Col. Charlie was diagnosed with bladder cancer thirteen weeks ago. My husband hasn’t been in a hospital since he was a little boy. Going on 73 this coming December and a Navy veteran, this is a record he doesn’t want to break. Sometimes I think the cancer doesn’t upset him as much as the possibility that if they have to remove his bladder he will have to spend five days in the hospital.
Thankfully the cancer hasn’t gone into the muscle so we go back for more treatments placed inside the bladder- so we have dodged the BIG bullet- for now. I am trying hard not to dance around for so many of my friends have had family and loved ones devastated by cancer. I understand how they must feel whenever I am describing how everything is going so well while their experience isn’t so delightful or hopeful.
Col Charlie has just begun to reach out into our community, getting involved with local politics, attending community events, even making a couple friends along the way. I was afraid that this new development would waylay him. I am proud how he kept going out into the fray- making his mark on Maury County.
The wonderful thing about being a writer is that everything is interesting. Anything can be woven into a story or into a character. For the last few months Col. Charlie and I have been walking into a new life experience. We go from paralyzing fear, to stunned unbelief, to holding each other close, to alone times to think and cry. The best thing is the humor. One thing Col Charlie and I have in common is a warped sense of humor.
I am just one of those people that once I am home I am home. If I have a two hour gap between appointments I will go to the library and read, study, write. I will not go home to sit- waiting for the next appointment time to come closer. So I am home- in my office- writing my heart away (or playing a computer game that blows things up) -when he comes to ask me to go to the store and get him ice cream. I look at him as if to say, ’Are you kidding me?’
He tilts his head, his blue eyes tearing up, his lower lip quivers dramatically when he says so sweetly, “Please, please will you do this for me? I mean, I am dying and all.” After laughing, I went out to get ice cream.
So how does this experience work into my life as a writer?
Well, number one, I got this article for the paper done!
But there is more I can get out of watching my life and others around me. I have been journaling since I was in my twenties. Not every day- sometimes not for a month… or five. My journaling stories are sometimes in the novels I write or the movies I am working on. When Col Charlie was first diagnosed I started writing about my feelings, any fears he voiced. Research I found, people I talked to- and as the treatments begun and we discovered that he could have a long life, as well as a full life with this low grade cancer- I began to slack on keeping my journal. Some days were filled with other things going on in my life. Some days I skipped all together- and that’s OK.
The shock, the discussions are done. We have a plan. We have backups. We have faith in our doctors and our God. When it’s all said and done, isn’t that what we all need for any roadblock? I find writing down what I am feeling that day helps me when I face the obstacle again.
My first husband, Fireman Bob, is a good man. Serving in the fire department for the last 35 years- he never took a promotion because the strange little man loves running into burning buildings. Every third day when he left for work- I didn’t know if my daughter and I would see him again and was so thankful when he came home the next morning.
It was then that I began to chronicle in my journal my fears, what we would do if he should pass, where we would go, even what I would sell or give away. I didn’t want to think about it, but if I tried to dismiss the worry it just moved more forward in my mind. I found if I wrote it down- it was in a safe place, I didn’t have to ponder on it any longer.
So when this news of Col Charlie could have turned bad- I reverted to my journal. Putting my thoughts there on those pages- I was able to keep my head, keep my emotions and keep my faith. When Col Charlie would ask what will I do if…. AH HA I had the answers. He understood that I wasn’t wishing- indeed, I was preparing for the worse. And when the doctor called the other day with the good news, I could rejoice. If it had been bad, I was prepared and could be strong for the man who has always been strong for me. The recollections of the wife of Fireman Bob reminded me what I can do and not do. With Col Charlie’s love and support, this trip through fear- I was stronger to face what could happen as well as making me realize how much I have grown.
In my seminar, “Leaving Your Self to the Future: Writing for the Generations”, I explore with non-writers about writing about your past- for your grandchildren. As Col Charlie is older than I, he tells of not having ball point pens when he was in school. Of Model T cars, of using gasoline to strip floors of wax, of no microwaves, no air conditioning and no power windows in cars. I can leave stories to my grandchildren about our first microwave, the first car I bought by myself and how their mother didn’t clean her room either.
I write about special things in my house- things that have a great memory for me. If I were to die I didn’t want my family to look at the little resin animals in my curio cabinet and think it’s just junk. The story tells them that the little animals were party favors from my daughter’s second baby shower. Or the reason that I have decorative doilies scattered around our living room. They are one of the few things I received from my grandmother’s estate and they remind me of my childhood weekends and summers with my grandparents.
In teaching the class some of the memories that come through the stories from the students are awe inspired. Students tell me of tears and laughter as they sit in their room telling the story behind the paintings, or the curtains, sugar bowls and pillows. Some stories are heartbreaking when they relate deaths, divorces, fears as well as disappointments. Every one of them is special. Every story leaves a piece of history to the coming generations.
In the meantime, Col Charlie is fine. We are preparing for another round of treatments- and so happy they are treatments and not a removal of a bladder. His record of being in the hospital stays intact. My journal was filled this morning with plans for our future. My latest novel has a character dying of cancer. This character was developed long ago and I had no idea that like my character I would be facing something that could take away someone so very special to me. When I think of the upcoming death of that character- I can pull from some feelings of my own and experiences of others.
So I journal- the weather, politics, sketches of room layouts, plans for my next novel, Christmas lists and notes from a successful recipe. That’s what is so wonderful about journaling, it may not be earth shattering today- but for my grandchildren it may leave them a legacy of me. My dreams, my plans, my humor- things that can’t be shared by their mother are all on paper- in my handwriting. A little piece of me- left for the future- and that- that is a grand thing to leave for the generations to come.