That Doesn’t​ Help

It’s been a while since I wrote a post. Over the past few months I have been rehearsing for a play and last week was the week before we opened. This means, for those who are not into theater, that I worked all day and then went to rehearsal during the evening. Most nights, I was there until around 11:30 p.m. I am not complaining, I love it. However, it did make it more difficult than I realized to get out a post. So, anyways, that’s my reason for the little hiatus.

Over the past few weeks, Andrea has been going every day to radiation. While it is frustrating that our lives are literally put on hold each day, the good thing is that she has not experienced some of the horrible effects that we were warned about. For the most part, she is just really tired, other than that, she is doing great.

In some respects, we are getting back to life as usual. That doesn’t mean that everything has been wonderful. One of the things we are plagued with during our cancer treatment is the constant commenting we get from people. Most people are genuinely sweet. However, there are those few who feel it is their job to offer their medical advice, comment on our own medical decisions, inform us of the problems with our eating habits with no knowledge of what we ingest, and some even try to help by telling their stories of pain, destruction and the ultimate death of their loved ones.

I get why people do this. The problem is that it does not help us out at all. Take for instance the conversation my wife had a few weeks ago. While in a store she came into conversation with a person while checking out. As is usual, this person commented on her hair. Most people assume it’s a chosen hairstyle. We normally laugh this off when we get into the car. Some people don’t stop at the complementing and proceed to ask, “why?” she chose the hairstyle. When this is asked, we are honest. It’s not for fashion, it’s Scruffy’s fault.

The individual who commented on Andrea’s hair began a long diatribe about a family member who lost their battle with breast cancer. I wasn’t there to hear the story, I just was at home when Andrea came in with tears in her eyes. I am sure the woman was trying to sympathize, but it only brought out the same fear that we have lived with since last June. The fear that the cancer isn’t really gone. The fear that Ole Scruffy will come back. The fear that my wife will still die.

As I have said before, one of the problems with battling cancer is that it is very lonely. A lot of people see the pictures of victory we publish on facebook. No one sees the tears we cry late at night. Conversations, like the one Andrea had, only exacerbate the issues. They only force us to relive the whole ordeal over again. I know people are trying to be kind, but instead of offering a balm for our souls they are wrenching a knife deep into our hearts.

That very same week I stayed late after a rehearsal to socialize with the cast. Andrea normally doesn’t care, she just goes to bed. When I called her on the way home I could tell something was wrong. As I listened to her talk I could hear in the tremble of her voice that she had been crying for awhile. I asked her why she didn’t tell me to come home. Her response was typical Andrea, she told me she didn’t want to bother me or rob me of having a good time with friends.

When I got home I found my bride curled up in bed. She was just staring out into the darkness. Her eyes were red from a long bout with fear. I had no words. I just got ready for bed, pulled her close, and let her weep on me. To be fair, I wept on her as well. We ended up staying up another hour. We didn’t talk much. We just wanted to feel the other person’s heart beating.

People are not privy to our pain. No matter how well I describe it, no one will ever be able to experience it on the same level that we do. Our story, our struggle, is unique to us. It’s unique to everyone who goes through any type of tragedy. I know personally the need to process what is being experienced. That’s the main purpose of this blog right now. However, at this point in our journey, the stories of loss or the constant reminding us that our diet is the culprit for Ole Scruffy, or that if we just drank the Koolaid from whatever cult practice that is revolutionary, just adds to the stress. It rarely helps us heal. Most of the time, it adds to the well of sorrow we are trying to replace with joy. I know most people are not vicious, but it feels that way. I know most people want to help, unfortunately, it just opens old scars.

 

Finding Laughter…

Over the past few months, I haven’t laughed much. Sure, I have had moments of smiling. I have had moments of joy. I have even had moments of forced laughter. However, for the most part, most of my responses in public setting has been more of act. I have continued to play my part and pretend that everything is fine. Even when asked, I sugar coated how I felt because I have learned that people prefer artificial sugar over the real kind.

This doesn’t mean I didn’t have times of hope. This doesn’t mean I didn’t have times of joy. This doesn’t mean I haven’t laughed. I just felt pressure to pretend. Most of laughing responses were because I knew, or felt, that most people didn’t really care to hear the truth. People didn’t want to see the pain. People just wanted to see Joshua acting okay. So, I did.

Sure, some asked for the truth. For them, I tended to lie. I know I am not supposed to. I know that may discredit me to some people. I just became numb to the rote responses and proverbial antedotes. I got tired of superficial answers. I would also become angry when it was apparent people only asked because they assumed it was their moral, social, or spiritual duty. Recently, I have gotten better. Last week, I laughed, “Greatly.”

Last week I spent a few days with men who do the same thing I do. We are actually a part of a network of connected guys who agree in philosophy and praxis of the church. We meet twice a year and take that time to discuss current issues and encourage one another. I honestly wasn’t excited to go. I haven’t seen these men since my bride was diagnosed, and I feared I would have to relive and retell our whole journey. I expected to talk about my bride. I didn’t expect to sing karaoke.

As we were unpacking our bags in this plush rental home, I suddenly heard blaring music. I came running upstairs to see one of the men holding a mic and singing at the top of his lungs. Instead of joining, I turned to go back downstairs. I made an excuse in my head and just slipped away. A few years ago I would have fought to use the microphone, that day, I just wasn’t in the mood.

Over the next few minutes, there were loud songs being played and bad vocals being projected into the air. In between each song, there was a bellowing call for Broughton to get upstairs. Apparently, everyone was supposed to participate and it was my turn. I resisted as long as I could. Finally, I gave up and sang. I half-heartedly belted out a Nickleback song. By the end, I couldn’t decide if I was more ashamed of how I sang, or the fact that I knew all the words to Rockstar. The answer is still up for debate.

Soon, it was time to leave and I was thankful. I appreciated the guys trying to have a good time and including me, but I just didn’t know how long I could keep up the act. The evening went on in typical fashion. We met up with other guys who were in the area. We ate dinner. We shared stories from the past year. Then we headed back to the house.

As we were driving back I began to get worried. I feared that they would get that dreadful machine out and I would be forced to sing again. A large part of me wanted to just go to bed and call it a night. However, I resisted and stay up with the guys. Then the machine appeared again in the room. This time there was an iPad for people to see the words. I sat by the fireplace and listened. Then they asked me to sing again.

As I walked up to the microphone the guys began to cheer. I smiled as I took the mic and prepared to sing another song. As I began to do my best to imitate the iconic vocals of Matchbox Twenty, I could hear the guys around me begin to sing with me. Before too long we were all belting the song out at the top of our lungs and laughing during instrumental breaks.

We stayed up late singing. We stayed up late laughing. I found myself for the first time in months laughing so hard I doubled over on the floor. I laughed so hard tears ran down my face. I laughed so hard all the pain, anger, frustration, and fear dissipated for a moment between the cool beats of L.L. Cool J and the humorous nonsense of Wierd Al.

By the end of the night, I was dubbed Karaoke King. I am not sure how this happened. To be honest, my competition wasn’t really fierce, but it was a whole lot of fun. It was nice to sincerely laugh again. It was nice to feel pure joy again. It was nice to let down the wall I have built around my heart.

On the last morning as we all packed up the leave and the machine showed up again. This time the soft melody of My Heart Will Go On was echoing throughout the house. I walked into the living room to see two grown men leaning over rails and singing their hearts out. I honestly may like their version better than the original. As I stood there, I smiled and then joined them. In that time and that space, my soul was able to heal a little. Those men gave me a gift. They gave me laughter. Laughter won’t take away the pain of radiation to come. Laughter won’t pay our medical bills. But laughter did give me a moment to feel real joy again. It’s these moments that have gotten us through the battle with Ole Scruffy, and it’s these moments we will share for years to come.

To those men who made me laugh again, Thank You.