Living now with a feeling that something is out of balance. Though Kim’s latest check-up shows no sign of her cancer’s return, she has lately been experiencing increasing pain and fatigue. It may be the long winter’s making us housebound with inadequate exercise. It may be a consequence of the medication she is taking to “manage” her cancer. Or it may be that her cancer is doing its dirty work behind the scenes, and her body’s effort to fight it off leaves her tired and sore. How sore? Kim is tough, and she hates to complain or even talk about her health, but it’s hard to ignore her sudden cries of pain. She has pain pills, but she does not want to take them unless it’s really bad, so a pill mainly help her sleep at night. How tired? She naps (though not today – she’s too busy), and sometimes these naps last over an hour.
Stress does not help. We are currently in a dispute with our builder, who wants to be paid in full beforehe completes our house, and he is threatening to take us to court if we don’t pay up. Preparing our argument consumes mental energy, and Kim is paying a physical price: pain and fatigue.
A complicating factor is her not wanting to act like a sick person. She does not want to relinquish the skills and activities that have given her life, and mine, its richness and meaning. She struggles to get her large 500mm lens mounted on the tripod we have set up on our 3-season porch, part of which has become a blind for photographing birds, squirrels and deer. She struggles to lift some of the heavier frying pans. She still climbs up on a step-stool to reach things on the high shelves, even though a fall would be disastrous. She does not want to be dependent on me. She refuses to let me see myself as her “caretaker,” and she correctly points out that she takes more care of me than I of her. (I’ve thought of wearing a t-shirt that says, “higher maintenance than I appear.”) In frustration, she asks me for help opening lids that she used to do easily. Recently, she “let me” move laundry from the washer to the dryer, and then to the proper drawers, and making the bed is my job, especially when it involves lifting the heavy mattress to tuck in newly washed sheets. She prepares all of our meals except when I fix Cheerios for breakfast, or when we venture out to the Torch Lake Café for an early dinner. About a year ago she said, “When I’m feeling shitty, I can either sit in a chair feeling sorry for myself for feeling shitty or go out and take pictures while feeling shitty.”
For me, there’s a balancing act. I want to be helpful. I like being helpful. I have always taken meaning out of being useful. But if I push it too hard, it sends a message to Kim that she is sick, weak, helpless, etc., and she understandably does not want to hear that message. And when I hover over her ready to help when she doesn’t need or want help, I just get in the way, which is understandably annoying. I also know that her turning down my “help” is in part a result of her realizing that my quality standards are not up to hers. I don’t know how to clean a sink, dry a plate, or iron a shirt. During the last month or so she has been patiently instructing me in various cooking and cleaning chores – making julienne strips, wiping grease out of a frying pan, washing my shower, folding a towel, or using the right kind of rag for specific wiping tasks – so I will be able to function when she is gone. Towel-folding will not be high on my list of concerns when that happens . . ..
Here’s another factor: I enjoy having someone take care of me. I’m spoiled. Kim has spoiled me, and she continues to do so. Shitty as she is feeling, she baked me scones this morning. It’s too easy for me to fall back into the same old dependency. Yes, I know, our dependency is mutual – we are a team – but if the health balance has changed, I need to change with it. Put down that book, get my ass out of the chair, and fix a salad.
Despite the balancing act, we continue to make plans for our future – a summer trip to Seney Wildlife Preserve in the Upper Peninsula, landscaping work as soon as spring arrives, our massive garage sale, moving our kayak down by the lake, taking photos for the Land Conservancy. We looked at a lighter camera and lens that Kim can use for her bird photography. We checked out Amtrak to see if there is a direct way to get from here to Florida. Nope, but we could travel by rail to Colorado or New Mexico . . ..
Today she’s having a good day, with diminished level of pain (“a 5, where Sunday was a 9”), and she put away six bags of groceries while I stayed out of the way, napping in my reading chair. We are, as we have been for several years, balancing our drive to enjoy our lives against the cancer lurking in Kim’s body.