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Telling the Children About Cancer

Will We Find Cancer There, Too?

DL: Martha Blowen, my partner in life and in work, died on August 18, 2008, from metastasized breast cancer. The following is from collated excerpts of journals we both kept at the time.  (Before she passed away, she gave me permission to share her entries.)

The memoir is called My Eye Fell Into the Soup, after a dream in which one of her eyes fell into a cauldron. She later interpreted this to mean she was not paying attention to her health. [This is written about elsewhere.] As with most people, I suppose, the cancer diagnosis was a shock. The italicized excerpts are hers: the others, mine.

In this selection, I am the main contributor as writing was therapeutic for me in the days following her cancer diagnosis when nothing blunted my consciousness. Fortunately, Martha was given sedatives and spent a good deal of her time sleeping.

November 9, 2006

The unreality of this afternoon is stunning. Lesions on the lungs and liver! She also has pain in her groin and upper side. Are we eventually going to find cancer there, too? Her body has been screaming that the cancer has recurred, and we were not listening.

The room is so quiet. I am sitting on the black rocking chair which I have moved next to the couch to be near to Martha. I am writing in my journal. Martha has taken the painkiller she was prescribed in the ER and is drifting in and out of sleep.

“Do we still have some illusion that this is not a metastasis?” I ask myself. But, that is unreasonable. This is a metastasis

How could we have been so deaf?

In a moment when she had drifted out of sleep, Martha says she feels “in suspension.” Between the past and the future. Is that like feeling “numb”—which is what I feel? Absolutely traumatized. I do not want to contemplate telling Zoé and Maxim about this. We have agreed not to tell them until we have a visit with an oncologist and have a therapy in to turn a journal into a memoir

Why the hesitation? Perhaps we need to reserve time to get to the bottom of our feelings? To be à deux about this for a little while? To postpone the pain that we know this news will cast over them?

This evening, I feel very close to Martha, feel the love I have for this woman I have made my life with, the mother of my children. She will pull through. How can she not? She made it through in 1992 and she can now.

Meanwhile, we are in for rounds of doctor visits, for mornings and afternoons spent waiting, sitting in rooms with strangers until the doctor can see us. I remember it clearly from 1992

That is also stunning, but one day, we will go on with our lives.

November 10, 2006

So very hard. Terror. Wanting to run away—but there’s no “where” to run to.

Some of the office work must continue. It seems like such an irrelevant thing to do, but there are deadlines our clients have invested in, deadlines that keep revenues coming. If Martha’s cancer crisis lasts for a long time, we will need the income.

I have made a list of a few things that must get done, and in the early morning, I cross the yard to the side building where we have our office. I force myself to do those tasks. Normally, I love being in the office and feel I am very fortunate to have been able to create this business. Today, however, nothing feels good. I am so aware of Martha lying on the couch in the house, of her chair here in the office remaining empty.

Everything’s wrong with this picture!

We just didn’t see this crisis coming.

Since yesterday, sometimes when I look at Martha lying on the couch or sitting in the black livingroom rocker, an incredible thing happens. It’s as if she is not there. What I see is a black hole. Like in a photo where a person has been cut out and what remains is a blank spot where the person had been. Am I being prescient or paranoid or melodramatic? This frightens me, and I try to bring her back in the picture, to place her clearly in focus.

She comes back into the picture, but she keeps cutting out and I have to keep filling her back in.

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When I ask her if she wants me to get on the phone to make medical appointments for her, she says, “No, this is something I need to do myself.” Martha looks up a few numbers and begins calling.

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