Yes, you read that right! FOURTEEN YEARS of waiting and wondering when, where, and how invasive the next tumor would be. To honor my family, I will keep the details private. All anyone needs to know is that in 2001, a softball-sized brain tumor was found in my father-in-law, the likes of which the doctors had never seen. Over the years, it was determined that this tumor was indeed a mutated cancer caused by Agent Orange exposure while my father-in-law was serving his country as a young man in Vietnam. Not only was his youth stolen from him in the draft, but also it seemed that his golden years would also be taken.
Yesterday was his eleventh surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. Let's suffice it to say that our family has spent quite a bit of time in the surgical waiting room praying while we watched the big screen for his patient number to see how he was progressing. We have discussed that there should be a class for people who truly want to serve and encourage but just don't know how.
Here are some things I have learned from living in the Land of Limbo and dealing with extremely long-term illness.
1) Everyone in the family suffers in some way when one person has cancer. Of course the patient suffers the most, but we all have residual effects from this long-term suffering. Whether it is less joyful time together or increased stress and fatigue from concern, we all suffer. My children have never truly known their grandfather without the effects of cancer. I see my husband struggle through this ordeal, and I also feel sadness and concern. The stress can become unbearable on a family and a marriage. We have worked so very hard to pull together and to allow each other to feel whatever he or she feels. (Sometimes we are successful, and sometimes we flop.) I believe in living authentically - even in the face of grief. So we have a lot of difficult conversations at our house. This has helped us try to figure out how to walk the balance beam of survival vs. living.
2) Those who are sick and their families truly want to live a normal life. We don't want to be known as the family with the tragic illness. My father-in-law could have already had written a book about his Vietnam adventures, culminating in his cancer diagnosis. He has chosen to be known as the guy who puts on top quality roofs, the guy who has created a beautiful home with four ponds to fish or swim in, the guy who loves the outdoors and making fishing lures, or the guy who loves to tell stories. We all want to be known for something other than the Big C. So talk to us about our interests or whatever is going on at church, school, or work. If we want to talk to you about cancer, we will.
3) If you aren't super-close to us, don't ask us anymore how John's dad is. We logically know you mean well, but we have to relive the hurt all over again each time we talk about it. Frankly we have just about perfected the art of compartmentalizing this terrible disease so that we can live our lives with our kids. So nothing is a bigger buzz-kill than a friend or acquaintance asking us about the reality that is all too real for us most of the time. Let us keep smiling. Please.
4) For the love of all that is good, if you come to be with us at the hospital, be quiet and ready to serve. We don't need or really want to be distracted; so don't feel like you need to fill the silence. Often those who speak to fill in the silence only create noise pollution. While we are on this subject, if you don't feel comfortable with us on a normal basis sitting with us silently, you probably aren't close enough to us to come to the hospital. (This isn't meant to hurt anyone, but it is true. There are only a few friends I am comfortable enough with and close enough to that we can sit next to each other silently holding each other up for hours.) The last thing we need to be doing is entertaining you while we really want to be praying for our loved one. Furthermore, if you are quiet you can better observe ways to help us. For example, offering to pick up lunch or bringing bottled waters is helpful and much appreciated!
4A) If you do come to the hospital, don't talk about anything negative. This is not the time to tell us about a friend's divorce news or another friend's health issues. If you must speak, please make sure it is uplifting and encouraging. "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all" really is a good rule of thumb here.
5) Please respect our right to privacy. If you are upset that you don't have the latest information on our family's cancer saga, perhaps maybe you should consider why you feel you are entitled to that information. Hopefully reading #1-4 have helped you understand why it is difficult for us to discuss it. Can you imagine finding out you have cancer again on a semi-regular basis? How would you feel? Can you imagine walking down our road for this many years without becoming overwhelmed and weary? Sometimes we can barely bring ourselves to discuss the details with each other in the family; so please try to understand how difficult it is to tell this hideous news over and over again.
6) Walking this road is lonely and makes us very weary; so we appreciate your love and mercy. My house looks like an episode of "Hoarders," because I can't think straight enough to figure out how to clean it. My car hasn't been clean in months. It is full of an assortment of supplies for the last three projects/classes I taught. I see the looks of judgment, and what I need is understanding or at the very least some grace. There are weeks that we are just trying to survive. With God's help we are surviving, while we are attempting to teach our children how to live authentically in the middle of difficult times.
When we went to Animal Kingdom, we rode Expedition Everest because our children wanted to ride it. Inside the pitch-black mountain, there is a point when you go up, up, up...slowly enough to work yourself into a frenzy - because what goes up must come down...really fast. However, the thing that sets Expedition Everest apart from other roller coasters is that the track changes behind you, and you go backwards a totally different way than you went up! Our life has been a lot like this roller coaster with infinite sickening track changes. After each successful surgery, we feel a short moment of relief that we survived the ride. Then we realize we are back in line to ride again.
My friend, I want you to know that we aren't defeated. We will not stop living our lives. If we do that, Satan wins a battle with this horrific weapon of his. The Bacons refuse to let that happen. So we keep living and loving and laughing and crying and serving. And when we have a victory, we pass out cupcakes and celebrate!
This doesn’t mean, of course, that we have only a hope of future joys—we can be full of joy here and now even in our trials and troubles. Taken in the right spirit these very things will give us patient endurance; this in turn will develop a mature character, and a character of this sort produces a steady hope, a hope that will never disappoint us. Already we have some experience of the love of God flooding through our hearts by the Holy Spirit given to us. (Romans 5:3-5 PHILLIPS)