the counter. It was the size of a fifty-cent piece and had writing on it: Isaiah 26:3-4.

I knew immediately it must have been Mary’s doing. Here’s what the reference said:

“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusts in Thee. Trust in the Lord forever, for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength.” Continue reading

Coping With Cancer: It’s Raining

By Margaret Nyman

October 9, 2009

Today as we headed for radiation #9, our son Klaus was at the wheel. Torrents of rain accompanied us the entire 80 miles, but I was able to relax in the back seat for a change.

Earlier in the morning, as Nate and I gradually came awake, we did our daily weather check by looking out the bedroom windows. Six tall, narrow windows make up our headboard, and while still lying down, we can look up through the leaves to the sky, as if we were sleeping in a tree fort.

“Looks like more rain,” Nate said. We could hear the pitter patter (pound and splatter) on the roof. As we lay there holding hands and listening to the rain, Nate quietly said, “The rain falls on the just and the unjust.”

I didn’t respond, waiting for his further thoughts. Finally, when he did speak, I could tell he’d been asking the “why question.”

“The reason I got cancer doesn’t really matter. It’s God’s will, and he knows best.” Although I felt my tears beginning to sting again, he seemed stoic and calm. His statement might have been an important turning point in his thinking.

Those quiet early-morning moments wedged between nourishing sleep and tiring medical activity are becoming more valuable every day. Nate’s stamina decreases after each radiation treatment, and life has developed into a tightrope walk between too much pain and too much sleep. Continue reading

Coping With Cancer: Making Friends with a Rock

By Margaret Nyman

October 8, 2009

As we drove toward Chicago for radiation #8 today, Nate’s cell phone rang repeatedly. Each call was from a client. I listened to his end of the conversations while the miles ticked off on our familiar route. Suddenly I noticed something strange. Instead of answering legal questions, he was answering personal ones.

“Well, it started in the pancreas. Yes, radiation. Probably chemo. Not for a few weeks. No, not that bad.”

One after another, business acquaintances called to express concern for Nate, and it dawned on me that during his 37 years of lawyering, many of his strictly-business clients had become good friends. After discovering his diagnosis, they were now checking in. I marveled that he had an entire circle of support I knew nothing about.

Last year our two youngest daughters, 20-year-old Louisa and 18-year-old Birgitta, were waiting impatiently for Nate one Sunday morning after church. Brunch was next on the agenda, and they were anxious to get to it.

“Where’s Papa?” Birgitta asked.

“Oh you know him,” Louisa answered. “He’s probably chatting somewhere with someone he never met before. He could make friends with a rock.” Continue reading

Coping With Cancer: Then God Stepped In

By Margaret Nyman

October 5, 2009

We’ve seen over the last days how God has orchestrated circumstances to allow our seven children to come home in surprising and happy ways. (See my last blog post.) Of seven amazing stories, the most spectacular belongs to Hans and Katy.

Hans married Katy, a British citizen, in 2007, securing a visa that allowed him to work and collect pay in England and to travel in and out of the country freely. It expired in two years, however, and if he left after that, he couldn’t return without major hassles and possibly not at all.

Two months ago, Hans applied for a more permanent work visa that included a residency card. This would entitle him to unhindered travel, as well as most of the perks of British citizenship, even though he would remain an American. The process traditionally takes six months to a year.

When Hans got his call from Nate about the cancer, he yearned to come home immediately, but he’d had to surrender his passport for the duration of the lengthy visa process. Even Katy had had to turn in her British passport, as Hans’ wife, to satisfy the document requirements. Neither of them could leave England in the foreseeable future. Continue reading

Coping With Cancer: We’ve Been Prepared

By Margaret Nyman

October 4, 2009

Tonight as our daughter Linnea and I walked the dog around the block, we decided to see if there were ways God had prepared our family for the cancer crisis we’re now experiencing. Listed below are our seven children, each one brought close to their ailing father by a sudden change of circumstances:

Nelson (36): He felt strongly he ought to sell his Nashville landscaping business last June. When the season was at its peak, he prayed for a buyer. A friend of a friend who had a landscaping business mentioned he’d like to expand. Word got back to Nelson and within a week they’d struck a deal. When the news of pancreatic cancer came, Nelson was free to drive home, as he said, “For the duration.”

Lars (34): He’s been based in California since first becoming a college student in L.A. 15 years ago. Recently, his boss offered him a job transfer from San Diego to the Chicago area. He was weighing the decision when the news of his father’s cancer arrived. He took the new position and within 72 hours was moving to Illinois, 90 miles from us instead of 2000.

Linnea (32): Having taught high school English in Ocala, Fla., since she and Adam married six years ago, her job was tenured and secure. After taking a year’s leave of absence when Skylar was born last year, she had to return to teaching this fall or lose tenure. She signed the contract to begin in August. In the weeks between signing and starting, she learned she was pregnant with baby #2 and let her job go. When the cancer news arrived, she was free to come to Michigan to stay indefinitely. Continue reading

Coping With Cancer: Bearing Burdens

By Margaret Nyman

September 30, 2009

Rush University Medical Center is located near a labyrinth of superhighway lanes, on/off ramps and directional signs. We’ve made many mistakes trying to find a fool-proof route from our Michigan home but nailed it today, making good time and arriving early for the appointment.

Parking attendants were cheerful, offering to park our car free of charge, a special perk for radiation patients. Inside the front door a warm greeting awaited behind the desk, with Dr. Abrams and his resident standing just beyond that. It was as if we were arriving to a happy social occasion.

Treatment #2 went off without a hitch, after which the nurse gave Nate a quick physical: BP good, pulse good, blood gases good but another five pounds lost in a week, which now totals 44. She suggested we set up a meeting with their nutritionist to design a high-calorie eating plan for Nate. Chocolate pudding, here we come.

During a meeting with our doctors, the last part of today’s appointments, they learned of a fall Nate had had yesterday. He’d lost his balance at home and hit his head hard on a door frame as he landed. To be safe rather than sorry, the doctor recommended a brain scan, completed today if possible. “Just in case there is a small bleed, we need to know,” Dr. Abrams said. “The last thing we want is to add something new to his health burden.”

As the staff worked to set up the scan, Nate and I returned to the radiation waiting room where we met my lawyer-brother Tom and brand new lawyer Rob, for a quick meeting. Tom and Rob had come to remove business pressure from Nate’s mind by learning more about Nate’s legal cases. They are gradually taking them over. My brother and my husband have officed together for 19 years. “You’re a fixture around there,” Tom said, “and everybody really misses you.” Continue reading