That first Monday morning back, we all sat in the waiting room not making eye contact or conversation. Like strangers on a blind date, we were scared to open our mouths, even though we had all been together for years.
I waited for someone to make a joke that would shatter the tension.
A few minutes after 7:30 AM, he opened the door, and we filed into the group room. I didn’t know where to put my eyes, because I was afraid of what I would see. Was he ok? Was he sitting funny? If I looked hard enough would I be able to tell if he was dying? I scanned him for traces of the cancer that kept us all apart for three weeks.
But I sure didn’t want to look down there.
I sat in my usual chair. 3 o’clock to his high noon. Everyone else took their seats. I wanted someone else to voice my anxious questions so I could concentrate on his face, even though that’s not where his prostate was.
The other group members started in with the questions. Cathleen, ever practical, blurted out, “Are you in pain?”
Jesus, I didn’t know we were going to jump right into the deep end. I was still searching for the courage to be at the pool in the first place, and I hate swimming more than bathing suit shopping.
Rob, or maybe it was Sandra, mentioned a fantasy about a Foley catheter and for the next 10 minutes the discussion concerned his purported incontinence and lack of sexual function.
Now, I am a brave woman, especially when it comes to emotional dark corners– I don’t shy away from those murky parts of myself; I charge in there with whatever light I can muster and face my residue. But I have limits. And discussing my therapist’s ability to urinate and have sex with his wife were limits for me. Hard limits. (No pun intended.)
I wasn’t ready to joke about whether he could “get it up.”
He fielded our questions with the opacity that is the M-16 of the therapist’s arsenal. Do they teach that stare in therapy school? There was some of the coy, “What’s your fantasy about my sexual function?” responses, but mostly he was solemn and unapologetic about failing us by becoming ill with the scariest disease I could think of this side of full-blown AIDS.
At some point, he admitted to Cathy that, yes, he was experiencing some pain.
That’s when my denial about him having cancer slammed me all the way to the darkest, youngest corner of my mind. That corner where the rage and terror were stored under old quilted blankets I’d been lugging around for my entire lifetime.
I didn’t want a therapist who was in pain. Or that left me to tend to his metastasized cells. Why couldn’t it be diabetes? Or food poisoning? Or Crohn’s disease? Those I could
I wasn’t supposed to be thinking about whether he ordered his diapers from Amazon like I did for my infant daughter.
He was supposed to be different from other people. He should have been stronger. Healthier. Cancer-f*cking-free.
It’s been three years, and I still search for signs of his demise. Whenever he cancels a session, other group members assume he’s vacationing. I, however, am always convinced he’s at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Treatment Center. Even when he returns to his chair relaxed and tan, I won’t let myself believe he simply went to a beach to read back issues of JAMA while sipping icy drinks under a shady umbrella.
Because next time, I am going to be smarter than cancer. I will see it coming before that first angry cell goes haywire. Maybe it won’t be as scary if I was expecting it all along.