Monday, September 28, 2009

Hoops Are Cathartic

On TV, cancer patients are forever clinging to shiny white toilet bowls, their hair slick with sweat and matted to their foreheads. The person's overwhelming anxiety and depression are dealt with through a late night game of hoops. The dribbling will awaken someone else in the house, a fundamental character in the story necessary to facilitate conversation. Because she is fundamental, she will pull on a sweatshirt and some slippers and make her way outside. From a distance, she quietly watches the bounce, bounce, stop, and shoot of the first player for just a moment or two before asking him to pass the ball. He is startled at first to see her standing there, but then seems relieved that someone else is awake and with him now, as if his thoughts are too much for him to handle by himself. He passes her the ball. They are quiet, playing ball, the two of them, under the milky light of the moon. Neither one talks until, after a while, they are both exhausted, sweaty and out of breath. They will sit down on the side of the driveway, and here, after reminiscing about playing basketball together that one time way back when, she will make a statement, one that sounds profound, something that a character would say on Lifetime. The other might seem resistant at first to talk, but then decides it's late, and late at night, when time seems to be frozen, is the best time to talk about such things. The whole thing will be cathartic, and then they will go inside to eat chocolate chip cookies...

We don't have a basketball hoop, and I don't even know how to play Horse. So when I see that Alan is struggling, I encourage him to go to a support group. I imagine that I would enjoy such a thing, a group of people all brought together to share stories in an open, welcoming circle. Alan is not particularly hammy and does not enjoy the spotlight like that, but since I can't offer him a late night game of hoops, I encourage him to attend. It takes a bit of convincing on my part to get him to go. His surgeon has found one close by that meets on Fridays, and when he tells me about it, I am glad. He'll be able to meet and talk with other people in similar situations, maybe they will take turns bringing in cookies like at that one AA meeting I once followed a friend too. They will share stories of hope and discuss the resiliency of the human spirit. They can offer him the cathartic talk I can't.

Alan cuts into my daydream. "It's called Living with Dying," he says.

I try not to react, try not to undo the convincing and cajoling I had done to get him to agree to go in the first place. But inside I think, Maybe this is a bad idea. I had convinced him to go to a support group with a name that screamed "You Might As Well Get It Over With." When he went to his first meeting on Friday, I wondered if I shouldn't go check on him, make sure they weren't handing out pints of Jim Beam and shotguns.

14 comments:

Whitney Lee said...

Well, how did it go?
I can't imagine your struggle, but it sounds as if you take your role as supportive cheerleader very seriously. And as supportive as you can be you cannot change reality. Perhaps he was able to walk away having gotten something good out of the meeting. I would say good for you for biting your tongue and not backpedalling. I would guess it's one of those things you don't know if you don't try.

2busy said...

"Living with Dying" Really? Why can't they call it something more positive like Dying to Live?

I don't know...Just sayin'

Little T said...

2busy is onto something. I would think it would draw in more people than the current group name. How about starting his own blog as an outlet?

I'm Kim, by the way said...

I don't know. I'm a "bull by the horns" kind of gal and I sort of like the name of the group. We're all dying, right? Some folks have just been through circumstances that force them to acknowledge how close to the line they were. For a time, at least, the patients are forced to live with the prospect of dying, whehter or not they are dying in a medical sense. I don't know. I'm babbling. But I know that you're a truly wonderful person for Alan to have in his life, and a fantastic writer.

Sobrina Tung said...

It went ok, I think... He came home and told me that in the group they discussed how it was important for them to satisfy immediate needs at this time in their life. Then he told me that his immediate need was not to talk about it.

Kim, I always enjoy your babbling!

2busy, I know what you mean.

Little T, he actually doesn't like blogs. (Although who knows why not???) haha

MunkyBt said...

"Living With Dying"... Is it a wrong assumption that this group isn't just for cancer patients? If it is just for people like Alan, "Living With Cancer" would make more sense. I could somewhat understand "Living With Dying" if the group is open to all people battling other life-threatening illnesses. Regardless, I'd hate to be the poor sap who has to name groups like that. There is just no single good name that would satisfy everyone. If it were my job, I would name groups after things that have absolutely no meaning, like the "Banana & Pickles Group", or the "My Little Pony Group", or "The Group To Be Named In The Year 2000". Stuff like that.

MunkyBt said...

...and I just realized why I can't think of a name for my blog. LOL.

Sobrina Tung said...

I would totally be in the Bananas and Pickles group. That group sounds like it means business! : )

Daniella said...

Personally, unless he has been given a diagnosis that would fit that bill, I would think it might be worth looking into other groups.

My husband had cancer but he was diagnosed as terminal and we went forward and dealt with that diagnosis. It sounds like a group called Living with Dying is more geared towards people in that category.

Your post a while back about Alan's remission/recovery chances didn't give the impression he was in such a group.

I think the idea of a support group is a great thing, but like anything else, seems like it needs to be a good fit too.

And really, I know we are all dying as another of your readers pointed out, but sick people who are given poor/terminal diagnoses really have a unique and quite different set of needs from people who are ill but having success with curative measures.

I wish you both the best!

Lyndsay said...

I agree with Daniella... unless you're absolutely, positively within that diagnostic category I find that title rather grim. Sure, we'll all get there someday, but I'm thinking a bit more rainbows and sunshine might be needed.
Sobrina - your basketball analogy is spot-on. I had to laugh!

Lynz said...

my family and i attended a support group when my dad was sick...it's amazing how much it helps just to be around people who are experiencing the same thing. i'm sure there is a support group for loved ones of cancer patients that you could join as well.

Julia, IBSSG said...

Daniella is wise.

Around here, the names of support groups are much simpler: "Cancer Support Group" and the like.

To someone in Alan's position, I'm sure everything underscores his diagnosis - lines he unexpectedly finds in songs he's heard 100 times, TV ads about soup, the decision whether or not to start reading a really long book. When I was staying with my friend with renal cancer and driving him where he needed & wanted to go (this is the man who started his own support group), I could see that it really got to him if I drove past a cemetery on our way somewhere. It can be tricky.

At least Alan will probably meet others who are clinically much worse off than he is and glean some comfort from that. However, if his prognosis doesn't warrant this group's mission or he doesn't bond to the other members, then he should look for another group. Surely his oncologist or counselor can help direct him.

"...Then he told me that his immediate need was not to talk about it..." He still has a sense of humor, dark as it might get. Actually, he may never want to talk about what happens in any group with you. My friend told me about his group and the members, whom he developed a deep affection for, but never about their conversations.

Sobrina Tung said...

Hi Julia,
He is going to try a new group next week. I hope your friend is doing better!

Shaista said...

It's funny, I have never joined a group for people with Lupus, or chronic illness... I've just steered my own way. It's more fun your own way, charting your own course, bowling your own hoops.

Your writing is, as always, brilliant, evocative and lit from within.

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