culture shock :: cancer unit edition

My mom hit the nail on the head the other day when she described life post-diagnosis as CULTURE SHOCK.  One simple phone call and less than 24 hours later, you are thrust into a new, germ-free, sanitized planet.  On this planet, there is a new language, there is new food, there is terror, there is camaraderie, there is hope.

For the cancer patient (my dad), his culture shock is different and I am clueless about what his journey is like.  However, he is so tired, that I think/hope he spends most of his time in the land of dreams... punctuated by frequent disturbances and, you know, feeling sicker than a dog.

For the primary caregiver of a cancer patient (my mom) it's been a steep, mean & challenging learning curve.  Trying to wrap yourself around your emotions, trying to wrap your brain around a new language, trying to find your footing while sleeping in strange beds...  However, this week, week 3, it seems like my mom is shedding much of her culture shock.

She is making new friends (no one is surprised by that), she is praying, she is getting creative with how to fill her time between updates and chemo bags.  She is amazing...

Dad is on the finishing sprint of chemo, round 2.  His "BRING IT ON" mentality is strong, though his body is weak.

We each fall restlessly to sleep with numbers, percentages and imaginary cells floating in our dreams.  It's not a restful phase of life, but through it all, I'm finding such HOPE.  Such RESILIENCE.  Such COMPASSION.

Folks, we live in a very beautiful world filled with very BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE.

For example, take Allie.  She chose to conquer a bone marrow transplant despite being in remission.  When she walks the halls (more like sprints), it's like looking directly at a sunbeam.  Before she ever speaks, you will say "there is a Child of God".  I chatted with her and her husband for a few minutes before I had any clue which of them was the cancer patient and which of them elected to shave their head (it would have felt rude to follow the path of the IV tube).  Though we are the same age, I can say honestly that when I grow up, I want to be just like her:  faith personified, hope personified... and well, GORGEOUS!  Please read Allie's blog and join her in daily prayer.  No matter what, leukemia is NOT going to dim the light within that woman!

When dad was a new patient on the leukemia/bone marrow transplant floor, I felt like the family members who walked the halls looked hopelessly forlorn.  Tentatively meeting your gaze, but looking briskly away before your sorrow could land on their over-burdened shoulders.  I now see things in such a different light (though I'd bet a pretty penny that that's exactly how another young adult daughter felt the other day when I watched her walk the halls with her newly admitted father.  It was like looking into a mirror in which your eyes balance in a pool of tears that never spill.).

Yes, every story is heart breaking, but every story also holds so much HOPE, LOVE, and the PROMISE that the BEST IS YET TO COME!  Everyone on that floor lives in a constant awareness of the gift of life, the awesomeness of life.  I feel sure that all the world's problems would disappear if only everyone lived with that awareness and purpose.

Recently, a sober alcoholic who is near and dear to my heart, shared that he's the lucky one.  When he struggles with his disease, he mentally visits a cancer unit.  Like he said, "ANY of those people would be thrilled to hold the key to saving their own life!  Go to a meeting every evening and exhibit self-control.  DONE!"  Yes, the world would be a better place if we each spent time watching cancer patients fight for the chance to continue their earthly journey.

So, the oppressive sadness has lifted a tad, though I miss my non-sick father fiercely.  I want to laugh with him, explore the woods with him, learn from him.  Until then, I'll wade through this new culture in body and spirit.   I look with hope and excitement to the day when we can close the door to this exotic new culture and move forward with the awareness of what we learned.  I'll tell you one thing's for sure... this is one culture whom I won't look back on with nostalgia nor dream of walking it's streets again!


  1. Jules, I've never been in your shoes (or your parents, either), so can't claim to fully understand. Very much appreciate and enjoy reading your thoughts, though.

    The thing I loved about being a dispatcher was the involvement with raw life,cut to the bone, dealing with life and death and nothing else mattered. At that moment, in the trenches, you understood what was important. That's part and parcel of the new culture you're all learning.

    Your sentence of "missing your non-sick father fiercly" resonates deeply with me; I don't remember the last time I saw my own dad stand straight and tall and that makes me sad. Becky

  2. wow, Julie- very moving and touching <3

  3. Culture shock. That's a good way of wording it. Also not surprised your mom is making friends;)

  4. So moved, reflectively, as I sit and read, and ponder, and wonder, and dream of the happiness that surely will follow , but alas...we must deal w/ the present and savor it's bittersweetness...I have been caught in a moment of early morning reflectiveness and you have pierced my thoughts w/ your musings...once again..to hope, to dream....


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