Some say that life is a journey.
A journey from birth to death.
Some people’s journeys are very short and others are very long. For most of us, the journey will be somewhere in-between.
For most of us, life’s journey is made up of many other, shorter journeys.
Babyhood (a journey most of us don’t remember). The teenage angst years (a journey many of us like to forget). Young adulthood (mostly exciting with thoughts of a bright future). Marriage (the bumpy journey or journeys, as the case may be). Becoming a parent (one of the scariest and happiest journeys). Aging and retirement (the what, already?! journey).
Some journeys are short. Some are long. Some just seem too long or too short.
Some journeys are smooth. Some are bumpy. Some start one way and end another.
Some journeys are happy. Some are sad. Some are a little of both.
My brother-in-law, David, has been on the cancer journey.
In January 2012, he was diagnosed with Stage IV Colorectal Cancer. Since then, he has gone through radiation and a series of chemotherapy treatments.
I have been blessed to travel on this journey with him and my sister. I have spent several weeks with them over the past 16 months. I have even traveled to their home in Minnesota during the Winter months which I swore I would never do when they first moved here! The lesson I keep learning when I use absolutes like ALWAYS and NEVER is that I should never state anything unequivocably because it ALWAYS comes back to bite me in the rear.
I have been making trips of about a week or so at a time. I have spent this time taking David to treatments, spending time with him, and helping out around the house. My time here allows my sister to have a break, to be able to go into the office rather than work from home, and lets us spend time together cooking, watching movies, and just sitting together quietly.
Many of the people who know I’ve been doing this say to me that my sister and David are lucky to have me. But, I don’t feel that way at all. I feel lucky that they are in my life, and I feel blessed to have this opportunity to spend time with them in such a close and intimate way.
David’s journey with cancer changed yesterday.
This is how the week unfolded for us. David had a scan at the beginning of the week. It had been about two months since his last scan. The next day we met with the oncologist to learn the results of this latest scan.
David had a strong premonition that the news would not be good. When we went back to the Cancer Treatment Center for the follow-up visit, David had blood drawn for his labs, had his vitals taken, and went over his current drug list, as usual. We met the new oncology nurse. After all of this, the doctor came in. She went through everything again. My sister took care of some paperwork with her. Business as usual.
Then the doctor was ready to go over the results of the scan. The results were not good. David’s premonitions were true. The tumors on the liver had grown significantly. The bottom line is that the last line of cancer drugs were not effective.
During this time, the doctor held David’s hand. She said, more than once, that she was not trying to be mean by what she was saying. She apologized for not being able to give him more time. She never rushed or skipped over anything even when she knew going in what she had to say. She spent nearly an hour with us. She answered every question compassionately yet honestly. She discussed how his next journey would likely unfold.
She had tears in her eyes. Her job must be very hard.
David’s journey with cancer and cancer treatments have ended.
We left the Cancer Treatment Center for the last time. We all received hugs from the doctor and the staff. It is really like they become part of your extended family during this time. In fact, they are more compassionate and helpful than many family members.
A new journey has begun. David’s journey with hospice care has started.
It’s not all doom and gloom. We continue to share books we’ve read, watch movies together, and talk about family and current events. David has a slightly twisted and dry sense of humor. He keeps mentioning things, that he hates to do, that he will never have to do again. He jokes about death.
I cut his hair for him and told him that I look forward to giving him sponge baths. He’s told me that the area between his waist and his knees is off-limits. Yes, that is our relationship in a nutshell.
David is mostly worried about my sister. About how she will manage after he is gone. He’s worried about the day-to-day stuff.
I don’t think he really realizes that what we will miss most is his physical presence. His quirky sense of humor. His philosophical views on life and religion and family. His obsessive compulsive behaviors which have endeared him to us. Yes, we’ll even miss those things.
We don’t know how long this next journey with David will be. We are measuring it in weeks not months, but no one has a crystal ball. The upside in all of this is that we can make our time together really MEAN something. That is the one gift in all of this.
Life is a journey.
A journey from life to death.
Make it count.