The online support group for esophageal cancer that I belong to consists about equally of patients/survivors and their caregivers, most of whom are spouses. About a week ago, one of the caregivers, Chris, posted an update on her husband, along with a story.

Chris’s husband, Jim, was diagnosed in March, 2010, and his cancer was already stage IV, which means it had spread to distant locations. At that time, he was told that his life-expectancy was about six months. He has now been undergoing aggressive chemotherapy for sixteen months, and is getting a bit ragged from the treatments. Here is the story that Chris posted:

I have a little story about how Those Above are fighting to keep Jim
here……I gave Jim a hot air balloon ride for his 49th birthday on 7/18.
We took the ride, and when we landed, the crew expected help from
everyone…..VERY tough work of folding up the balloon, moving the basket,
etc, etc. Jim was trying to help and I knew it wasn’t my place to tell him
it was too much for him (I’ve had to learn that this isn’t MY cancer), even
though it WAS too much. He was sweating profusely, totally exhausted and I
was worried. Along comes this young man out of nowhere (others pull their
cars over to watch the landing, but then drive away), walks up to us and
says, “How can I help?”. We thought he lived in the house of the yard where
we landed. The balloon pilot put him to work and this guy did all of the
“bull” work…..worked his tail off, and Jim was able to stop. We finished
up and started talking, only to find out this guy had simply stopped to
help. As far as I know, there was no discussion with him about Jim’s cancer.
As he walked away toward his truck, he looks back at us and says, “I’ll say
prayers for you.” His name was Chris……Christ? Divine Intervention? I’m
sure of it. That experience was even better than the balloon ride itself. So
I’m not the only one who wants to keep Jim here on earth for a longer time
thank God.

Inspiration is all around us……

Love & Light,
Chris P (wife if Jim, dx adenocarcinoma stg 4, 3/2010)

When I wrote to Chris, asking if I could use the story on Something Entirely Different, here is what I said:

I really like your story about the balloon ride. I wouldn’t argue with your interpretation of the significance of the young man’s name, but I can also offer an alternative speculation on the subject. Since, as you know, not everyone who is named for Jesus is actually He Himself, it may be that this was an angel who called himself Chris because he was summoned by Chris P’s love and concern.
Just a thought.

And here is Chris’s reply:

Paul, I love the alternative speculation you present! And, yes, you may repeat our story on your blog…… I would be honored. I feel that one of the “reasons” Jim and I are going through this journey is so we can let others know of the love we receive throughout the whole thing.
And from now on I will be reading your blog. At first glance, it looks like something I’ll love.
Love & light,

First of all, I should say that, no, Chris and I aren’t crazy, we’re just very open-minded. These things could be … I don’t insist … It’s fun to speculate, but I’m not at all certain that this sort of angel actually exists.The sort of angel I am confident of is made of flesh and blood; it is a human being who is willing to follow the leadings of love, even when that amounts to no more than a faint tickle in their mind, a gentle prompting they cannot explain. That may be enough to explain the actions of the young man named Chris. (Perhaps, in response to Chris P’s loving concern, God asked, “Let’s see what assets I have nearby … Oh, yes, there’s young Chris, I can count on him to follow my suggestions – and the coincidence of his name is sure to get people talking! I’ll send him.” OK, I don’t insist on this. Just thinking.)So, what can I say about this with conviction? First, look at Jim, the guy we almost forgot about in all of this. Here he is, as sick as anyone ever ought to be – maybe sicker than that – and he is, none the less, living joyously, making life worth the trouble. His sense of community (love f neighbor) is keeping him working, doing his part, pulling his own weight, even when he could fairly claim an exemption, and probably should.

Then, there’s Chris P herself – bringing the sweetness of birthday celebrations and balloon rides into her sick husband’s life, standing back and watching with concern, trying to walk the line between helping and interfering – doesn’t this sound like how God actually works in our lives? Is she a stand-in for God, an angel? And why not? Haven’t I said (here and here and a few more places) that  we are one with God and each other, even while we are different and unique? So why can’t we stand in for God, why can’t our love summon help from other loving beings? We don’t have to believe that God exists, and we don’t have to believe that winged and haloed angels exist; we just have to believe in love enough to trust its small requests.

All of us who are or have been sick, save a very few unfortunates, have our caregivers, our angels. Caregivers are most often spouses, but they may also be children, siblings, in-laws, friends, whatever. Then, we get to reciprocate, or pay it forward, caring for others. We also act as caregiver to the caregivers, supporting those who have drained themselves for others. We form a web, a community, an unbounded unity.

Because esophageal cancer effects far more men than women, most of the caregivers in our support group are women. In addition to being tender providers, they are fierce defenders. The few husband-caregivers in our group are as tender as the women. (One guy, whose wife has been among the very sickest of our group for an astonishing two and a half years, has just arranged a European vacation for her, complete with tube feeding and portable oxygen.)

What I really wanted to say,  is just how grateful I am to my wife, my family and friends, and everyone else’s caregivers; your efforts on our behalf keep us alive longer than we had reason to hope for, and your love makes  our troubled lives sweet.

(I am reading an excellent memoir by the wife-caregiver of a man who suffered a major stroke that left him without language, One Hundred Names for Love, by Diane Ackerman.)

3 responses to “Caregivers

  1. That was a beautiful entry, Paul. I’m honored that you told our story and love the rest of what you did with it.

  2. Paul, I am a friend of Jim and Chris’. I am so honored to have them in my life. Paul, please know, all of you who are fighting the fight, walking the walk and survivors are true heroes (even though you may not consider yourself a hero and that you are just doing what one has to each day). Paul, you and yours will be included in my prayers.

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