Cancer and counter-culture courage

Since bringing mom-in-law Ivalene home from the hospital, we’ve been hit with the crud. The most energy I’ve expended has been heating up chicken noodle soup and making mugs of TheraFlu and throwing a fleece blanket into the dryer to tuck around my chilled mother-in-law.

Photo credit: Unsplash

The blanket-in-the-dryer idea was something I did for Hubby because chemo chilled him. He would groan in absolute utter sheer bliss every time I spread a dryer-heated fleece blanket over him.

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On Thursday, we took Ivalene to her first and only visit with an oncologist. No surprises—she has declined treatment—but it’s now official and a referral has been made for hospice care.

My mother-in-law is defiant courageous plucky independent no-nonsense. And she passed this down to all her children. Back when Hubby’s second nephrostomy tube fell out, our hospice field nurse, Melinda, indicated he had 24-48 hours left. “Renal failure,” she said.

But 24-48 hours came and went. “He has tenacity,” Melinda said when she stopped by the house again. “He’s broken all the rules. Maybe there’s still something he wants to teach us.”

Hubby had defied the odds since time of diagnosis. He lived ten years with late stage prostate cancer that had spread to the lymph system and eventually to the bladder, bones, liver. He shouldn’t have lived that long.

“Maybe what he wants to teach us is this sitting still and acknowledging all that is precious around us,” I wrote in my journal back then. “This slowing down. This drinking in peace. These young adult children who have come long distances. The meal that will be delivered by friends later this evening. Snow falling.”

Hubby’s medical needs eventually became more than I was capable of handling at home, and a bed opened up at Hospice House, which we gratefully accepted. He did not come home from Hospice House.

This thought from Ashley Davis Bush:

We live in a world that doesn’t like pain. We too might be tempted to turn from it, to keep the stiff upper lip. But grief asks us to touch pain, to sit with pain and to ask it to tea.

I have touched pain and sorrow; I’ve sat with it and shared my Chai latte with it. And I have come away from the encounter more compassionate tenacious resilient belligerent pertinacious.

Ashley Davis Bush goes on to say:

Being with your sorrow is brave. It is counter-culture courage.

Hubby had counter-culture courage. Mom-in-law has counter-culture courage. As for caregivers everywhere, you know that it takes counter-culture courage to walk beside your loved one as he/she journeys toward death.

My best advice from my failures and successes as a cancer caregiver: Wrap that courage around you like a fleece blanket warm out of the dryer. Take one day at a time. Accept help. Let people love you as you travel this particular noteworthy distinct sweet heart-wrenching care-giving journey. For you’ll never travel this exact journey with this exact person. Ever again.

P.S. If you know of a caregiver who could use some encouragement, please share, tweet or pin!


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  1. gloria hanson

    Dear Marlys, my heart has been touched by your writing and your experiences. Your mother-in-law sounds like a great person, love her attitude. Even though I haven’t experienced the things you have, we each one have had or do have our own areas of pain. Thanks for sharing your heart! Love you, Gloria

    • So true, Gloria: “we each have had our own areas of pain”, which means hard wonderful heart-breaking opportunity to grow more resilient and deeper in faith. Love to you.

  2. Mary

    Again, your words are a treasure, “pearls of great price”, from your loss. Since fleece blankets are HEARTWARMERS’ gift to those in cancer care and in hospice., this was especially touching as were the photos. Thank you for showing us what our blankets mean to others. I will be in touch.

  3. Fran Swain

    I love reading your blog. I love that you have allowed the Lord to use your vulnerability, openness and honest comments. You are a blessing to us and to others. I’m sharing this with a friend today. Continuing to lift you and your family in prayer. Love you ????

  4. Nora Weed

    Hi Marlys, I remember being with my mother-in-law in her last days. I learned a lot about life during those long painful days. I don’t think it is the dying she minded so much but it was having no control over her body that was so awful to her. There would be other losses for me after her but she lead the way and taught me courage when hope is lost. You seem very brave and I’m sure you are loved by all those who follow your journey.

    • Nora, interestingly, my daughter had some similar things to say about walking beside me through her father’s death. “She led the way and taught me courage when hope is lost.” Beautiful words.

  5. Val

    Such wonderful words, but not unusual for those of us who know you. You are special. Your wonderful Mother-in-law, and My Sister is one of those blessed with a laugh that is contagious and wonderful. My daughter takes after her with that. What a blessing.
    For those of us who have gone through losing a Mate through Cancer or another awful disease, nothing ever matches. God blessed me with a new wife, one who went through years of taking care of her husband. One of the first things I noticed about Jane was the way she helped her very sick husband. We had known each other for over 50 years, but seeing her “touch” taking care of him helped “know” ours could work. You are special, and my sister will always be thankful , even when in Heaven with Christ. Bless You, and HER…..!!!

  6. This soothes my soul, Marlys. You are a remarkable writer, flowing with the river of the Holy Spirit! A friend gave me a blanket with an image of a soaring eagle. I have health challenges that keep me awake. I wrap the eagle blanket around me and feel cozy with Jesus. I pray my prayers are love-blankets for people. I pray I can be relaxed with Christ’s presence in my pain. His presence is so transforming!

    • I love the image of your blanket with the soaring eagle, Lynn, and your “feeling cozy with Jesus” when you’re wrapped in it. I was thinking about the concept of prayer shawls. I have friends who knit prayer shawls for chemo patients, and as they’re knitting, they’re praying for the patient who will eventually wrap themselves in this beautiful fuzzy soft creation. What an astonishing gift.

  7. Barbara Winterfeld

    Again you touched my heart with your tenderness. How I wish I would have thought to toss George’s fuzzy blanket into the dryer to warm it a little! But it was warmed with love, first from the ladies at church who made it for him, then by me when I wrapped it around him. Two years before, I experienced that love from a lady at church who knit a prayer shawl for me and I snuggled in it, comforting me as I went through chemo. Thank you for reminding me of their loving kindness.

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