I know it might seem a bit soon to write another segment of the “Us Against the Monster” series. Usually I write them when I have come to yet another realization in our battle with the cancer demon…when I have an epiphany. Well…it happens fast sometimes.
My husband and I are dealing with a pain breakthrough that has become a crisis. You who are familiar with the evils of the Monster will be, sadly, all too familiar with this. For those of you who are blessed not to be touched by this menace, a pain breakthrough happens when the regular pain medication stops being effective. The pain can return so fast and overwhelmingly that the medication you have been taking up to that point no longer works, and it’s time to either increase the dosage or turn to another drug entirely. This can take a while, because first you will begin by upping the dosage, and if this is not the answer, you must try other medications until you find the one that works. But all this happens while you are in pain. This last pain breakthrough has gone on for almost eight weeks, and so when I call it a crisis, I mean crisis with a capital C.
It’s easy to lose hope, and to think “this is the end.” How long must this go on? I have thought these thoughts often over the past few months, wondering “how much longer can he battle on?” It’s easy to fall into a depression. Sometimes I can feel depression creeping up behind me and laying its cold hand heavily on my shoulder. A friend posted to Facebook yesterday about the concept of “Depressive Realism.” This concept “dictates that perhaps while none of us want to be depressed – it’s possible that those who suffer from depression may in fact be right” (Loewen, Psychology). Basically, a person who experiences Depressive Realism does not see the world through rose colored glasses, but as it really is: sometimes exceptionally harsh. They look into the darkness, and see the darkness looking back at them. I know that I feel this way at times, and lately, in the face of terrible, ongoing pain, more often than not.
Last night, a close friend touched base with me, just to chat and check in on how we’re doing. I gave her a “monster” update. After, I asked about her and hers. She told me that very recently, the tragedy of suicide had touched her partner’s family, and that he is devastated. Suicide is such a horror for the loved ones of the suicide victim; questions are asked and with the grief and confusion, there is the inevitable guilt—why didn’t I see it coming? What could I have done? And of course, Why?? Her answer was a heavy laden “life was too much for him.” I understand. Pain, no matter kind it is, can make life simply intolerable.
The French philosopher Albert Camus, in his book The Myth of Sisyphus posits that people want the world to be reasonable and when they discover that the world is a chaotic mess, they can’t see the meaning in life. Everything seems absurd. Therefore, people will reconcile this absurdity by either accepting that life is truly meaningless, or they will choose to take a “leap of faith.” He asks, if life is meaningless, is suicide an option? If there’s no meaning, then what’s the point? But he suggests another possibility, and that is to face the absurdity head on. In essence, don’t run from the madness of the world, but embrace the struggles of life day by day. Don’t try to find universal answers that probably don’t exist anyway—just respond intelligently to your own set of absurdities. He believes that this is the way to overcome and find a rich and purposeful life. It’s all very existentialist, but isn’t pain the most existential experience of all?
As a person of faith, my thoughts on suicide are complicated and unresolvable, because as a person living with the Monster, I am in a position to see both sides of the argument as valid and reasonable. My husband’s physician has clearly explained the prognosis of our particular Monster, and it’s not good. Pain will be the unbearable, unavoidable element of my husband’s journey. Our doctor has, very gently, made us aware of the option of physician assisted suicide. For later on…when the inevitable is upon us. He put it out there for us to discuss while mulling over my husband’s end of life wishes. Yes, we have talked about it, but again, as people of faith, our feelings are extremely complex where this subject is concerned. However, for this series, I feel that it is important to at least make mention of it. Some of you who are fighting the Monster, and can see the shadow of the journey’s end closing upon you, this may or may not be a discussion you choose to engage.
Later, after my conversation with my friend had ended, I spent the last part of my evening working on a writing project. Usually when I write, I like to have music playing quietly in the background. I don’t care what it is, as long as it’s not hard and aggressive. I happened upon my husband’s playlist…
I keep saying that my husband and I are people of faith. What does that mean exactly? It means that we are among those who have seen Camus’ absurdities, and have found our meaning in life in spite of them by taking a leap of faith…by looking to a Power greater than ourselves. Even though, I admit to feeling that my prayers hit the ceiling sometimes, bounce back, and ricochet off the side of my head. Further, I admit that sometimes I wonder what if no one is listening, and then despair begins to bubble hot inside me. I think, if this is what’s coming, what is the point? Why face it if we don’t have to? Who would fault us for wanting to escape the agony?
Then, as I said, I happened upon my husband’s playlist, playing selections at random. The lyrics of this song spoke to the chaos in the world, and doesn’t it feel sometimes like this world is becoming madder by the day? We seem to be careening off the rails toward something dark and frightening. Yet, the lyrics also expressed the need to embrace life…to face the dangers and grief head on and find our strength in perseverance…like Camus suggested. However, the lyrics also implied that to take on this arduous task requires more than strength and determination, it takes a leap of faith, and that faith is not useless. As I worked on my project, I stopped to listen as the words came to me like poetry…like scripture…like a still, small Voice…
“You can spend your whole life building something from nothing; one storm can come and blow it all away. Build it anyway.
You can chase a dream that seems so out of reach, and you know it might not ever come your way. Dream it anyway.
This world’s gone crazy and it’s hard to believe that tomorrow will be better than today. Believe it anyway.
You can love someone with all your heart for all the right reasons, and in a moment they can choose to walk away. Love them anyway.
God is great, but sometimes life ain’t good. When I pray, it doesn’t always turn out like I think it should, but I do it anyway.
Do it anyway.”
It is not lost on me that I found this song on my husband’s playlist. Nor that it came to me when I was feeling sad, and both emotionally and intellectually confused. Nor that I was looking around me for some universal truth to help make sense of everything going on around me. When I went to sleep, I dreamt the words “do it anyway.”
You who are feeling beaten down and consumed by the Monster’s ferocity, I know that not a lot makes sense right now. Up is down. Down is up. The Monster tells you that there is no point to anything, and that he is all there is now in your life… just a constant brawl with pain, despair, and futility. Don’t listen to his lies. Building, dreaming, loving, believing, and praying…together, these things give life meaning and purpose. They make life beautiful. Even though moments of beauty seem rare, they become more plentiful when you are eager to embrace them, because you are focusing on them and not grappling with the Monster. When you engage with the beautiful, precious moments, they will confirm to you that there is a point after all.
I don’t know all the answers. I can only share the answers I have found that work for us. My husband told me today that he doesn’t want to be a burden to me. When I told him that it was him and me until the very end, he looked at me with such love and gratitude in his eyes that I was stunned. Shocked by the beauty of the moment. There followed peace, the kind that passes understanding. The Monster does not want us to find solace, but even as he bares his yellowed fangs at us, we embrace the love and beauty that transcend fear and pain. He growls with fury, but we do it anyway.
“Anyway” is written and performed by Martina McBride.