I don’t cry pretty. When my eyes leak, snot immediately oozes from my nose in sudden sympathy and I’m mess within seconds. Which explains why I had to turn the vehicle off onto a side road that crisp Saturday morning whilst driving down the Silverado Trail in Napa, California’s wine country.
Somehow, I’d ended up in the middle of a foot race, and I saw a group of runners sporting the purple Team in Training bibs and t-shirts running in solidarity down the road in front of me. I knew all about Team in Training—I’d signed up to train and run just over a month before.
The purple shirts made my eyes sprout tears. By the time I had pulled off the road, I could no longer see. I reached blindly towards the glove box in the borrowed vehicle and hoped that the owners were the kind of people that kept tissue or unused napkins from fast-food drive-throughs on hand.
Bingo! I thought as I grabbed a wad of napkins and tried to clean up my face. I didn’t have time to wallow in self-pity beside the road. Pedro needed his meds, and the closest pharmacy with the fastest service happened to be a 45-minute drive from his brother’s house (where we were staying so that Pedro could see an oncologist and schedule the initial surgeries and chemo because our small-town only had one oncologist at the time, and Pedro wanted a second opinion and someone with experience in his type of cancer).
Usually, Folgers commercials set me off (I was pregnant during the first Gulf War and their poignant (but cheesy) commercials of soldiers coming home and surprising their parents with a cup of freshly brewed Folgers brought me to tears—both then and now). Now, evidently, Team in Training jerseys could do the trick.
Maybe the whirlwind weeks leading up to my breakdown over purple t-shirts contributed to the situation. In three short weeks Pedro had morphed from a fun-loving elementary school teaching-principal with a sore shoulder to a pain-wracked zombie with a huge lump on his neck (the lymphoma cells multiplied at a dizzying speed).
I’d lost track of our children for days on end (they were with family friends…I think), I couldn’t remember the last good night’s sleep I’d had, and my medical vocabulary had increased exponentially overnight. We had also celebrated Sarah’s eighth birthday with a party (complete with creating sock-puppets, staging a puppet show and making a homemade birthday cake). Organizing doctor’s appointments and researching non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma ate up all my spare time between my full-time teaching job.
I had held myself together for as long as I could, but something about those strangers, raising money and racing to support the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society brought me to tears. After blubbering in the anonymous bubble of the truck cab for fifteen minutes, I slowly pulled back on to the road and looked for the closest cross-road that would get me off of the race course. I couldn’t risk seeing more runners—which would probably make me cry again, and the glove box was out of napkins, which meant I would have to use my socks to clean my face up before I went into the pharmacy. Nothing’s ickier than wearing running shoes without socks.
Come to think of it, what’s really icky is the overwhelming sensation of a loved one’s unexpected cancer diagnosis (after all, Pedro’s shoulder hurt—that should mean a sports injury, not cancer, right?).
That drive to town was the first time I had been alone in over two weeks. If you’re a new cancer caregiver (or under stress of any kind) I highly recommend some quality alone time on a regular basis. Find someone to watch your kids, your loved one, your family or whatever is preventing you from time alone and grab that time alone. Have a good cry. Listen to music as loudly as you want, go for a hard run—anything to help you get your head back in the game. If you’re not feeling healthy, how can you care for someone who is sick?
By the time I reached the pharmacy, I felt purged and ready to put on my game face. We were in it to win it and I didn’t have time for more tears. Of course, I chose a different route home to stay off the racecourse. Just in case.