There are many different ways that roles are established in a relationship. But early in my relationship with J., my dog’s first encounter with a porcupine defined ours. Yes, my beloved first born, Grover, greeted a porcupine at the park. Bad mistake. After the encounter, he looked something like this:
J. and I couldn’t have reacted more differently. As soon as I saw him, I started crying, while Grover’s stepmother, J., leashed him, took him to the car, and drove to the vet, where I spent $400 on quill removal. From that point on, our roles were clear: I’d fall apart in a crisis while J. would be crisis manager.
Our roles remain to this day. When we go through a stressful time, J. is calm and collected and moves us through. I cry. Of course, I just cry so J. will feel competent and needed, as I’m sure she knows.
So let’s say this past week one of us has needed to cope. My leg is swollen for reasons unknown, and my blood counts are perplexing even to my all-knowing doctors. When I saw Dr. Blood yesterday, she decided she’d need to assess my bone marrow. No biggie, I whimpered. I’ve had it done before, just a little needle poke to answer some nagging questions. It’ll be a breeze, don’t you think?
I’ve been a teeny bit stressed by this recent upheaval while J. has been her usual calm self. How does she do it? She manages to support me through my medical ups and downs while having to manage her own life and her feelings and reactions at the same time. Does she even have time to focus on herself? Not much. Something great happened to her at work on Monday, and I was so consumed with myself that she didn’t even mention it until Tuesday. I feel crummy about that.
I feel bad about a lot of things with J., and I’ve often told her I regret what I’ve saddled her with. Our life with cancer was not her choice. And, thinking back to that porcupine, I was needy enough before cancer. Imagine me now! So in a brief texting exchange this morning–God forbid J. should have 8 workday hours off Annie duty–I apologized for the hard week. And she responded: “If you’d just stop having cancer.” Touché, J. And she’s right: I didn’t make myself utterly irresistible to her knowing I’d get cancer. And I didn’t choose this cancer thing any more than she did.
I try to imagine what being a caregiver is like because I so rarely am now. Sure, I may be supportive with clients or with friends, and as much as I can with J., but on a day-to-day basis, more often than not, J. is supporting me. I’d hope that were she the sickie, I’d step up to the plate. Believe it or not, when I was on my own, I was fairly good in a crisis. Were Grover still here, he’d vouch for me.