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.