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Chris’ Cancer and Me – Part 2

HR knew about Chris’ cancer.  I told them.  Repeatedly, whenever I spoke with HR regarding my displacements.  They knew that Chris was on my health insurance.  They knew that I was working for my benefits and didn’t care about the paycheck.  They knew.

But at the time of my displacement (I think March 2011), I went to the Union.  The Union Rep. tried to intervene on my behalf.  And he was unsuccessful.  He tried again and again and was told there was nothing that could be done.  As we all know, HR has “power” and can make exceptions when they want to.  They didn’t seem to want to.  Why?  I have no clue.

All I was asking for was that I be placed in an Educational Assistant position rather than having to interview and be “hired” again.  That was it.  It really wasn’t that much.  I checked the job postings this morning and there were several positions that were open (there were a total of 30 open positions, but only a few of them were in the classification I was previously working in).  There have been positions all summer.  So, I wasn’t asking for something that was impossible.  I was asking for something that was reasonable.  Especially, under the circumstances.

Over and over again I told HR and the Union Rep. that I was concerned about my health insurance.  I was under the false impression that my insurance would run until the end of the school year, as I worked the entire school year.  Apparently, in the letter that told me that I was RIF and that I would be placed on the recall list, there was one sentence telling me that my health insurance would expire on May 30th.  The reasoning was that the last day that I worked for the district was in May (because of the school calendar).

Here’s the thing.  I worked my “contracted” 176 days.  If I had been at a school that had a different calendar, my 176 days would have ended in June and our health insurance wouldn’t have expired until June 30th.  June 30th was the last day of the school year.

The Union rep. was as surprised as I was when we found out my health insurance expired.

In the meantime, through all of April and May, I applied for teaching positions within the district.  I was not eligible to apply for “in-district only” positions because, while I was “in-district” I wasn’t working as a teacher.  Of course, it makes no sense.  A teacher on a “one-year only” contract was allowed to apply for teaching positions before I was.  And remember I had been working in the district for 4 years.

Our health insurance was a high deductible insurance.  We were required to pay for everything until we reached $8,000 out-of-pocket (the district would “subsidize” $3,000 of that over the course of an entire year).  Once we reached the $8,000, everything was covered at 100%.  We had reached the out-of-pocket fairly early on and really believed that we would have the month of June covered at 100%.

However, my insurance “expired” at the end of May.  And we couldn’t do COBRA for one month and then sign up for insurance through Chris’ company.  So, how should I put it, we were screwed.  Chris’ insurance runs from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31.  Mine ran from July 1 to June 31.  So, we would have to switch and have 7 months on Chris’ insurance before it started again.

If you’ll remember, Chris had radiation in June.  Originally, we thought that the radiation would be covered at 100%.  But because of the change in insurance, we had to reach our deductible and out-of-pocket.  For a single family member, the out-of-pocket was $5,700.  For the family, it was $9,700.  And all of it “rolls over” in January and we have to start again.  Even if I were to get a position within the district, we would have the same issue with the different coverage periods.

Following Orientation, I told KR and MF all of this.  And that HR knew my situation.  KR said several times that this never should have happened.  She told me that I should speak with the new Director of HR.  Apparently, he began working for the district in July. I asked her if she thought he was in, and she walked me to his office.  He was in a meeting, but she told me that she would have him call me.  She told me that, this should have never happened repeatedly.

She also told me that she would get my substitute “stuff” done as quickly as possible (and she did.  Thanks KR!!!) and to let her know if I needed anything.  She also told me that I was a “strong, beautiful woman.”   She also told me that it was amazing that I was calm and able to talk about what had happened (and Chris’ cancer) and wasn’t a total mess.

And this is the point that I wanted to get to – people tell me that I’m strong because of how I am handling my life.  But what other choice do I have?  I can’t stay in bed with the covers pulled up around me, NO MATTER HOW MUCH I MIGHT WANT TO.  What would that accomplish anyway?

I have to get up and face each day.  I have to do what I can.  I have to try to keep things going.  I have had to let go of my anger and stop asking the question, “Why me/us?”  I don’t have any other choice.  I have two boys (remember they are 13 and almost 11) who are going through something that I can’t even imagine – the prospect of losing their dad.  Chris is facing treatment after treatment and hoping (beyond hope) that they work and can keep the cancer at bay.  There isn’t time for me to have regular pity parties.  There is still laundry and dishes.  The boys still need to do their homework and practice their instruments.  The dogs need to be taken out.  And while I may wish it were otherwise, life goes on.

If someone would have told me 10 years ago, I would be facing this – this being my life – I wouldn’t have believed them.  I would not have thought that I would be able to deal with it all.  I would have thought I would be a mess.  That I would have a break-down.

But somehow, over the last several years I have managed to do things I thought I would never be able to do:  I lived for a year in IL, while Chris was in CO and managed the boys, work, and the house being on the market.  I dealt with a flood at our house less than one week before we were to move to CO – I had help, but I put in a tile floor (all by myself) and managed to get everything re-packed for the move.  I worked full-time while completing my Master’s and managed to graduate with a 3.98 GPA.  I have made new friends and adjusted to life in a new state, where I only knew 2 people (and Chris) prior to moving here.  I also finished my Student Teaching after Chris was diagnosed.

People, like KR, say that I am strong because I have done all of these things.  But, honestly, what other choices have I had?

This is why I find it hard to tell people about Chris’ cancer.  Somehow, it becomes all about me.  And it isn’t.

I had a friend who was upset about her dog dying.  She was in tears and talking with me.  And then it happened.  She said that she shouldn’t be upset and crying to me.  I had enough to deal with and her problems weren’t anything compared to mine.  I told her it was NONSENSE.  It isn’t all about me, all the time.  Her dog dying was upsetting.  She had every right to be upset.  She had every right to talk with me about it.  My problems don’t make anyone’s problems less.  Yes, it is sometimes about me.  But it can’t be about me all the time.  Sometimes, like after her dog died, it had to be about her.  It is as it should be.  It is hard to be a friend if it is always all about you.

I told my friend that right at that moment, what she was going through was important.  That it was upsetting to her and I was there to support her.  That, as my friend, she had the right, to have it be all about her for a while.  I told her that there would be days when it was all about me, but that day wasn’t one of them.

Much of the time, we are in stable and steady mode.  Chris’ cancer isn’t growing.  Now it isn’t shrinking either, but it isn’t growing.  He goes to work every day (and I am VERY thankful) and while he doesn’t feel well and he is tired, life goes on.  Yes, his cancer is always there, but there isn’t anything else that can be done.  So we all go on.

We will, at some point, hit crisis mode.  We expect that the cancer will start growing (like it did prior to Chris’ radiation treatments in June).  We will deal with that when it happens.  And we will need it to be all about us when that happens.  But day-to-day is just that, day-to-day.  Life goes on.  We manage as we have been managing for almost 2 years.

I find it difficult to decide when to tell someone about Chris cancer for all of these reasons.  I may be strong, but I haven’t had a choice.  If we had stopped managing when Chris was diagnosed, where would we be now?  It has been 2 years.  We have to live and not wait for death.  And that means that friends are going to need us.  For fairly normal stuff – like dogs dying and cars breaking down and fights with spouses or families.  And it doesn’t diminish the problem (the fact that Chris’ cancer is, well cancer).

But managing doesn’t make me strong.  Managing makes me human.  And I don’t see that I am special because of it.  I am not an example of how someone should deal, because I am me and I am dealing the best that I can.  No one can say how they would manage if it were them, because it isn’t them and honestly, you don’t know until you are there.

So, support me.  Be there when I need you and offer your help (thanks KR, MF and my friends ET, KH and AG for all you do regularly).  And let me be there for you, when it needs to be all about you.  Let me be your friend and don’t make me into something I’m not.  Because some days, I cry in the shower because it is all I can manage.  Then I end the pity party and go on.  Life is like that – you really don’t have any other choices.



Chris’ Cancer and Me

Yesterday, I went for Orientation for Substitute Teaching.  Meeting new people has never been easy for me.  As a kid, people took my “shyness” as being “stuck up.”  But I don’t think that I was really stuck up, just overly anxious.

When we moved to Colorado, I really made a personal effort to “re-create” myself.  I tried hard to smile and introduce myself.  I may have been quiet, but I really took the time to appear approachable and friendly.  And I think for the most part, I have succeeded.

Then came Chris’ diagnosis.  How do you talk with people you don’t know about your kids, job and life without mentioning such a big part of our lives?  It is tough to figure out when to share that information.  Sometimes I don’t.  And sometimes I do.  I go with my gut.  But it is really hard, because I don’t want to scare people away with too much information too soon, but. . .

Anyway, yesterday I attended Orientation.  I got their early and picked a seat.  Michael’s Science/Health teacher (who is a retired teacher and works teaching as a result of a Planning Time Grant) sat down next to me.  Of course, with nearly 1,000 students, he had no clue who I was.  I introduced myself and we chatted for a while.  That was the extent of my “socialization” during the Orientation.

After the Orientation, I stuck around waiting because I needed to fill out a Curriculum Choice page.  This is the page that they use when they enter all of your information into the system and it determines what jobs you can “see” in the system and take.  Obviously, I am interested in SPED jobs, but I had to indicate what other subjects/grades I would be interested in.  David’s band teacher said that he would use me as a sub, so I had to indicate Music (Vocal and Instrumental) or when he tries to request me, the system won’t allow it.  But chances are, I won’t take any Music jobs other than for his classroom.

When I finished filling out my form, I wanted to talk with the person from the Substitute Office and make sure that I was filling out the form so that I would be able to sub for a friend of mine who teaches Deaf and Hard of Hearing.  So, I waited.

When I had the chance to talk with KR (who is the person from the Substitute Office who would be my “manager” and the one who ran the orientation), she was so nice and friendly.  She let me know that, as a former employee, I would be making more money subbing than the general pay.    SPED is considered “hard to fill” for both teaching and subbing.  Sometimes they are desperate for subs who are willing to work with the SPED kids.  That is what I want to do and so it means that I will probably be able to work as much (or as little as I want).

Since I had KR’s attention, and I was the only sub left, I told her and MF (the other Substitute Office person) about Chris.  I wanted both of them to know that if I had to cancel a job it would most likely be last minute and that I was sorry.  I wanted them to know that I was a responsible person, but had “extenuating circumstances.”  And I wanted them to put my name and face together.

KR and MF were supportive and wonderful.  Both of them told me that I shouldn’t worry about it and that they would make sure that if I had an issue, it was taken care of.  MF came over and gave me a hug.  KR and I continued talking, and I told her about my experiences within the district.  For those of you who don’t know, here is a synopsis.

I was hired as an Significant Special Needs Educational Assistant in August 2007.  In February 2008 I was transferred to a different school (I moved with a student who was changing schools).  In June 2008 I was “displaced” and transferred to another school for the following school year.  In October 2008, I was transferred to a 4th school.  In June 2009 I was displaced again and transferred to another school for the following school year.  I worked the 2009-2010 school year and was again displaced at the end of the year and transferred to a 6th school.  For the 2010-2011 school year I worked at a single school and was RIF (reduction in force) at the end of the school year.

Originally, I was told by Human Resources that if I did not apply for positions (and find one) by July 1 I would be placed on a “recall” list for 90 days and could be recalled.  As I had obtained my Teaching License, and I wanted to teach rather than be an Educational Assistant, I decided that I would not apply and interview for EA positions.  At the end of June, I was informed by HR that I would not be recalled (no one would).  So, that was it.  My employment ended (actually it ended the last day of May).

As an employee who was involuntarily transferred so many times in my 4 years of employment, I felt that I shouldn’t have to apply and interview for EA positions.  I went where they told me to go and I thought that entitled me to some “special treatment.”  The original school that hired me had EAs that were hired way after me and had a lot less time in the district than I did.  So, if they hadn’t transferred me to another school during my first year, I would have had “seniority” at that school (every single EA I worked with at my hiring school has left the district – I am the only one who was still working for the district at the end of the 2010-2011 school year).

HR didn’t want to help.  And HR knew about Chris’ condition.

To Be Continued

Cancer Update – September 1, 2011

Yesterday, I wrote about the oncology clinic and how much I dislike it.  In addition to my anxiety and dislike of the clinic, they are now doing construction to the parking lots and building a parking garage.  This meant that I (and Chris who drove separately) had to park really far from the clinic and walk (although there were shuttles).  It just added to my dislike of the entire experience.

Chris’ scans show that the cancer is stable.  This is a good thing.  The cancer isn’t growing – although it isn’t shrinking, but we don’t really expect it to at this time.  The blood marker that they have been watching (if you’ll remember the marker was rising and after doing more detailed scans in June, they discovered that the cancer cells in the pleura were not being held in check by the clinical trial drug, so they did radiation and got things back under control.) has been going steadily down since Chris’ radiation finished in early June.  This is also a good thing.

The clinical trial drug that Chris has been taking for 14 months (my previous estimates were off), has been approved by the FDA (you can read an article about it here Pfizer Lung Cancer Drug).  Chris’ doctor believes that as long as he continues taking the drug (and doesn’t go off for a different treatment – like he did when he went off for radiation) he will continue to get the drug for free as part of the clinical trial.  However, if he does go off the drug, then we will have to pay for the drug if he goes back on it.  It is expensive – $9,600 per month without insurance (thank goodness for insurance).

The doctor said that there are new “second generation” ALK-targeting drugs in the works and if Chris goes off the Pfizer drug for a targeted treatment for an area that has mutated and isn’t reacting to the drug, it is possible that they can get him in a clinical trial for one of the new drugs.  I guess we will just have to wait and see what the cancer decides to do and go from there.

David asked me about what the doctor said when he walked in the door yesterday.  I told him.  He replied, “Well, I guess that this is as close to remission as we are going to get.”  Stable is good.  It isn’t remission.  The cancer is still living in Chris’ lung.  But the drugs are holding it in check so it can’t grow.  At some point we know that the drugs will stop working and the cancer will start growing (or appear in other places).  But David is right, this is as good as it is going to get.

Please share this blog if you know someone who may benefit from it.

The Oncology Clinic

Chris has an appointment today to see the oncologist.  What that means is that he will leave and drive to the hospital and get his blood drawn.  I will make sure that Michael is up and moving, the dogs are set, and then I will get in my car and drive to the hospital.  The hospital, University of Colorado Hospital, Aurora Campus, is only about 15 miles away.  In the morning, during rush hour, it can take anywhere from 30-75 minutes to get there.  Of course, since it is somewhere we don’t really want to go, the drive is stressful and annoying.  After the blood draw, we will wait to see the oncologist.

The first time we went to the oncology clinic was after Chris got out of the hospital (October, 2009).  It was during a snowstorm.  We called the clinic to make sure that they were seeing patients and they told us that they were.  They also told us that we should get there whenever we could and not to worry about our appointment time.  We asked if they meant we should come then – they said yes.

Beyond driving in the snowstorm, I don’t remember much from the first trip to the oncology clinic.  I think that over the last two years my impressions have all blended together and I just have feelings about it.  I don’t like it.

For one thing, there are sick people there.  Yes, I know that it is the oncology clinic, but some of the people look really sick.  One time there was a man there who must have been having trouble with his liver because he was yellow.  It was pretty scary to see someone who was yellow (the whites of his eyes were yellow).  There are also people who don’t look sick at all and you wonder why they are there.  When I go with Chris it is during the lung cancer clinic, so I know that there are people who have lung cancer, but that isn’t the only clinic being held at that time.  There are people who clearly have breast cancer (the pesto-bismal pink clothing is a dead give-away).  Usually, there aren’t any young people there, unless they are there with someone who has cancer (this is usually obvious by the way that they are “taking care” of the person with cancer).  By young I mean in their 30’s and 40’s.  Children are not allowed.

Then there are the puzzles.  There are puzzles that are partially completed on tables for people to work on.  Who can concentrate on a puzzle when you are sitting in the oncology clinic?  I know that I can’t.  I usually bring magazines because they require concentration for only a few minutes at a time.  Most of the time I don’t remember what I read during the time I was sitting there.

Another thing at the oncology clinic is the wait.  It is typical of any clinic and sometimes you wait forever.  While waiting you can’t help but wonder if they have forgotten you, or if the doctor doesn’t want to see you because they have bad news.  One time Chris and I waited in the waiting room for almost 90 minutes.  Finally, he went to find out what was going on and they realized that they misplaced his chart going from the lab to the clinic (they are next to each other).  My imagination was in over-drive that day.

After you get from the waiting room to the exam room, you wait more (again like a regular doctor’s office).  Since University of Colorado Hospital is a teaching hospital, the doctor, when he finally arrives, usually has a med student with him and he will go over Chris’ history.  Then he examines Chris.  Generally, this consists of listening to Chris’ lungs.  Next, he talks about the scans.  This is the part that Chris and I have been anxiously waiting for.  Nothing else really matters.

Dr. Bunn, the first pulmonary oncologist that treated Chris would take us into another room and show us the scans on the computer.  This was good because we then had some idea of what he was talking about.  But it was bad because we wondered what stuff was on the scans and if it was normal and Dr. Bunn went past it.  It was also bad because we could see the cancer.  Not really, but we could see the areas where the cancer was and that is a scary thing.

The doctor who is treating Chris now doesn’t usually show us the scans.  He will talk about the report that he got from the person who read the PET scan.  He will tell us about the tumor’s activity.  He will tell us what the next step is in the plan and let Chris know if he has any options.  He sometimes uses “big doctor words” and looks at me strangely when I ask what they mean.  It is like he forgets that he is talking to a lay person.  And either he’ll explain it or I’ll end up texting my brother, Jeff, to find out.

That is usually it for our visits to the oncology clinic.  Chris then has to wait for them to get his meds together (since he is on a clinical trial drug, he gets them from the hospital) and he can leave.  He usually drives to work from there and I drive home (or when I was working, to work).

The waiting part is the worst.  The anxiety starts in our home after Chris has had his scan, but before we have seen the doctor at the clinic.  If there is good news from the doctor (and we consider that the cancer staying the same is good news) then the anxiety dissipates.  If there isn’t good news from the doctor, the anxiety builds until the next course of treatment (or doctor’s visits or scans) start.  Then things calm down for a bit until we know what is happening next.  Some days it feels like we are on a roller coaster that we have all grown tired of and want to get off.  Other days, it lurks in the back of our minds and almost fades away.  Finally, there are days when it is unbearable and there is nothing we can do.  And this is for me and the boys.  I can’t imagine how it feels for Chris, but it must be worse for him than it is for us, since he not only has to deal with the emotional aspects, he has to deal with the physical aspects too.

I think though, the worst day, is the day before.  I dread the day before the oncology clinic visit.  I dread it because I know that the next day we will have to go and deal with the cancer.  I know that the odds are against us when it comes to getting good news.  That as we approach the 2 year mark, we are beating the odds (the prognosis for Stage IV Lung Cancer is 6 months to 2 years) and that can’t continue.  That is the really scary part.

I will update my blog later today (Wednesday, August 31, 2011) or tomorrow.

Reading About Others Dealing with Cancer and Fears About What Will Happen

While I have admitted that I am enjoying writing my blog, there is a scary aspect to blogging.  I’ve been very curious about the strangers who have been reading my blog.  One of the searches that seems to lead people to my blog  is “Lung Cancer.”  People are reading what I’ve written about Chris and his battle with Lung Cancer and they’ve been reading my post about the statistics regarding Lung Cancer.

Blogging is a social activity, kind of.  You write your blog and put your feelings, thoughts and ideas out there and other people read it.  But my curiosity has resulted in my reading blogs that I might not have found otherwise.  One blogger who found me is a lady whose husband has Lung Cancer.  His cancer, well, he is in pretty bad shape.  He’s in the hospital right now after running a very high fever from an infection.  His kidneys are failing and he is starting dialysis.

And I feel for her.  Probably too much.  And I fear for Chris.  I cannot help thinking that this is what it will look like for him when the cancer outsmarts the clinical trial drug.   My eyes tear up and it is difficult to breathe.

I’ve spent my entire adult life with Chris.  I met him a few weeks after graduating from college and here it is 20 years later.  We celebrated our 18th Wedding Anniversary in July.  When Chris lived in Colorado and the boys and I were still in Illinois, we talked every day.  We emailed and instant messaged.  I cannot imagine not talking with Chris about the boys on a daily basis.  I cannot imagine him not being here.

I fear for our boys, for what the last two years has done to them and what Chris’ cancer continues to do to them.  I think we all collectively hold our breath when Chris is coughing or taking his temperature.  It is not a good place for anyone to be and it is a part of life I wish I could just eliminate.  It has taken our boys’ childhood away.  It is horribly unfair, they deserve to have had a carefree childhood or at least on that has not been filled with fear about their dad.

Yet, there is nothing that anyone can do to change things.  It sucks.  Cancer Sucks!  It has taken so much from us and it is not finished taking.  Greedy, selfish and uncaring – this disease does not discriminate.  It steals.

Chris does not talk with me about the cancer and what will happen.  He does not share his thoughts, feelings and fears.  It is almost if he feels that if he shares them, they become more real.  It is his decision and I am here for him if he wants to talk.  People deal with adversity differently and I respect that it is his choice how he deals.  And just because I don’t like the way he isn’t talking, I cannot force him to deal in the way I feel is best.  Furthermore, I have not been in his shoes and I cannot imagine how he feels.  I don’t think anyone can unless they are facing the same things.

As a result, for the last 2 years, I’ve been trying to hold everything together.  But it is like having a handful of sand, no matter how carefully it is held, little grains slip through.  And these are the moments that panic sets in.  How am I going to help the boys?  How are they going to feel?  What am I going to do?  Why us?  How the hell do I do this all by myself?  How do I continue raising our boys without their dad?  I never, ever imagined that I’d be asking these questions at the age of 40.  I am certain that Chris didn’t think that he would be dealing with incurable cancer at the age of 42.

I know that I will continue to cope with Chris’ cancer.  I don’t have a choice.  I cannot stay in bed hiding (no matter how much I might want to) because the boys are depending on me.  While it is untrue, I believe that if I am ok then the boys will be ok too.  But I know that they won’t be ok.  Neither will I.  I think that it will be worse for me because I imagine that I will not only feel my own pain, I will feel the boys’ pain.  And it is thoughts of their pain that cause me to fear.

And there are moments, like reading Maxi Malone’s blog this morning that take my composure  away and allow panic to set in.

UPDATE: Being Dumped

Earlier today I posted about my two former friends, Susan and Sally (you can read the post here).  I got a text from Susan today.  Generally, I don’t believe in coincidence.

The text said – its susan (not her real name).  Just wanted to let u know ur family in in my thoughts and I hope ur hubby pulls through this.

I’m not sure how to respond to this.  It is perplexing at the very least.  Is she reading my blog and does she know that I wrote about her?  If she is reading my blog, she hasn’t read The Sobering Facts about Lung Cancer and My Opinion because is she had, she would know that there is no cure for Stage IV Lung Cancer. If she is reading my blog, how did she find it?  I certainly didn’t tell her about it.

Did she text because it was the first day of school for the Middle School kids and her daughter and David go to the same school and are in the same grade?  Did she see David today?

Chris said that Susan texts him every now and then.  He responds to her, even though it is upsetting to me, because he says “she’s checking to see if I’m still alive.”  Why she would care, I don’t know.

Anyway, I haven’t responded to Susan’s text.  I don’t know if I should.  I don’t care to ever speak to her again.  That sounds angry, but I”m not angry.  She just isn’t someone who I care to let into my life.  So, at this point, I have decided that I would update my blog and put Susan to rest and not think about her anymore.

What do you think?  Please feel free to comment, as I’d love to hear how other people feel about this.

Being Dumped an earlier post, about Chris’ cancer diagnosis, I wrote about two former friends.  They are former because they dumped me.  One of them, I had spoken to on the phone nearly every day for 2 years.  The other hadn’t been a friend as long, but she and I spent lots of time together.  It was a devastating double dumping.  It came at a time when I needed my friends the most and it was over the stupidest of things.  I want to stress that this is my version of the events and that I would imagine that they view the events very differently (and that I am to blame).

Susan (not her real name) and I met because her kids and my kids found each other playing around our apartment complex.  Her three kids were around the ages of the boys.  Her daughter was the middle child.  And to this day, I regret (and probably will always regret) what happened because of her daughter.  Her daughter was special needs and needed someone in this world who was stable and there for her.  Anyway, Susan’s husband was stationed overseas and she had just moved here.  She came by about 2 weeks after the kids started playing together to see who I was and what I was like.  I respected her for that – she worked full-time and her father was supposed to be watching the kids (he wasn’t doing a good job – and it turns out he was drinking).

I thought that Susan and I connected.  She seemed to be an active mother to her children.  She was funny and a bit dramatic (she always seemed to have drama in her life).  Her kids and my boys were in and out both apartments all the time.  The boys, especially our youngests, became best friends.  I thought it was a good situation.

Just before her husband was due to return, she moved into a house not too far away.  At this point, I had started to become friendly with Sally (not her real name either).  Sally’s kids were in the boys’ classes.  Her daughter was in Michael’s class and her son in David’s.  Susan and I spoke about Sally who was still recovering from a very, very nasty divorce.  Susan had some hand-me-downs from her daughter and she wanted them to go to someone who could really use them.  I introduced Susan and Sally.

The three of us began to hang out – with all 7 kids running around.  It was a lot of fun.  It was what I imagined having sisters would be like – and having them live close with all of our kids hanging out and going back and forth.  That is not to say that everything was perfect.  There were some hurt feelings and some unkind things said.  Susan and Sally both started working out together and I felt left out (I was invited, but at this point I was working on my Master’s and working full-time and was overwhelmed).

When Susan’s husband returned from overseas, things changed slightly.  Susan and her husband would do a lot of things together so Susan didn’t have as much free time.  Sally and I started to hang out more, but Susan and I were still closer friends.

And then it happened.  Chris was in the hospital.  Sally took the boys for dinner and dropped them at the hospital.  Susan brought over some groceries.  Sally kept saying that the cancer couldn’t be Stage IV and wouldn’t listen to anything that I had to say.  She worked in a lab doing medical testing and felt that she knew it all.  She continued to claim that Chris’ couldn’t have Stage IV Lung Cancer even though the doctors and my brother (the pulmomologist) all said he did.

And as it turns out Susan believed Sally.  I was making this up.  I was making more of it than it really was.  My husband couldn’t have Stage IV Lung Cancer.  Why would I do such a thing?  I still can’t figure out why they would think that of me, but they did.

One of Michael’s classmate’s moms organized a meal calendar for us and coordinated a bunch of meals.  Once Chris was released from the hospital, he returned to work.  I was still working on student teaching and running with the boys.  Chris was going to work and going to doctor’s appointments and treatment.  The stress was incredible.  And a stranger (but now a friend – thanks AG) arranged for people to bring us meals.  We were blessed enough to have meals coming almost every other day from something like Oct. 10 through just before Thanksgiving.  The outpouring of support was amazing and I am so grateful!

Of course, Susan felt that it was unethical for me to accept the meals – since Chris was working and I was working.  Somehow we didn’t need help and were supposed to manage all on our own.  I was supposed to tell people that I didn’t need anything when they offered help and I was supposed to say “no” if someone asked if they could bring a meal.  It was crazy.  People wanted to help, I could use the help – I missed a ton of work and so did Chris and we knew that the medical bills were going to be high.  Not buying groceries was helpful financially.  Having dinner arrive at our door was just pure relief because I didn’t have to try to manage everything.  Chris was exhausted and sleeping a lot.  The boys were a mess.  It was a very difficult time and my supposed “best friend” didn’t think it was ethical for me to accept meals.

Sally was quiet on the subject at first.  And then she started saying that I was deceiving people because I was accepting meals.  As I type this, almost 2 years later, I find that I am shaking my head in confusion.  Why would it be deception to accept help?  Because I didn’t need it?  Who was to say I didn’t need it?  My parents lived in North Carolina, my in-laws and Chris’ siblings in Illinois, and my brother in Michigan.  We didn’t have much of a support network in Colorado.  Besides, people kept offering help and offering help.

It was hard for me to accept the help, but I realized that people needed to do something to help themselves.  When something like Chris’ diagnosis happens, it can hit people very hard.  They imagine what it would be like if it were their husband or wife.  They want to help, but aren’t sure what to do.  They want to be supportive and food is an easy way to help.  This is not to say that it was easy for everyone to cook for us and deliver the meals – but in society, when we don’t know what to do for someone, we bring food.  It is an easy way to be supportive.  Now, some people didn’t bring food – they sent gift cards to restaurants and movies.  We got checks and we got cards.

A church youth group came at Christmas to decorate (I’m Jewish and I didn’t have the heart to decorate) and brought gifts for the boys, even though I told them that we were financially able to get the boys gifts.  Susan and Sally wanted me to tell all of these people “no.”  They felt that when Chris went back to work, we shouldn’t need any more help.  But needing help, and accepting that help, is what makes us all human.  It connects us with other people in the world and makes it a nicer place to be.

Susan and I had it out first.  I typically don’t swear, but I did swear at her, asking her who the F— she thought she was telling me that I was unethical for accepting help.  That people knew Chris was working (a number of his co-workers signed up to make meals) and if they wanted to help, I was going to let them.  Susan called my parents in an effort to get me to . . . I don’t know what – stop letting people help.  Of course, my parents didn’t give her any help and told her that she was not being a good friend.  She wouldn’t return my house key and some DVDs of David’s plays that her husband was supposed to be copying for me and that was that.  Chris met her for the key and DVD exchange, although one was missing and she said Sally had it.  Susan would still text Chris until I told him that it bothered me that she was contacting him.

Things with Sally lasted a bit longer.  I paid for her son to go to “Space Camp” that was being offered at their school in exchange for her picking up and driving David.  She did this one time and then she “confronted” me about my unethical behavior and my lying to people because Chris didn’t have Stage IV Lung Cancer.  Again, I used the F– word asking her who she thought she was – that she knew more than the doctors and she never saw Chris’ scans.  I hung up on her – and she didn’t come to pick up David.  We had to arrange another ride for him.  Was her behavior ethical – accepting money in exchange for a ride and then not providing the ride?

As we approach the 2 year anniversary of Chris’ diagnosis, I am still shaking my head.  Susan and Sally hurt me badly and dumped me at a time when I needed support.  But they did me a favor too – they did it at a time when I couldn’t mull over it.  I was too busy trying to keep things together and didn’t have time to really miss their supposed friendship. The boys lost several friends because I was no longer friends with Susan and Sally, even though I told the boys that Susan’s and Sally’s kids would be welcome in our home.  The boys felt betrayed by Susan and Sally and wanted nothing to do with their kids.

Susan saw David at the Middle School earlier this year when he was attending a play that his friend was in.  She approached him and asked him, “Do you remember me?”  David said yes and walked away.  I was very proud of him and angry with her.  How dare she?

In all, I learned a lot.  I learned that a crisis will show you who your friends really are.  And the results are often surprising. learned that my parents and my brother will always be there for me, no matter what I need or what time it is.  I learned that strength is not only physical and that I am stronger than I ever thought I could be.  And I learned that being dumped by your girlfriends is worse than being dumped by a guy.  And that being dumped is sometimes the best thing that can happen to you.  I guess I would have preferred that Susan and Sally just faded out of my life, instead of dumping me, but it was probably better that they dumped me.  Because they were then out of my life and I knew them for what they really were:   never true friends and absolute trash.

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