“I had a dream
last night about water,” my mother says as we dice
cantaloupe and brew our morning coffee. “I woke up with
Depends, but last night her protection failed. To any
passerby, she appears to be a vigorous eighty-year-old;
but they don’t see her falling, an almost weekly
occurrence. When we walk together, I try to
anticipate the cracks and dips in the pavement and warn
her so she doesn’t trip. I keep night-lights on all day
in my dark hall when she visits. No matter what I do,
she still tumbles. She lands with the grace of a bird,
as if her bones are filled with air. I hold my breath
while I watch the scene unfold like a slow motion sports
we get ready to pick up my husband from his chemotherapy
treatment. He has colon cancer and he is about to finish
treatment number four out of 12.
I’m also a cancer
survivor, but now I’m learning about what it’s like to
be a caregiver. So far, I think being the patient is
easier, but I would hate to have to go through chemo
My mother always
requires advance warning before we leave the house.
First, she needs to find her glasses and her purse. Then
she needs to apply her signature coral lipstick and
spray her silver hair. She is now ready.
When we enter the
sunny chemo room, Alice the nurse folds me into a hug.
She flits from patient to patient, like a hummingbird,
taking blood pressures and temperatures. She gossips and
laughs with her patients, always monitoring the bags of
rainbow-hued liquid that will make some of them sicker
before they can get well.
My husband dozes
in his recliner as the chemicals pump into his veins.
Soon a beep sounds, signifying this treatment is over
and it’s time to go home. I notice the hem of his polo
shirt is wet.
“It’s a long,
disgusting story,” he says. He looks down at his
running shoes and rubs his left heel over the toe of his
right shoe. “I’ll tell you about it later.” I know not
to ask any more questions.
At home, while my
mother talks on the phone, he tells me that his ostomy
bag accidentally unlatched while he was in the bathroom.
“Shit spilled all
over the bathroom floor and splashed on my shoes. I had
to rinse my pants out in the toilet bowl; the sink was
way too small.”
I picture him in
the tiny bathroom maneuvering his IV pole while he
cleans up the mess.
“It took me so
long, I was surprised no one banged on the door.”
Now I understand
why his shirt hem was wet. It soaked up the moisture
from his navy blue drip-dry pants.
evening, I pause in my laundry room, debating over whose
bodily wastes to attend to first.
My mother will
need her sheets and nightgown soon, and besides, she
discretely stashed the evidence in the machine, ready to
go. My husband’s dark clothes can wait until later.
I catch myself
giggling as I walk down the hall.
funny?” My husband calls out from the living
room where he and my mother watch TV.
I wish I could
share the joke. “Life is what’s funny,” I tell them,
continuing to laugh. Maybe I’ll cry later. But for now,
I relish the irony, recognizing the parallel accidents
that have befallen two people I love dearly, and that
must remain a secret from one another.
I measure out the
soap while I imagine my husband’s and mother’s puzzled
expressions. I can’t make out their conversation as the
washing machine whirls into action. Knowing they are
united by their love for me brings me joy, especially
As long as I’m
able to laugh, I think I’ll get by. I’m one of the lucky
Later, I get
ready for bed, hoping I won’t have to go through the
same exercise again tomorrow.
likely bring new unanticipated tests, challenging my
ability to tumble, like my mom, without breaking my
bones or to respond to an emergency like my husband,
without having to wear poop on my shoes.
Beyatte became a cancer survivor in 2003. She created
and produced the program, Cancer in So Many Words, whose
mission is to empower cancer survivors to use the
written word to express themselves. Marcie’s essays have
appeared in the Contra Costa Times and The East Bay
Monthly as well as the soon-to-be-published
anthology,”Voices of Breast Cancer.”Her husband is now
thriving after finishing treatment for colon cancer. She
can be reached at
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