Friday, May 6, 2011

Cancer Class

You signed up for art class, but instead you find yourself in cancer class. It’s a really, really hard class and you don’t want to take it, but you’re not allowed to transfer out to art class or even English or calculus. You have to learn this new vocabulary and have lots of different types of tests; some hurt and are hard, others easier; some involve horrendous preparations, others none at all, but you never know how you did. There are also lots of extra meetings and classes with a variety of different experts. Some things you lean by trial and error, like when to call the advice nurse or 911. You learn medical terminology and pharmacology. You share hints with other people you know who are stuck in the class, too. The make-up of the class participants is always changing. Some get to go on vacation for awhile; some leave permanently, having flunked out; some even graduate, but there are always new people and you feel sorry for them and try to give them help and advice when you can, or when they ask for it.

I first went to cancer class when I was four years old. My cousin Kathy, a year older than I, was diagnosed with spinal cord cancer. She was my closest girl cousin, my friend and playmate. I didn’t rally know what cancer was, except it meant I couldn’t play and be noisy and run around. Then it meant the hospital, only I was too young to be allowed inside. Stupid adults, only a child could help another child, or so I thought at the time. It meant she was gone and never, ever coming back. Oh, and I wasn’t supposed to cry about it or say her name or be sad.

I was allowed to go on vacation after that until high school. Friends’ parents or friends of my parents or grandparents and John Wayne went to this class. They usually died or had horrible operations during which parts of their body were hacked off, but they survived, deformed. These times in cancer class were usually of short duration, sort of like summer school or intersession.

Later, I went to cancer class with friends, learned a little, tried to make them laugh. I didn’t know then how often I would have to go this class and that I would even have to take advanced classes.

When my best friend, Deonn, got assigned to cancer class, I learned a whole lot more. When it got really, really hard for her, I spent a part of every day with her in class. Sometimes we were alone in class, but most often others were there with us. We talked, spoke the truth, told stories, laughed and cried. I knew she was going to flunk out and she knew it too. It brought us even closer together. We shared our deepest secrets. Deonn asked me to look out for her kids and her friends, even the ones I “didn’t like”, as she put it. She gave me treasures. It was a precious time. After she left, I cried and cried. I wanted her to come back, even though I knew she couldn’t. And besides, she yelled at me, “I can’t”, her voice as strong and crystal clear as if she were in the room with me. It has been hard to live without her in my life. Although I know on some level that she is still with me every day. Deonn taught me so much more than cancer class teachers ever could about cancer and life and living. I miss her every day.

Then I got assigned to the very advanced cancer class you have to if your beloved, soul mate, best friend, husband, has to take Stage IV cancer class, which no one ever survives. They definitely flunk out, for sure, no matter what. Oh they might get to be in class for fifteen years, or even a little longer, but they all flunk out eventually. My class was pretty bad, but I suppose classes Stage I-IV are worse.

I thought that because my beloved, my darling Jim flunked out, I didn’t have to go to cancer class anymore. But I did get assigned to this very difficult advanced class called Grief for Widows/Widowers. The only harder grief class I imagine is the Parent of a Child Lost Permanently. So. I’ve been stuck in this advances grief class for a while now, trying to find a way to make it not so painful, thinking this was my only assignment. It seemed enough of a class load; the hardest I’ve ever taken.

But…oh, no. I suddenly find myself assigned to cancer class again because two dear friends just got assigned to breast cancer class. Crap. I hate this damn class, but I guess I’m not going to graduate from it. Only maybe, just maybe, hopefully soon, or at least in my lifetime, someone, some brilliant person or team, is going to find a cure for this dreadful disease and then no one will have to go to cancer class anymore. Won’t that be awesome?

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