How Are You?
Just because someone isn’t facing cancer doesn’t trivialize what they are facing in life.
There’s a moment from our past that Pete and I return to every-so-often and have a big laugh. In one of the churches we served at many years ago, Pete would stand in the lobby to talk to members as they left the building. On one occasion, Pete, knowing that the woman in front of him was having some health difficulties, asked her how she was doing, hoping to get an update on her latest hospital visit. However, to his surprise, she opened her blouse and showed a large gauze pad and declared, “Well, I have an oozing cyst on my right breast.” Recently, our pastor, Petie, mentioned in a sermon that there were a lot of things seminary did not prepare you for in church leadership. The aforementioned experience for Pete fits right into that category!
Two weekends ago, we had a dear friend at church who had a similar journey to the one Pete is on, and she came up to him and, with such grace, she said, “I know what it is like when every person you know asks you that question and you want to lie, you want to front, you can’t really tell them where you are mentally in that moment.” Those words meant so much to Pete, because that is a difficult decision. Prior to cancer, honesty used to be simple and straightforward, now, not so much.
This past Sunday, Pete and I took a drive to run an errand out near Calahan, CO. On that drive, Pete mentioned that he felt so useless and worthless when he was at church this weekend. Lately, his chemo rounds have been giving him side effects for much longer than usual. He always tries to put on a game face and be positive, but this past Sunday, he was just barely holding on to being present. Being in ministry for so long, Pete has a sixth sense at reading a room, and he knew that his “game face” just wasn’t communicating a positive or happy vibe. On our ride, he said that was killing him inside. If you know Pete, he wants to be the jokester, the guy having fun and making people smile and laugh. He also wants to be the servant, pitching in wherever help is needed. You can take Pete out of ministry by letting him go, but that didn’t shut the ministry button off in his heart.
Then, Pete turned the conversation a bit more serious. He looked at me, with tears in his eyes and said, “I can’t tell someone how I felt today, because if I was honest, I would have told them: "Today, I feel like giving up, this day-in and day-out constant weekly grind is stripping me of life." My answer today would have been, "I’m ready for it to end.” “But…” he said, “I know I will start feeling better in a day or two and I’ll be in the fight again. No one needs to hear something so raw come out of my mouth.” I could see and hear the desperation in Pete today.
As a caregiver of a long-term cancer fighter, I have responded differently when asked “the question” and I know Pete and I ask it differently too. We’ve grown and progressed through this journey. When we first started this journey, I had a call with an older couple. I had asked them how they were doing, knowing they had some health issues and I truly wanted to know if they were okay. When we “ended” the call, the phone actually didn’t hang up, so I overhead the wife scolding the husband, saying, “You didn’t need to bring up your problems, they have enough going on.” I quickly hung up and sent them an email reassuring them how much it meant to me that they would share how they are doing and that I asked because I wanted to know.
Truth: Just because someone isn’t facing cancer doesn’t trivialize what they are facing in life. Being a caregiver for Pete, sometimes has limited how well I feel like people allow me to be a good friend. I cherish when my friends share with me their battles, their marital problems, mental health issues, concerns for family members, and more. I seriously wouldn’t have it any other way.
What I know for sure is:
1. Pete and I do have different reactions to “How are you today?” than we’ve had in the past. We can’t always answer with raw honesty. Most haven’t signed up for that. Sometimes, it just helps to say, “He’s smiling, but he’s struggling too. He fights like that.” Or even, “Today is a good day for us.”
2. Life is tough and if you’re dealing with something difficult, it is overwhelming and an emotional roller coaster. You are experiencing all of the feelings and emotions possible. That is very true and real. We don’t always have the emotional capacity to ask the question, but when we ask, we want to know what you are able to share with us. What you are dealing with matters to us. My husband having cancer doesn’t mean that I want to stop being your friend or walking through your struggle with you. It doesn’t give any less weight or heaviness to what you’re dealing with. It may look different, but I ask because I truly want to know. My heart becomes so full, when you let me in to what you’re facing. Please know that doing so is okay.