There was a terrifying period between when Susan first started having symptoms due to the tumors growing in her brain and when we finally knew what those symptoms meant.
During that period, I tried a lot of things, and was willing to try a whole lot more. When your wife of (nearly) twenty years is unable to sleep, losing dexterity, starting to have tremors, is getting lost in her own house, and is describing — convincingly — how she feels like she is losing her mind, you start start doing everything you can to help.
And as each idea fails, you increasingly discard “rationality” as a condition for trying out the next possible solution.
At first we tried simple stuff. Relaxation techniques. Massages. As is my style, I went overboard, buying around $75 worth of relaxation music from iTunes.
Next, we went pharmaceutical. Something those of you who’ve never dealt with a serious disease like cancer may not know is that doctors essentially give you the key to their magical medicine cabinet. I asked for — and received — two different kinds of sleep aids, two different kinds of antidepressants, and enough anti-anxiety medication to make every single Fat Cyclist reader very mellow for weeks.
Susan was taking so much go-to-sleep drugs that other people would fall asleep just by getting within ten feet of her.
Meanwhile, of course, Susan could not sleep at all.
“Maybe it’s the mattress,” I said, thinking back to how Susan had been able to sleep just fine on the very firm mattress we had at the hotel when we were at Disneyland in March…and totally failing to think about the fact that Susan had also slept just fine on our own mattress before then.
So we went to a mattress place and bought a new mattress. Not a cheap one. And of course she didn’t sleep any better on it than she did on our old mattress. I, on the other hand, much prefer the new mattress; I never liked having such a soft mattress before. So it’s not a total loss.
Shortly after this, we found out what was really wrong, and Susan got the help she needs for getting a decent night’s sleep, as well as the radiation and steroids she needs to treat the tumors.
Still, I sometimes wonder what I would have tried next. When you’re desperate, silly things start to make sense, and you feel like you’re being unfaithful to your loved one if you don’t explore every possible solution, no matter how remote the likelihood of it working.
Because, after all, maybe that’s the thing that will work, right?
The Desperation Continues
As I said, now we know what’s wrong and we’re treating it. But the feeling of desperation continues. If anything, in fact, it’s stronger than ever before. Because the treatment is strictly tactical. We’re buying time.
What we really want, of course, is something that will cure Susan.
And as it turns out, there are a lot of people out there who are happy to take advantage of our desperation.
I am not exaggerating when I say that not a single day goes by where someone sends me an email with a link to a professional healer who is using unorthodox methods and is achieving great success in curing otherwise incurable cancer.
And it is usually not strangers sending me these messages. I get these from family members and good friends. All with the very best and noblest intentions. These are people who want Susan to get better, just like I do.
But there are a couple things I have to remind myself of when I get these messages.
First, Susan and I agreed that we don’t want to spend the time she has chasing every potential magic cure, since there is honestly very little chance any of them will work. Neither of us want our time together being primarily spent in the pursuit of mirages. We want to spend our time together…together. With the family.
Second, a person I know and trust because he’s both a friend and a cancer expert, has explained to me that if any of these things worked, they could (and let’s face it, would) charge a million dollars a treatment, and the line to get in would still wrap around the block several times over. So the faith healer down the block charging $40 per session probably isn’t going to help Susan get better.
Both these things make sense. But I am desperate. And so I can’t help but ask myself, every time I get one of these email messages pointing me to someone in Mexico who’s seen promising results, “What if this is the one? What if this is the thing Susan needs? Am I killing Susan by ignoring this one?”
Even though I know — in my head — that this isn’t the one. And that I simply can’t investigate every miracle cure that’s out there.
What these well-meaning people sending me their cure-all possibility messages don’t understand, I think, is how much anguish their notes put me through. In spite of myself I find myself checking through them all, looking to see if this one actually has data showing they have had results specifically relevant to Susan.
So far, nothing. Just a spike of hope followed by disappointment, followed by a bout of guilt and second-guessing.
So here’s my plea, on behalf of everyone who is either seriously ill or is taking care of someone seriously ill: If you find out about a potential cure, don’t just lob it over the wall. Please, take the time to find out how real it is. Ask yourself, “If this were me and I didn’t have long to live, would I leave my family and travel around the world to do this?”
Because that is exactly the judgement call your email is asking your friend to make. And that judgement call doesn’t get easier when you’re desperate.