It's November and I am sitting at my computer sorting through my inbox as a new email pops up. It's Jack, a former group member, with one of his infrequent but poignant emails, updating me on his health status, catching me up on his life, his thoughts, his grief, and his healing.
Jack was a member of an online support group for men with cancer that I facilitated. When I first "met" him, he was facing a recurrence of prostate cancer, had recently lost his job, was living alone, and feeling isolated but, as he put it, "incredibly unlucky in every way."
Despite all that was going wrong, he remained committed to the hope for better days to come, for the cancer to be contained (a PSA of "0" was his goal), for a new job to come along, for someone to love and to love him in return. Because he'd had prostate surgery, erectile dysfunction was a significant issue in his life, and because he was on hormone therapy (ADT), he was dealing with emasculating side-effects. The combination of the two, in addition to the cancer diagnosis itself (not to mention being out-of-work), made him feel fairly certain that he would never find a partner, but he continued to "drink his cup of awe each morning," searching for something brighter on the horizon.
Jack was an active, sensitive, and supportive group member. He shared the hard feelings and thoughts that he was facing even as he strove to end each post with a "positive spin." When he began talking about his loneliness and the desire to find a partner in his life, the other men in the group rallied around him and urged him to start dating. He chose an online dating service and "met" several women, most of whom, as he feared, were turned off or overwhelmed by his circumstances. We held our collective breath time and again as we awaited word on how one email exchange or another might be going.
Until, he met Lynn...
Lynn was a shy, lonely woman who liked his photo on the dating Website and didn't care that he had advanced prostate cancer. She'd managed to escape from a violent relationship and wanted to be with someone gentle. For Lynn, Jack's ED was a blessing. She didn't want to be afraid of what a new man might do to or demand from her. Jack was utterly safe.
They took things "slowly" and fell in love. The day he got his miraculous "0" PSA reading, she was there, with a bright orange t-shirt she had made, a huge black "0" printed on it. She supported him through the ups and downs of job hunting in a tough economy and with a cancer diagnosis, and she was there to celebrate with him when he finally landed a position. They traveled together. They talked about marriage "when she was ready," but she just wasn't ready... And then, Lynn had a seizure.
She was diagnosed with a brain tumor, Glioblastoma, Stage 4. And though she tried to "set him free," Jack was by her side for the three months that she lived, through a round of treatment that didn't touch the cancer, through hospitalizations and physical breakdowns. He was working, dealing with his own medical follow-up. The last time that she went in to the hospital, he stayed with her night and day until she pulled through a set-back that might have been her last. As she recovered and the team helped her make plans to transition to hospice care at home, he was there.
And then, she told him that she was ready, and he was there...
They were married in the hospital chapel, a wedding complete with white gown, tuxedo, groomsmen, bridesmaids, decorations, flowers, a cake, family, friends, and a hospital staff in tears.
Lynn died a month later, and every year, I receive a moving email update from Jack. He's still drinking that "cup of awe" each morning, counting his blessings. He says: "Even though cancer was an unstoppable force in our lives, Lynn made me complete."