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 ignore handle.

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.


25 thoughts on “Prostrated

  1. Whoa, I thought it was bad when my old therapist was getting divorced but cancer? That is heavy. I honestly don’t know if I could deal.

  2. Ugh. I once read a memoir called “Group” about a bunch of people in therapy together. The most interesting part of the story was when the counselor himself began having issues. Some of the same issues that his group were there to combat. Eye opening and a slam back to the reality of things.

    I imagine this sucks just as bad. Thinking of you . . .

  3. Oh my dear Outlaw, as a cancer survivor myself I want you to be able to appreciate that it’s your therapist who has cancer. Along with all his other ailments. Some of those are probably psychological as well. None of us is immune, nor are we responsible for anyone’s healing but our own.
    I know you and I trust that you will pursue your healing in the future as you have in the past. But please let the guy have his disease without making yourself the victim. You’ll both benefit.

  4. I think that I, too, am guilty of projecting superhuman qualities onto people, and getting completely thrown when something happens to make me realize that they are as completely and utterly mortal as I am. Why do we do that?

  5. Ugh… Yet more evidence of the insidious nature of cancer. It’s not bad enough that people get it, it charges through the people who care about you like it’s swinging a sledgehammer willy-nilly. Some people take the blow in the head, some in the heart, and some in places they didn’t know existed. Many hugs…

  6. Love your writing here, especially “That corner where the rage and terror were stored under old quilted blankets I’d been lugging around for my entire lifetime.” A poignant story, beautifully wrought. And boy do I relate to the desire to control and be in front of any/all situations, especially those that scare me to the core. Here’s the plan: you be smarter than the major illnesses/diseases; I’ll take on the natural and man-made disasters – we’ll have it covered!)

  7. Wonderfully written, per the yoosh. I love therapy. I did a stint in grad school for clinical psychology. Loved it, and was damn good if I do say so myself. But then I closed my eyes and tried to visualize myself counseling other people with messed up heads like me for the rest of my life and I couldn’t picture the roles reversing without having a panic attack. I’m curious about group therapy. Do you feel you get your due share of time during the session? Are there monopolizers that leave you feeling like you didn’t get your shake? Sorry, I’ve gone off topic here. Great post. x

  8. Just like I like my bloggers human and real (gee, wonder who I’m thinking about as I say that? 🙂 I think that if I had a therapist (and I’m sure I need one) I would want him human and real too. At least a human could relate with a bit of understanding to what I am go through. I don’t think I’d want a superhuman therapist.

  9. Because next time, I am going to be smarter than cancer. I will see it coming before that first angry cell goes haywire.

    I think I have that delusion about myself. If only we could be so smart.

    • Even a control freak like me can’t control cancer. That’s the heartbreak of it all. There’s no controlling it. And even though I will expect it at every turn, it will still devastate me if it strikes my loved ones.

  10. You know, living in fear and dread hoping to see the next cancer coming is totally going to give you cancer.

    I had a friend tell me yesterday the heartless way in which his parents told him they were divorcing. He spent the rest of his life checking through their houses for clues about the next big shock. He became a full time spy and wanted to know everything about everyone so he’d never be surprised again.

    Wish it would work for him. For you.

    But it won’t. You can’t watch serial killer shows to deaden your shock at murder. You can’t second guess people’s emails, phone calls, and statements to try to find out why they’re dying.

    A zen teacher once told me to think about my most treasured possession. I did. It was a tea cup that meant more to me than a tea cup should. Then the teacher said to remember that “it’s already broken.” Some day, somehow the cup would break. So really, every day, it’s already broken. Each time I saw or used that cup, I recalled how it was already broken but that today, for this one time, it was beautiful and smooth and warm and comforting. I treasured each day that it was whole. That it worked. And the day it broke I smiled. Because it was already broken all along.

    People are already broken. Christie. Enjoy every single meeting, call, letter meal with them because they are dying but today you happen to catch them exactly as they are. Already dying. A gracious gift to cherish that’s already broken.

    • Part of me wants to say, “I know, I know,” but of course, the part of me that is still looking for cancer’s first fucked up cell actually doesn’t know. I love the teacup analogy. Oh, I just love it. It tears me up. When I first met my therapist I said, “What do I do if you die?” He said, “Pray that I die.” I didn’t appreciate it, but now I get there are lots of beautiful ways to say, “be here. be now.” I like how you said it to me. None of my pain avoidance strategies work, so I might as well dance.

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