So many changes have come with The Cancer that it’s hard to describe or list them all. The big ones are easy and somewhat expected – regular trips to the doctor, a port-o-cath semi-permanently installed under Maggie’s left shoulder, the ever-present medical bills in the mail box, etc. Things like that are just plain hard to miss. But it’s the little things that produce the thousand tiny cuts that sting the most. The little things are the ones that bite me most often and never give my mind the opportunity to forget.
Maggie smells different. It’s not bad or foul or anything like that. It’s just different. Probably no one would ever notice but me. But for me the difference is personal and unavoidable. That fond smell is, or was, part of her. You get quite used to the way your partner smells after being together for a while. That familiar smell brings comfort and feeds a little inner warmth during passing hugs or snuggle time. Now it’s changed and unfamiliar and part of me doesn’t want to like it because liking it would mean somehow that I like The Cancer or accept the effects it’s had on Maggie. So inside, quietly, a battle rages between my nose and my brain while my heart is held hostage. But it’s not a battle I can dream of winning because it’s just the way she is now, the way things are now. She is still very much my sweetheart – just now with a new perfume.
Maggie’s hands are different. They aren’t the same hands I’ve held for the last eight years. I’d even go so far to say that if they weren’t attached to her body I might not recognize them. They are darker now, stained by the natural melanin in her fine Italian skin which has become more prominent in response to the chemo. Big brown dots have appeared on the inside of some of her fingers. Her freckles, which I’ve always liked, have been affected. They are darker and more plentiful. She hates them but they are part of her and they always make me smile.
Heartburn is now an almost constant companion. And allergies. Maggie’s never had allergies before but now she almost always has the sniffles. And she sneezes frequently. It’s almost insult to injury. “We’re sorry to tell you that you have cancer… and allergies.” Seriously? What the hell?
Walking in public is different, too, but not why you’d think. Or maybe Maggie and I just haven’t noticed the increase in curious glances. (I’ve always been aware of people watching Maggie while we were in public. She just attracts the eyes!) Our trips to Home Depot or trips out for dining are now occasionally punctuated by visits from well-meaning strangers with messages of hope, prayer and encouragement. It’s a hard thing to get used to having a stranger suddenly appear beside you who spotted the subtle signs of which they are so keenly aware, no doubt because of their own difficult familiarity. They rarely, if ever, probe beyond the simple confirmational questions (“you are taking chemo, right?”) but those are always followed by strong, emotion-filled words from the stranger, tears from Maggie, and a couple of awkward moments of thank-you’s from me. Although the experience is never negative nor do I in any way discourage those people from their outreach (God knows their needs may burn far deeper than to simply offer re-assurance to Maggie and me), each meeting leaves me feeling as though a glass of cold water was just thrown in my face. And it’s difficult to get used to strangers walking up and throwing cold water in your face. The real irony is that, in the years to come, I’ll probably serve up numerous glasses of cold water to strangers in an effort to calm my own demons.
Considering it all, we are still happy with what we’ve got. We are together, living life, smiling and having a good time. In that way nothing’s changed. We’ve always had a good time together. And, as it is in life there’s plenty of “worse” to be had. With the exception of the post-surgery days we really haven’t been punished with the miserable side-effects so frequently associated with where we are and what we are doing. We’ve been lucky and we truly are happy. These small changes are a small price to pay for more time with my wife. But these damned little things keep reminding me that we didn’t simply survive a big storm. It’s much more likely we are floating in the eye of the hurricane. But hey! The company’s great and the weather’s nice here so I hope we can stay a while.