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: 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: Message From Nate

Guest contributor Margaret Nyman has been chronicling the 42 days after her husband Nate, a patient at Rush University Medical Center, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. This post was written by Nate.

October 7, 2009

Blogging now stands for what used to be called stream-of-consciousness writing, so here it is. My mom died at 91, Dad at 76. I am 64, and at noon on 9/22/09 a team of highly respected doctors told me I might have less than six months to live. My parents got more decades of life than I ever will, but I am grateful that during my six decades I’ve enjoyed good health.

It’s really not about how many years a person gets. Rather its how we use the ones we have. It’s not about the number of candles on the cake but rather how good the cake tastes.

During these last two weeks, many thoughts have crowded my brain. First came numbness, then pain. I’ve thought about finances for the family, and also about my own uncompleted work. I also pondered soul-issues. In addition, many of my life goals will remain unreached, although I know now that some of them were unattainable anyway.

The family I have has contributed strongly to the quality of my life. I’ve also had many opportunities, such as attending college and law school and participating in the military, that others haven’t had. I’ve been able to attend the best churches in the country and have been taught by the greatest preachers.

I enjoy a personal faith in Christ, especially now, despite the circumstances. I have assurance that it will all work out for good, eternally. My Bible tells me, “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

If I could sign on a dotted line to get out of this, my pen would already be out of my pocket. But that isn’t reality. In the end, it all boils down to two things, just as the old hymn says: trust and obey. Apparently this is God’s will for me, and I accept it.

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Coping With Cancer: T-Shirt Time

By Margaret Nyman

October 6, 2009

I have a confession to make. Both Nate and I sleep in t-shirts. Although I have memories of frilly nighties that looked good, they all had scratchy seams. Nate remembers wearing guy-style pajamas with drawstrings and chest pockets. (We still wonder what he was supposed to keep in those pockets while sleeping.)

These days it’s tough to climb out of bed before dawn and leave our t-shirts behind, but no matter how difficult the day, we know their soothing comfort will be waiting at the end of it.

Today we had three medical tasks to accomplish. First was a blood draw, then an appointment with the head of our chemotherapy team, and lastly, radiation treatment #6. On paper it doesn’t sound like much, but pacing through it is like pushing a boulder uphill.

By mid-morning we were listening to our chemo doctor describe a study being conducted on pancreatic cancer patients. Nate had been “invited” to join this exclusive group of 15 participants. As the doctor described it, signing on for a new and controversial combination of chemo drugs would extend his life. He wouldn’t say by how much, but extending life sounded wonderful to both of us. 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: I Can’t See the Future

Nate Nyman

October 3, 2009

Nate’s pain woke him with the message it was time for his meds. After he took the pills, we spent time chatting in bed, waiting for relief to come. We talked about when the kids were little, remembering funny things they’d said. Then suddenly he became introspective.

“Life’s interesting,” he said. “It’s like you come up against a wall that’s 10 feet tall but can’t see over it. On the other side is your future. You want to see it, but no matter how hard you try, you can’t.”

I believe he’s beginning to absorb the truth of his pancreatic cancer, the raw statistic that of 37,000 people who had this disease last year in our country, 95 percent of them died within their year of diagnosis. Nate is a numbers man and understands bad odds when he reads them.

“I want you to dig out my insurance policies today so I can refresh my mind about them,” he said. “We also need to find my will and re-read it. And I want to be sure you have power of attorney. That’ll make everything easier.”

I wanted to sit bolt upright and yell, “Stop! What about the other 5 percent? Maybe that’ll be you!” But something inside my head said, “Don’t interrupt. Let him say what’s on his mind.” It was God I’m sure, making me bite my lip. When Nate finished talking, I agreed to find the files.

After a morning nap, he reopened the subject. “Can you hunt for those documents now?” I found them and then sat quietly with my Coke Zero, watching Nate study the papers. He knit his brow and then nodded slightly.

“I think you’ll be OK, even if you live into your nineties.”

“It’s awful to think of you not being here,” I said, fighting tears but trying to sound like we were having an everyday conversation. “Maybe we could take a trip in the near future, like to Greenfield Village or someplace.” But both of us knew my suggestion wasn’t compatible with the immediate future we could already see. Continue reading