“So, how are you doing?”
It was a straightforward question from a man who had just grabbed a seat in my office. He was someone I had spoken to and corresponded with regularly, but we had never met face to face.
We as people ask each other this question all the time. Most often we don’t want an honest reply, or the person being asked is too polite to say anything other than, “Yeah, things are good. How about you?”
For several reasons, I just couldn’t give that type of response. The poor guy got both barrels at close range.
“Well, my wife has been diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer and has started chemo, and we just found out our foster child has a debilitating disease that should’ve been disclosed to us, but we only just now learned about it. Our biological son is struggling to cope with it all. I don’t know, it’s just a lot.”
To my visitor’s credit, he didn’t run from my office screaming, or give a look that suggested, “Hey, next time, just say you’re doing all right.”
We’re rarely entirely honest about personal things in day to day interactions with acquaintances or, sometimes, even good friends. It’s probably for the best in a lot of cases. But I just don’t know how to answer that question, “How are you doing?” or “What’s going on?” anymore without being frank. How am I? I’m tired. I’m worried. And there are a million little things that need my attention just as much as the big stuff.
Life got very serious very fast, and it’s probably not done. I think about the scene in “This is Spinal Tap,” where the band, as their tour is going down the tubes, visits the grave of Elvis Presley.
“Well it really puts a perspective on things, though, doesn’t it?”
“Well, too much. That’s too much [expletive] perspective now.”
I could honestly do with a little less perspective.
I could do without knowing how horribly the system failed this little kid, and realizing how many other cases there must be in West Virginia where a child’s well-being is threatened because of some hiccup or another in transitioning a child into foster care.
We were lucky. A team of physicians, who love this child just as much as we do, were looking for the kid. And once the DHHR realized what had happened, they provided an exceptional response to make things right. We were also lucky that some friends unselfishly stepped up to ensure the child gets the necessary care while we focus on my wife getting healthy. That doesn’t make it any less scary or heartbreaking.
I could do without my now encyclopedic knowledge of cancer treatments and how they must be intensified when the her2 neu receptor is positive. The barrage of appointments, the battery of tests and re-tests, I’m sure both of us could have lived the rest of our lives just fine without knowing what that’s like.
But that’s not a choice life gave us.
The outpouring of support from friends all over the country to neighbors and family at home for my wife has been unbelievable. And, you know what? It’s necessary. It takes knowing people are on your side and willing to step up in whatever way they can. It allows her to focus on what she has to do. She’s the one who has to get the treatments for the next year. She’s the one who has to struggle with the after effects of having these drugs mainlined into her system through a surgically implanted port. There is nothing easy about that, unless it is happening to someone else. It takes courage and determination, and also accepting that you’re not going to be at 100 percent during the weeks in between treatments.
Many of us are prone to believing we’re letting someone down if we’re beset with a serious physical illness or mental health issue. That shouldn’t be the way we think about it at all, but, too often, it is. I’ve stopped counting all the times my wife has apologized for having cancer. The concept looks completely ludicrous when read in a sentence, but I get it.
Think about all the social constructs in your life and how they would be impacted if you suddenly couldn’t be yourself, or if life now hinged on you thinking about yourself more than anyone else. That guilt is all too real, despite not making any sense.
So, how am I? That’s really not the most important thing to me right now. My concern is mainly directed elsewhere. But I’m not going to lie, I’m not great. I’m trying to take things minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. I’m trying to learn that it is OK to not be OK all the time; to realize that there are more important things going on, and, when that happens, you’ve got to circle the wagons.
Maybe all of this sudden perspective isn’t such a bad thing, after all.