Collateral damage, collateral gain
On Wednesday, during lunch with our lovely friend Jane, Mark looked down at his hand and realized that his wedding ring was gone.
The ring no longer fit well. Mark’s significant weight loss over the course of chemotherapy has impacted his hands. He had switched the ring from his ring finger to his middle finger, but it was still too big. We had explored having it sized down, but we were told that wasn’t possible because of its design structure.
We rushed home and started searching. Unfortunately, the most likely time that he lost the ring was during a bike ride he had taken that morning. He was working to build up his stamina, but he was a little unsteady on the bike, and almost fell a couple of times. It would have been easy, as he fought to keep his balance, to not notice that the ring had fallen. And a ring would likely roll away. We scoured the house, the garage, the yard. I drove up to the gas station we’d visited on the way to meet Jane. No luck.
I placed an ad on Craigs List, among the sad notices about lost dogs and misplaced memory cards. A long shot, but perhaps someone would find the ring, realize that it was a wedding band, and be generous enough to look for its owner?
In a final act of desperation, I walked the neighborhood where Mark had taken his ride, searching the gutters. It was impossible. Even if someone hadn’t yet found the ring, there were too many streets, too many grates, too many sidewalk cracks. A street sweeper even swooped by on the other side of one street. Even though I don’t think of myself as religious, I was mentally whispering “please, please, please” to the sky. Please, please don’t give us another loss right now.
What’s a ring? Only a bit of metal. It wasn’t even the ring I placed on Mark’s finger during our wedding. Delivery of the real ring had been delayed, so on our wedding day we had improvised with a tin foil band that one of our friends had curled together. But we were both crushed by the loss.
I sent an email to customer service at Ben Bridge. Layna was wonderful. She didn’t know if the style of ring was still available, but she’d check with the buyer, And under the circumstances, they’d offer us a discounted price on a replacement if she could find it for us. I just needed to send her Mark’s ring size.
But Mark shook his head. He didn’t want to try to replace the ring. “I’ll only lose it,” he said. “My fingers are still shrinking. It’s too expensive.”
I didn’t argue but my heart cracked a little bit. That night, I held his hand and told him why I wanted to replace the ring. How I loved to see it on his hand. How it told the story of our lives together. How after he was gone, whenever that might be, I expected that the ring would be something our son would keep, to remember him. We talked about our wedding, and how our marriage had changed our lives. Yes, we got a little teary, but that just happens to us now and again, in this period of our life. He agreed to go to get his finger sized today.
But early this morning, as he was pulling together his breakfast, Mark said my name in a very quiet voice. He walked over to me and outstretched his palm—the ring. He had found it under a package of raisins in the door of the refrigerator. We can only conclude that it slipped off his finger when he was making his breakfast two days ago.
I’m a Pollyanna and I see stories in everything and symbols everywhere. I often engage in magical thinking. It’s just what my world is like. Is this a parable? Is there a moral to this story? I don’t know. Something precious was lost and after all hope was gone, it was found in an improbable place. Things like this happen all the time. And yet…
Mark hasn’t been going out to the driving range for a while now, though golf has been one of his life’s joys, because he’s been so discouraged by the effects of his illness on his game. But today, he got back out there. And, though his performance isn’t what it was, he had a good time. Something precious lost, then found again. Hmmm
Denial, My New Best Friend
We are enjoying a respite from clinic-and-hospital life, in the California desert. The sun shines every day, and early in the morning the nearby mountains are immense and crystal clear. Here, it’s hard to believe it’s February. Mark is getting stronger, definitely benefitting from the extra week away from chemotherapy, though his strength gain has been slower than he anticipated. Three months of pouring poison into his body has taken its toll, and he’s struggling to build up his endurance. He walks and goes to the gym, though he has to push himself. Some friends gave us two bicycles, so he's adding riding a bike to his routine.
This time feels like a pause, a small breathing space in the difficult world we now inhabit, before we return to treatment. Lately I find that my thoughts about the future are all over the map. If one more person tells me to “live in the present moment” I think I might scream. Not that it isn’t solid, loving advice—it’s just that it’s darn difficult. When I wake up at 3:00 am (as I’m convinced all women over 50 do, every night), I have to climb out of the murky chambers of my brain, which spew the most awful and tortured scenarios for the future.
Living in a world superimposed with survival rate charts isn’t helpful. The five year survival rate for stage 4 pancreatic cancer is usually listed as 1-6%.
But…that means that although the historical odds are bad, not everyone lost the battle. A few people did survive, and why shouldn’t Mark be one of them?
I wonder if I’m a bit crazy to be this optimistic. Those late night horror imaginings aside, I really think Mark can best this. There are new treatments every day. We are getting excellent treatment. Mark is strong and determined.
It’s not that we haven’t prepared. We’ve redone our wills, our powers of attorney, our health directives. We’ve modified some property arrangements to simplify our lives. The threat that looms over our life together is always present, and it colors our decisions about travel, property, and commitments to future events.
But the truth is, moment to moment, I don’t think much about the future, at least not the long-term future. When I do think about it, I am optimistic. I simply cannot visualize my world without Mark in it, and so I don't. If that means that I’m setting myself up for a hard fall, so be it. And I’ve gone beyond cautious optimism; I’m all in. Perhaps it’s denial, but who cares.
Miracles happen every day.
Stephanie Joyce Cole