Monday, June 16, 2008
The C Word...Chris.
In March, by writing this post HERE, I tried to describe what it is like to hear the words,"You have cancer."
Apparently there is something that feels much, much worse.
The school where I have been subbing has a 'no cell phones' rule. You never see a teacher or an administrator talking on a cell phone. It is kind of cool. It gives the school an old-fashioned feel. I always bring my cell phone so that I have a clock. This way I can surreptitiously count down the minutes until I can say the most glorious words known to all substitute teachers across the world,"Children you may go to recess."
When my mother-in-law's name came up on my phone, I immediately felt an uneasiness. Chris always calls Steven's phone, not mine. They talk at least once a week. Thinking I would uphold the rules, and talk to her on a break, I didn't answer. When the phone lit up again seconds later, I excused myself from the first grade classroom.
I answered and Chris said,
"I have a brain tumor, I need to talk to Stevy but I don't know his number."
I spent the next three minutes insisting that she of course DID NOT have a brain tumor. I said that there was NO WAY she could have a brain tumor. She told me that her GP had given her an MRI and there was a tumor on it. I went on about GPs knowing NOTHING about MRIs, that of course it was a mistake, and what was this buffoon's number!? She gave me a number and asked me to call Steven and have him call her. I told her to calm down. I assured her that this was a mistake, that we would work this out and get to the bottom of this egregious error. I told her not to worry.
For a couple of weeks leading up to this day, Chris had been calling Steven. They are very close, but these calls were more frequent. Steven and I were convinced that Chris was a bit stressed out. Her symptoms (forgetting things, making mistakes at work) pointed, in our opinion, to stress. We even stayed up late the night before this call compiling a list of things we felt were contributing to her stress and anxiety. Steven planned to send this list via e-mail to reassure her that with a couple days off , she would be right as rain. He didn't send it that morning because he wanted to confirm with me that he had included all the reasons we had come up with.
After I talked to Chris that morning, I still thought that she was just stressed out. I turned the doorknob to go back into the classroom and discovered that the first grade had locked me out of the room. I pounded on the door,"Please LET ME IN!!!!" I pounded some more. Shit, I thought, how am I going to explain this to the administration? I was in the hallway, on my cell phone. I left twenty, seven year old children ALONE in a room. Luckily, a kind-hearted first grader sheepishly unlocked the door and let me in.
Something came over me.
You know when you have the flu and you are about to throw up? It was like that but without the temperature change your body gets. There was no chill, no heat flash. I felt like the life was just draining out of me through the soles of my feet.
Just then, at that moment, the fire alarm went off. Twenty first graders went berserk. Two of them seemed to be in mid air, as if they sprouted a trampoline beneath them. Two boys tried furiously to open the sliding glass doors that led to the garden and then to the street. Kids were running to three different exits, "Miss Julie! Miss Julie! We have to exit HERE!" "No HERE!" " No HERE!" I loudly request that everyone calm the hell down, and line up at the main door to the classroom. Laura yells, (Did I mention that she sounds exactly like Carol Channing?) "MISS JULIE WE NEED THE EMERGENCY PACK!" I asked her to get it.
Remarkably, we all file out. We walk in an orderly fashion to the parking lot. There of course was no fire. Each school has a required number of fire drills to conduct before the end of the year. School is out this coming Friday, so I assume they were, just like a cop at the end of the month, filling their 'quota'. The principal comes around and asks me if every student is accounted for. I say, "Yes, I think so." I am ashen and shaky. Laura says, "Everyone but JAMES!!" My shoulders fall and I am seconds away from tears. " Everyone but James,"I say defeated. "He is just absent today," Laura says. Luckily, he is just absent today, not lost in the non-fire.
On my break I went home. I told Steven about the phone call. I give him the number of the doctor who clearly doesn't know his ass from his elbow, and I go back to school.
I come home again while the kids have Japanese. I see Steven on the phone, a pen in his hand.
He has written on a Post-it....
He leaves for the airport. I go back to school.
"Miss Julie is crying."
"It's because her Grandma is sick."
"No, it's her mom!"
"NOOOO, it's her mom-in law."
(Are you starting to see why Miss Julie is not the best choice to lead a room full of children?)
School ends. I go home.
I diligently read about brain tumors. There are all sorts of brain tumors. Many are harmless. I read and read, and then I read some more. I remember the story of this actor. He had a brain tumor and he is fine! Still a great actor! I am encouraged. I read some more.
Oh God, just don't let it be this one thing. If it is this one thing, then we are in trouble.
Monday morning my husband's mother has a biopsy of her brain. It is confirmed to be the one thing it could not be. That is what it is. Incidence is approximately two to three new cases per 100,000 people, per year. Steven reminds me of what my doctor said to me about my biopsy, "98% of the time it is nothing." Why is it it that we keep falling into this category?
There is something much much worse than learning that you have cancer. It is learning that someone you love does.When that person is at least fifty percent responsible for creating the person you love most in the world, well what is there left to say?
I feel an anger now that is so intense it scares me. I have never felt this angry.
What do we do for Chris? Why is this happening? What will we do? How do we manage?
Is it that we have to experience this loss to understand our future children's losses?
Steven lost his father already. We are empathetic and we are educated. We can figure out how to help them without this. This is not something we need.
This is instead something that I fear will cause us to crumble. All of us.
We Hold On.
I Am Angry.
I Don't Know What to Do.