Every moment

“Well it’s good news. Your PSA level remains low, which means your prostate cancer is all under control!” I said to the elderly gentleman in front of me. He was nearing ninety years old, but still amazingly mentally sharp. He smiled at me, but blankly. There was just the moment of awkward pause, and then I’m not sure why I asked, in a much less jubilant tone, “How is everything else?”

“Well,” he hesitated for a little. “To tell you the truth, my wife passed away a month ago.”

My heart sank with his. “I’m so sorry to hear that…” And I was. I’m sure it is excruciatingly hard. To lose what has essentially become a part of you. To be living alone again, to go through life with a pair less of eyes. What does it all mean, and how does everything matter now?

“We would have been married for sixty two years end of this year.”

“…You must miss her a lot.”

“Oh,” he gasped, “I miss her every moment,” and his voice trembled at the end.

On the way out I felt like giving this elderly gentleman a hug. I won’t know fully what he was going through, but sometimes I catch a glimpse, or two, I really do think. Some people and too many pop songs say you don’t know what you have until you lose it — but I disagree.

But sixty two years. I haven’t even lived half that long.

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The story of J

This is the story of J, who was only a year older than me. She had one eye that she couldn’t open, and legs that she could barely move. Cancer had made her numb from the waist down too. Chemotherapy made her bald, and radiotherapy made her memory poor. She gave frequent smiles, but she also let off frequent sighs. With her poor memory, often she asked for “everything” to be explained to her again. Then she would break down and cry when she was told that she was in hospital, that her breast cancer had spread.

She had a 4 year old son, who had been under the care of her ex-partner. Her little boy became the focus of her thoughts, and she kept telling us everyday that she wanted to spend as much time as possible with him. “I don’t want him to forget me,” she told us, “I want to make many good memories with him, take many nice photos, so that he can remember me. I don’t want him to forget me.

But they had not visited her very often when she had been in hospital. Her ex-partner’s car had been deregistered, so they had to take public transport to visit, which was difficult. She felt lonely in the single room in the hospital, isolated because she had antibiotic-resistance bugs. As much as she missed her little boy, she didn’t have a photo of him to keep by her side. She didn’t even have a camera that works. She lost the charger a long time ago. The house that she wanted to return to wasn’t hers too. It was a crisis centre run by the Salvation Army for the homeless. Sometimes my heart would break with hers, and I would ponder how it came to this stage for her.

One day finally her ex-partner and their little boy came to visit. I knelt to say hi to their son. He was running around and trying to climb up the hospital bed. I shook his hand and he said to me, “I wum getting my ears fixed!!” while pointing at his ears. She explained that he was getting grommets inserted soon.

Together with her ex-partner, she asked if she could go home on the weekend. “Hospital is prison,” she said, and I understood well. But as much as I wanted to, the physiotherapy team had declared her unsafe, when she could barely transfer from chair to bed with her weak and numb legs. The hospital couldn’t lend them a wheelchair, and they couldn’t rent one because they had no car.

I felt so sorry when I said I couldn’t authorise her weekend leave. Once again, she felt the whole world was against her. Her heart turned bitter by a little more.

Later he wheeled her downstairs to the hospital lobby. He said she was going to have a smoke, but silently they caught a taxi headed home. And so together, in these last periods of her life, they made a little adventure and escaped hospital.

* * * *

Read the rest of this entry…

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They were a young couple with futures still unwritten, not married but liking each other, like how most love stories start — a girl and a guy who met in cosmopolitan Sydney. The girl had wanted to move back to Melbourne, to where she grew up, but in the midst of this, the guy was hit out of the blue with a diagnosis of cancer that has shown early spread to the rest of his body. The disease was beyond cure, and his cancer will undoubtedly hold claim on his life, sooner or later. In their romanticism (and surely other reasons too) he decided to pack his life and move southwest to Melbourne together to spend the rest of his days, however long, with his girl.

Yet his disease progressed faster than anyone had feared for. Shortly after the move he deteriorated from being a capable young man — whom you wouldn’t know had cancer without him telling you — to a chair-bound, frail man incongruent for his age, chipped away by pain and multiple lines of cancer treatment. His only place to stay in Melbourne outside hospitals was his girlfriend’s place, and she in her young age took up caring for him day after day.

But then, what were her options and their implications? In wheeling him into hospital for specialist appointments after appointments, managing his host of medications several times a day, helping him with personal hygiene and even toileting at home, I wondered, with all respect, how she coped with this emotionally and rationally in her mind. What were the thoughts crossing her mind — how many were questions and how many were answers; how much were focused on the present and how much spilled into the future — when inevitably the guy would no longer be around, and how much ventured with feelings even beyond that? Or what went through the guy’s mind, for that matter? I cannot even imagine. Truly too, I don’t think anyone other than the couple knows.

There are (too) many fictional love stories where the girl or guy develops cancer in a bitter(-sweet) plot device, but this is a story from real life.

The guy passed away a few weeks ago.

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