Two Reality Checks in One Day






The morning started off with a text from a friend I adore.

“Just found out that a buddy of mine died last night of a massive heart attack.  He was forty-nine.  We’ve gotta stick together, kiddo.  Life is precious. XOXO!”

I’m forty-four, and my husband is a decade older.  I remember when I thought forty-nine-years-old was old, but now I know it’s way too young to die.

I moved on to check my email.  Every day I receive a news digest from my local parent’s network.  Usually the announcements are practical but pretty mundane.  

“Free crib.” 

“Giant yard sale next weekend!”  

Adopt my rooster…please!”

That sort of thing.  But one unusual listing caught my eye. 

It read: “John’s Cancer Diagnosis and Help Needed”

Underneath the headline, the three paragraphs began with “Hi, I’m Ellen.  My husband John has been diagnosed with Stage IV Colon Cancer.”

My heart sank.  No one can deny the gravity of such a diagnosis.  I didn’t know who John was, although I recognized his last name vaguely from being a member of this list for eight years.  I read the rest of the information.  Ellen explained that they had bought a house literally just before they received John’s diagnosis.  Unfortunately they weren’t able to extricate themselves from the contract.  (Something that shows how screwed up our society is, but that’s another post topic.)  Therefore, she asked our community for help in moving, as well as with other tasks such as watching their children during John’s upcoming trips to doctors.

Ellen’s email touched me.  She wasn’t asking for sympathy but for simply for a little help from her friends and neighbors.  Most people wouldn’t be able to write an email the way she did in the face of such shocking news, and her strength totally astounded me.  

She wrote about two amazing-sounding websites to help her coordinate assistance and receive support as she and John as they fight this evil cancer.

One site is Caring, and the other site is My Cancer Circle (www.mycancer designed to support caregivers of people coping with cancer.

I checked out Caring Bridge first.  Founder Sona Mehring explained, “In 1997, good friends of mine had a premature baby, and they asked me to let everyone know what was happening. Instead of making dozens of emotional and time-consuming phone calls, I decided to use my professional skills as an information technology specialist to create a website. The same night their baby Brighid was born, so was the idea that became CaringBridge.”  

Mehring added, “That inaugural CaringBridge site became an instant connection point in extremely personal and powerful ways.  Brighid’s parents could easily share information with family and friends around the world, regardless of time or place.  They could post daily updates in their CaringBridge Journal to tell everyone about Brighid’s status.  The CaringBridge Guestbook allowed visitors to the site to leave messages of love and encouragement for the family.”

That’s really cool – it’s technology at its absolute best.

If you’re familiar with my blog, you’ll know why this information struck me as particularly poignant.  The thought that sprinted across my mind was, “I wish that my family used these kinds of websites during all those fucking times I was in the hospital.” (For those of you unaware of my history with bipolar disorder, the grand total of my hospitalizations was seven.)   My husband Craig, who had essentially become a single parent of a newborn and toddler after my first hospital stay, would’ve been able to coordinate help so much more easily.  He could have kept everyone posted about what was going on with us without making many draining phone calls.

God forbid, Craig could have even written a message asking those who signed up to send me a cards or a book to read – anything to let me know they were thinking of me, even if they couldn’t visit me at the hellholes.

Back to John and Ellen.  

I’m going to see what Ellen needs done and help her, even if it’s in a small way.  She mentioned that she’ll need people to help unpack their belongings after they move into the new house.  That I can do.

I signed up for Ellen and John’s Caring Bridge and My Cancer Circle networks.  Soon Ellen will be posting specific tasks on a calendar so everyone can see what she needs during this harrowing time.

I know I’d want people to reach out to me and my family if a horrendous disease struck Craig, God forbid, whether it be mental or physical.  

A family that has been hit by cancer is still treated differently than a family that has been affected by a severe mental illness.  If Ellen’s husband had a mental breakdown and she needed logistical help, Ellen most likely wouldn’t get an outpouring of support that cancer attracts due to mental illness stigma.  I know the tide is slowly, slowly turning, but my guess is that people would look the other way if “bipolar” was mentioned.  I hope in the future, families in my valley who suffer with acute mental illness will be able to reach out for support the way that Ellen is doing and they won’t be stigmatized.

On an entirely separate note, over the past few days I’ve been ill with a dry cough that has made me irritable and not fun to be around.  

But I’m so grateful that

a) I’m alive and…

b) I’m not dealing with a potentially ravaging cancer.  

I hope that I’ve satisfied my quota for life-threatening illness until I reach my death bed, ideally when I’m fairly old! But believe me, I know there are no guarantees that I’m home-free from another severe mental or physical illness.  

Hearing about a death of someone relatively young and about a neighbor who is about to have the fight of his life has made me reflect that for now, I’m damn lucky.  

I’m a little scared to help a woman I’ve never met who is in such a terrifying scenario; however, as with mental illness, fear and sorrow aren’t contagious.  Something tells me that in the act of helping someone else when they need that help more than ever before, it’ll be a good, side-effect-free medicine for me.






17 thoughts on “Two Reality Checks in One Day

  1. I think it’s a truly brilliant thing you’ll be offering to help them! I would love to if I wasn’t in England! You hear of so many people victimised by cancer and it just doesn’t seem ‘real’, if you understand me. When really it’s so close to home. It’s a vile thing and the smallest things can make the biggest difference to these families who are suffering. So I think you should be proud of yourself and try your best to see the good in your help and not feel terrified about helping her.

    You’re so right about what you said about if he’d had a mental breakdown and not cancer. But each blog post about it adds a big difference into the world, I hope!


  2. Thank you, Your Inner Happiness, for recognizing the big picture and framing it in a positive way!

    “Ellen”, the mom I write about, continues to amaze me with her strength. This morning I read her latest hastily written journal update via Caring Bridge. I couldn’t believe all the things she’s being faced with in terms of her husband, her children, and herself. Frankly, if I had to deal with everything she describes, I don’t know if I could handle it.

    While I know I have “IRL” (In real life) friends who could probably use my tangible help in some way, not to mention my *own* family, ahem!, especially my kids, this woman is going through something truly awful beyond words. She’s so brave to write about it and if a couple hours of my doing something to help her, I’ll be so proud of myself.

    I also know it’ll be good for my girls to witness their mother helping another mom instead of their mom (“mum” ;)needing crisis care like they’ve observed in the years past.

    Thanks for reading, my dear – it means so much to me that you commented this morning! Lots of love! Can’t wait for the Marilyn blog post!!!!


  3. Hey Dy, that’s great that you are offering your help. A role model for the rest of us. So great that you are offering support to someone else in need. Using the internet to gain support is a great idea.
    And you are right about how mental illness is less likely to get the same level of support as cancer. The combination of stigma and lack of understanding makes some people shy away from those of us with mental illness. We are, for some, in the “too hard” basket.
    As for the death of your friend’s friend, well 49 is young. So sad.

    • Oh, thank you, Glenn, for your perspective. I always value it! That’s a great way to describe how some people view mental illness as being in the “too hard” basket. So true, so true. I’m no role model – honestly I’m one of the laziest people you’ll ever meet. I’m also selfish! But I’ll sleep better and look at myself in the mirror with a tad more respect if I do the right thing here. I’ll certainly keep you posted. Hope you got a good night’s sleep last night being in your own bed. 🙂 be well, dear one. xo Dy

  4. Such a tough 1-2 punch of news to get in the same day! You are showing your inner strength with how you are responding! Never doubt how tough you are, I sure don’t!

    • Vic, your responses to my posts always make me feel great!!! This comment of yours in particular really made my day. Thanks from the bottom of my heart for taking time to read & comment. You are much more than “plain” in my mind – you are “Just Magnificent Ol’ Vic”!

    • You are also kind & compassionate, sweet bipolaronfire – I’m looking forward to catching up on your awesome blog and finding out the latest with you. (((hugs)))!!!

  5. Bless you for generously reaching out and offering to help. Remember not to overdo it. Give as you can. Take care of yourself. Do not do as I have in the past and overextend yourself. I have a feeling that we may share this attribute. We could learn from Ellen how to ask for help when we need it.

    • You are absolutely right, Kitt, that we share the “overextending” attribute. I can only give in “baby” amounts right now, which I know is (much more than) fine! I’ve blown it in the past by taking on too much and then I burned out and after I was diagnosed, I even relapsed as well. I swore never to over-commit again. Thank you for the gentle reminder to take care of myself and then go from there…

  6. So sorry about the cough and the bad news! It is always so alarming to hear about someone dying who is close to my age, especially if I am feeling down anyway. In my mind 40 means to me what 16 did at one time.
    A very interesting post! Thanks for sharing!

    • Finally I’m back on my blog to read comments and I want to thank you, Lisa, for reading my post & for taking time to comment! Re: aging – I’m technically 44, but I feel 30 years younger except for some wrinkles (ugh! yep – I’m vain!), gray hair (you bet I color ’em – hell, I was born and raised in L.A. – need I say more?) and the fact that during our trip I pinched a nerve in my back. (Old & evil injury from a herniated disc) Other than that I feel like a shy teen! 😉

  7. A good friend of mine is currently dealing with her third round of brain cancer. Your post, though written a while ago, is quite poignant to me now.

    • Please forgive my belated response! I’m so deeply sorry about your friend. Something like that puts things in perspective. She is fortunate to have a wonderful person like you in her life. Sending you & her strength during such a difficult time! Xo

      • Thanks. Putting things into perspective is right. I try to remember this when one son chucks a metal car at my head and the other kicks my face. Sigh… 🙂

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