I started this post a month ago and then abandoned it as life got busier. A month ago, I wanted to write about how we can be scared of so many things. Some of them are legit, and some lay somewhere closer to absurd. In terms of living with our fears, the legitimacy of fears often is beyond the point. No, the mouse in the pantry is not going to hurt you. Yes, you may have a primal fear of it that is unmovable.
The first thing I did when I started this post was to gather up all those images. When Mark came home on his last day of radiation, the parting gift — the one we knew he’d get as a souvenir — was his radiation mask. For six weeks, five days each week, before the sun came up we’d drive Mark to the hospital and head down into the basement to radiology. We’d sit in chairs arranged nicely into little privacy pods and watch Good Morning America until he was called. The technician would walk carefully beside Mark, keeping a hand behind his back in case he became unsteady on his feet, which he often did. They’d disappear from my view for 10 minutes, and then Mark would be returned to me.
Day to day, the radiation treatments were completely invisible to me. Intellectually, I knew what was happening. They lay Mark on the table, put his mask on, locked it to the table, and began. They were delivering a doozy of a beam of energy right at the tumor, working their way via 3D imaging around the blasted thing, wiping out whatever biological tissue was in its path to get there, clearing a larger swath than needed to make sure the target was eliminated. I never saw any part of this process other than the waiting room.
It took almost four weeks for there to be a notable impact on Mark’s daily living. His skin drying, changing color. His salivary glands useless. His breathing increasingly noisy. Destruction meant potential success. Mark tolerated it without complaint.
When Mark brought the mask home, it took my breath away. I hadn’t imagined it to be so large. I hadn’t imagined the hole in the middle. It was just so…real. And scary. A physical manifestation of the cancer I fear. A physical manifestation of the radiation that in many ways I feared, too.
I dealt with my fear the way I often do — by exploring it. I tried the mask on. Alma tried it on. I took photos of it. I messed around with the photos. I recorded an audio track of Mark’s noisy breathing, and I overlaid it on a video of Alma wearing the mask (very spooky). I understood what I was doing: I was working to disarm the fear by facing it head on. Not everyone does that. I know that. It’s in my instinct to do it, and it works for me.
As I write, I am sitting in bed listening to Mark breath. If he gets quiet, I sometimes will watch to make sure the covers are still rising and falling. I’m up early, because an hour ago I awoke to him walking over to the bathroom rather than using the bedside commode. I watched him get to the bathroom door, start to open it, start to sway and tip as he clutched the door frame. I made it to him just in time to catch him as he fell straight back. I guided him down onto the carpet until it was safe for him to get back up, go to the toilet, and then back to bed.
We all have to figure out how to manage our fears. Meditation apps, yoga, walking for some. Binging on Netflix shows. Praying. Calling friends. Cleaning. Cooking. Avoidance. Learning. There’s no right or wrong to any of it. We all just have to keep doing our best. Finding a way. I think we can.