Saturday, March 11, 2017

Tears ... and the Angry Inch

Wednesday night we went to see the touring production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. It was a compelling night of theater and I liked the music, but it was such an angry story -- my favorite quote from Hedwig is, “It’s the direction of the aggression that defines the act” -- that I can't say I enjoyed it. I do know that I have been thinking about it a great deal.

But it wasn't the play that made the night memorable. It was my friend, Barb. As we had dinner before the show, she unexpectedly broke down. She and her husband are getting closer to putting their home here in Chicago on the market, their new home in Hilton Head is just about done  ... and John is still battling two forms of cancer. Every three weeks he goes to Northwestern Hospital for treatments.

What's more, she has two surgeries of her own scheduled before they move: an operation on her left eye and reconstructive surgery after her own battle with cancer. Additionally, her feet are bothering her, and it turns out she has arthritis which "could" require surgery in the future.

"I worry about what's going to happen to John," she said between tears. I didn't ask her to elaborate because I knew what she meant: he's dying. When he was diagnosed back in September, his first doctor told him he had six months. That was six months ago. His new medical team said they "don't look at cancer treatment that way," and that he's been "responding" to medication. But both she and John know he's never going to get better. He gets winded so easily that he cannot climb even a flight of stairs on his own. And yet they are going to pack up everything they own and drive 950 miles to South Carolina.

She did articulate that she's worried about their medical care. Northwestern is the #1 hospital in Chicago for cancer treatment, and it's been ranked in the top 10 nationwide. Not only is John's cancer team there, so is Barb's. The oncologist who oversaw her mastectomy less than a year ago is also at Northwestern. I told her that Hilton Head has a big retirement community and there must be good doctors nearby. She was skeptical and, frankly, I don't believe what I said, either. I know someone in Key West who has to drive (now, be driven) 150 miles to Miami for care. Major metropolitan areas have their advantages, and big hospitals are among them.

The poor woman has so much on her mind. Packing up her home. Selling her home. Overseeing the construction of her home in another state. Her vision. Her feet. Her cancer. His cancer. And, living in a new town when his health deteriorates.

I didn't tell her everything would be fine. I didn't want to insult her. Instead, I told her that, under the circumstances, feeling overwhelmed completely rational. I told her I'll always be here to listen and give her a hug. She smiled sadly and said she could foresee a time in the not so distant future when I'll be living her with her in her new big house. She imagined us as two retired ladies in Hilton Head, playing nine holes of golf and then having dinner at 4:30 in the afternoon.


  1. Such a fight, those last few months of cancer. I'm sending a hug to pass along to your friends.

  2. It seems strange that Barb and her husband are clinging to their new home and the move when it seems more sensible to stay.