It will be 8 weeks this evening since we got the news about my wife's cancer. Tomorrow evening will be the end of the 2nd 2-week cycle of chemotherapy, with another treatment-free week about to occur. It seems a good point at which to reflect on where we are, and where we hope we are heading.
Most of all, the past two days mark a major achievement.
My wife is by training a cultural historian. Since before I met her, she has had a strong interest in Virginia, in part because her mother's mother's family originates from Central Virginia. In high school she became fascinated by George Mason and simply because of that interest wrote a detailed paper about this not as well known yet highly significant Founding Father. When we moved from near Philadelphia because she had decided she really wanted to live in the DC area after a summer of a fellowship at the National Endowment for the Arts, she was insistent that we live in the Old Dominion and not DC or Maryland - which during my teaching career in Maryland gave me a somewhat longer commute. Her award-winnin dissertation is on the social role of African-American dance in the pre-Civil War greater Chesapeake, which obviously focused on Virginia. We were married in an Orthodox Church in Maryland, but held our reception in an historic mansion near Leesburg VA. When we have considered moving, it has realistically only been to other places in Virginia - Charlottesville, Old Town Alexandria, Rappahannock County. We are now in our 31st year in Virginia, more than half her life and approaching half of mine, and we now think of ourselves as Virginians.
8 years ago was the first Virginia Forum, the preeminent scholarly gathering on Virginia's history and culture. She attended then and has become an important participant in its ongoing existence. This year she was on the program committee, and she also helps to run the list serv. The 28 panels, a plenary, and a keynote began on Friday and ended yesterday. Because of her chemotherapy on Friday morning and an important family gathering last night, she could not attend the entire event. But she was determined to attend what she could. I have some interest in the field, although I am not as consumed by it as she is. We left at Midday Friday to drive to Ashland VA where after checking in to our hotel we headed to Randolph-Macon College, which was the host institution, in time for the final panel sessions of the day, a reception with the University's President, and a keynote address by noted Virginia scholar Jon Kukla. Yesterday she got up at 6:30 so that she could be on the campus for the first sessions at 8, staying through the penultimate sessions ending at 3, participating in a lunchtime planning for the gathering next year at George Mason University, before heading home to check on our cats, then to Dover Delaware for a family gathering honoring birthdays of a niece and a nephew and the first communion of another nephew. She was in Gregor from 7;15 AM until shortly after midnight. She was tired, but satisfied.
Leaves did a fair amount of walking at Randolph-Macon - between buildings, up and down stairs. The trip meant the most walking since her diagnosis almost two months ago.
We had a king-sized bed. It is the first time since the diagnosis that she has not slept in a hospital bed, and the first time since her back problems became very severe even before the diagnosis that we have been able to sleep in the same bed.
She was in the car for four separate trips each of about 2 hours over a 36 hour period.
All of these are positive achievements.
Of greater importance were reconnecting with her family and reconnecting with an important part of her intellectual life.
Le's talk about family. She is the eldest of five children. Two siblings were not there, one in Wisconsin and one in Vermont, although the daughter of the latter was there, along with three nephews and two other nieces, one born recently that my wife was meeting for the first time. She had had not seen any family except a brother=in-law who visited her in the hospital since before the diagnosis. Her nieces and nephews wanted to understand about Gregor, and it reassured them to see her, to hug her. She, her brother and one nephew planned with her father a trip in early May to go birding along the Atlantic flyway.
The family get-together was important. The intellectual gathering was even more so. I have rarely been a part of my wife's intellectual life as it connects with others. Yes, I have proofread some of her work, helped some with research. Of course I attended her Ph.D. ceremonies. I have been to a few events at her place of work. But until I accompanied her when she spoke at the retirement of her mentor for her dissertation, I had participated with her in her intellectual passion far less than she had with mine as a teacher and as one involved in politics. What I saw this weekend is how greatly respected she is by her intellectual colleagues. That matters to her, and I admit my embarrassment in realizing that I have not been as supportive as I should have been.
As it happens, there was some overlap between her world and mine. A number of years ago I did a one-week seminar sponsored by the Gilder Lerhman Institute for American History called the Worlds of Thomas Jefferson, based at UVa and at the Thomas Jefferson Library and Foundation. Keynoter Jon Kukla had addressed us, and he and I had a conversation about that. One of the panelists mentioned someone in his presentation - who happened to be present - who was in my cohort in my Political Leaders Program at the Sorensen Institute at UVa. Liane actually overlapped at Harvard with my wife for one year. Some of the panels were on topics that very much connect with my life, those on the Civil Rights period, for example.
But that was of lesser importance than being able to see my wife with her intellectual peers, to see noted figures in the field and the immense respect with which they view her. It was also good for both of us to have her receive personally the affirmations and the well-wishes for her health. And not just hers - several people who themselves have been through health situations either as a patient or as a care-giver quietly told me they were including me in their prayers, for which I thanked them.
Today my beloved will probably take things somewhat more slowly. She spent a lot of energy yesterday. She will drive herself the fifteen minutes to church, without me, so I can attend my Friends Meeting for Worship.
Tomorrow she will begin a work week in which she will attempt to work a full schedule, but is prepared in case she is not quite up to it until towards the end of the week. We want watch closely because her most difficult time so far has been partway through the last week off from chemotherapy.
Meanwhile your trusty correspondent has had to deal with some minor health issues of his own. For several weeks I had had problems with soreness and even pain in my right wrist. I thought it was just a sprain, but it was not getting better. I saw my nurse practitioner last week, she sent me for x-rays I do not have a hairline fracture, which is the good news. I have deterioration of the joint, which means the arthritis in my wrist can join that in part of my spine, in one knee and in one ankle. Considering the alternatives I certainly do not mind! She is referring me to a hand specialist, because I may well have a sprain on top of that, and if I am to receive an injection she would prefer it be done by someone who focuses on that sort of thing. I wear a wrist brace more than half the time, which is not itself a problem. At times, however, I find that I cannot write with a pen/pencil without serious pain. Because I do love to jot in pocket notebooks and to make notes in the books I read, that is something I find at least annoying, although when I consider how miniscule that is compared to with what my wife is dealing I can let go of my annoyance.
I still have no news on the employment front, although I am beginning to look more actively. There are still some possibilities for teaching come the Fall. I am beginning to identify situations where I could tutor that I would consider a positive use of my abilities. At the same time I am learning to let go of anxiety - at lack of employment, at money concerns, even of some of my normal impatience. I am trying to become more mindful in all that I do. Driving home from Delaware last night my wife wanted to sleep, so I turned off the radio and drove in silence. That gave me an opportunity for some reflection. As I write this, one of our cats is curled up next to me, and when I stroke him he stretches out and solicits from me a belly-rub, which I happily provide.
Even the NCAA tournament gave my wife some mild pleasure. Her alma mater, Harvard, beat that of two of her sisters and her brother-in-law, New Mexico. Of course that did not go beyond that first game. No bother - the brother went to Colorado State and they also lost yesterday. We have watched some - we saw the end of the Florida Gulf Coast upset of Georgetown on my Ipad using the free NCAA app on Friday. I will say that as much as some of the attendees dislike Georgetown, that upset was for them a mixe-bag: most are academics and Florida Gulf Coast is infamous in academic circles for not giving tenure to its faculty. Ah, the reasons we root for or against a team!
8 weeks ago it was a relatively normal Sunday. At least, as normal as it could be with the back pain with which my beloved struggled. I was sympathetic, but probably still very much self-centered and absorbed in other things.
8 weeks ago our lives changed.
8 weeks ago I began to realize how much our love means, and why that outweighed anything else.
It has been a journey that at times has been challenging.
The path forward will, as has been the case for 8 weeks, not always go smoothly. There will be times when my beloved struggles, or worries. There are still too many times when I am not patient or supportive enough. We are both still learning.
It is her illness. Because of our renewed commitment to one another it is our joint journey, one in which I am privileged to participate.
She is able to begin resuming a somewhat more normal existence.
We have high - and realistic - hopes that the progress we have experienced will continue.
She will live with her cancer. I will live with her cancer. The key point is that she will live. That allows us to go forward and find joy in the life we do have, as individuals to be sure, together of course, and as part of overlapping communities that love and support us.
We feel very blessed.