Brain Cancer: Like it or not, change is constant

You’d think I’d be used to flexing with change by now. I’ve lived with the chronic illness Lupus for three decades, adapting as its challenges shifted. As a biologist, I understand that change drives life: we change as we grow from birth through childhood, adulthood, middle and old age, and on through the transition we call death. We continue to change even when our physical lives end.

I understand the nature of change intellectually, and I’ve had a fair number of years to experience it. But the speed of the daily change in this journey Richard and I are walking with his brain cancer is staggering–and exhausting. Every day brings some new thing to figure out, adapt to, bend with, integrate…

Since we returned from our “honeymoon” trip two and a half weeks ago, Richard has gone from often walking strongly using a cane to dragging his left leg and left arm as if he’s had a stroke. (The glioblastoma multiforme, the tumor that’s spread throughout his right hemisphere, is apparently injuring his right brain’s ability to communicate with his left side, much like what can happen with a stroke.)

He’s gone from shaving and showering himself to letting me do the shaving in order to save his dwindling energy for his shower. Some days, fitting a button into a buttonhole is a challenge, as is remembering sequences like whether you put the blinds up in the morning or pull them down, whether you put on your pajamas when you get out of bed or take them off…


This week, we’ve had the gift of a visit from our friend Grand Pound, executive director of Colorado Art Ranch, a non-profit that engages the arts and other ways of thinking to illuminate community issues as diverse as nurturing agriculture in Hayden, exploring sexual identity in Trinidad, and rehabilitating abandoned mines in Lake City. Grant long ago volunteered to serve as Richard’s apprentice.

The time didn’t go the way any of us imagined, though the guys enjoyed each other and engaged in thoughtful discussions on art and life. (That’s Grant and Richard in the photo above, over dinner at the inlaid steel table Richard designed for a gallery exhibition a couple of years ago.)

Monday morning, they discovered that one of Richard’s most important sculpting tools, his water grinder, needed repair, and that the studio needed some cleaning and organizing. So Richard napped while Grant cleaned. Tuesday, Grant took Richard to visit a local machinist to discuss parts, and then Grant organized while Richard napped. Wednesday Grant helped Richard locate and order parts on the internet, and then Richard napped…

This morning, the guys sat in the sun in the living room and talked. And then while Richard napped, Grant, bless his heart, moved and stacked the cord and a half of firewood that had been blocking access to Richard’s outdoor rock saw so that when he returns, he and Richard can get their hands on a big rock.

At lunch, after Grant had left, Richard said, “Brain cancer sucks.”

“Yup,” I said, and scooted around the table to wrap my arms around him. Tears dripped from his eyes.

“What brings that to mind at this moment?” I asked after a while.

“Nothing in particular,” he said, and then his eyes strayed to the list of replacement parts for the water grinder. “Once that would have been a simple, straightforward project.”

“And now it’s not,” I said.

“And now it’s not,” he agreed. After a moment, he added, “But I consider myself a fortunate guy: I have your love and companionship.”

“You always will,” I said. “Even when we’re no longer together physically, you’ll still have my love.”

“And you’ll have mine.”

That’s one thing that change will not alter.

As the days grow shorter and the nights longer, as autumn’s golden leaves fall to winds that smell of snow, as I struggle to keep my balance on the shifting ground in this journey with Richard’s brain cancer, our love endures. That’s a comfort.