Author Archives: James McCleary

An Unexpected Journey (Part 11)

Radiation 3/31/20

A dozen down. Four more to go. Rhonda’s having her twelfth radiation treatment as I write this. Initially, the doctor presumed my lovely wife would require 20 treatments after her breast cancer surgery, but that number was quickly reduced to 16 soon after she started. Praise God! I’m not exactly sure why the reduction, but common sense assures me ’tis better to need less radiation than more radiation. Before treatments began, the doc did say Rhonda was a good candidate because she appeared to be healthy, and she was tall and thin. That was a bit of an ego boost that the missus has reminded me of more than once since then.

I am sitting in my car while Rhonda is enduring her treatment, as has been the norm for me the past couple of weeks. I’d certainly like to be inside the building, a little closer to my brave wife, but that just isn’t an option at this time with the coronavirus changing the ways businesses are conducted – medical facilities included. The missus has her temperature taken by a masked assistant each day before she is even allowed to enter the building. I realize precautionary measures must be taken in times like these, especially at healthcare centers, but I still wish I could be nearer to my wife instead of occupying space inside my Dodge Dart. (Don’t get me wrong – my baby blue Dart is one sweet ride, but it’s just not the same as being indoors to show Rhonda all my love and support.)

My wife’s radiation treatments are going quite well. No pain. No nausea. Only a tinge of swelling last week, but that is perfectly normal sayeth the doctor. The missus has also been more emotional and teary-eyed than usual, as of late – also normal since discontinuing her birth control pills, for health’s sake. In addition, Rhonda recently became weepy when simply picking up her prescription for Tamoxifen. The drug can prevent breast cancer from recurring and is specific to her body’s chemistry. I think it was a moment of astute awareness of the journey Rhonda has been on up to this point and the journey still up ahead that led to her emotions temporarily spilling over. I must admit I get extremely uncomfortable, although I try my best not to show it, whenever my lovely wife cries.

Boy, am I one to talk about emotions and crying. I truly wish I could say that I am the MAN in our relationship, but just last week, while pulling weeds in our front yard, I couldn’t even contain myself when listening to Kenny Rogers’ “She Believes In Me” on my portable discman. Anyway, our unexpected journey seems to be coming to a close. I think the love of my life and I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. Well, actually the Light has been with us the entire time.


An Unexpected Journey (Part 10)

Life On Hold (3/6/20)

Today, we’ll finally get to see my wife’s radiation doctor for the first time. You know the old adage “life goes on”? Well, that is not always true. Life is definitely on hold for me and the missus. I suppose technically life does go on, but Rhonda and I have been in a holding pattern since her breast cancer surgery in January. She needed time to mainly heal before radiation treatments could even be considered. We hope today’s consultation with the doc will offer some clarity for our future.

We are so thankful for the apparent outcome of Rhonda’s operation as she continues to heal. We are thankful to God for being next to us on this unexpected journey. God is not some indifferent entity in a galaxy far, far away. (I believe that’s a Star Wars reference – although I am not a fan of the beloved sci-fi saga. Sorry if I offend.) The one and only God is in the heavens indeed, but He’s also right beside us – and in our hearts if we let Him in. Of course, the wife and I are also extremely grateful for all the love and support, and the oodles of prayers on her (and my) behalf, from all the mere mortals down here.

Our life has been on hold because we truly cannot make any plans until Rhonda’s anticipated treatments are over. We should find out today when we can expect to resume our life together as we once knew it – the pre-cancer days, if you will. Cancer is incredibly inconvenient, to say the least. Pre-cancer we played tennis. Pre-cancer we planned on celebrating St. Paddy’s Day with family in Iowa. Instead, this March 17th, my corned beef and cabbage, my wife’s tasty Reuben sandwiches, and my world-renowned (not to brag) Guinness cake will have to remain in Arizona.

The missus has stated, repeatedly mind you, that she deserves to take a cruise when all this cancer nonsense is said and done. She is quick to then point out that she really doesn’t deserve it. I would have to argue that she certainly does! (The missus has even invited me to come along.) However, we still can’t plan a darned thing until we at least hear what the radiation doctor has to say. And do we really want to be saying “bon voyage” any time soon, with the coronavirus seemingly running rampant? In the meantime, I reckon my lovely wife and I will continue snuggling on the couch watching Hallmark movies, while our life is on hold.


An Unexpected Journey (Part 9)

Normal…Yet Better (2/12/20)

Normal…somewhat. That’s where life seems to be at this moment since today is my wife’s second day back to work, and I’m at Starbucks doing my thang. Yesterday, Rhonda worked about an eight-hour day, after taking a two week vacation (aka recuperating from breast cancer surgery). My hairstylist missus made it through the day, taking care of her clients’ hair-care needs, although afterwards her left armpit was extremely tender. It was sore enough to require an ice “pad” before bedtime. I fetched for my missus the cushy round pad, given to her by the nurse after surgery, many times throughout the evening.

I also made us dinner. That is not normal – at least it wasn’t until two weeks ago. I have been at my lovely wife’s beck and call since her operation – but only because that’s what I’ve insisted upon. I’m normally a pretty good guy within the realm of our holy matrimony, but now I’m a really good guy; I am more domestic, more attentive to Rhonda’s needs, and a little less about me, since her cancer diagnosis.

The familiar adage “don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” is absolutely true. Even though thankfully I still have Rhonda, I was forced to imagine, at least on some level, my life without her. Not interested!!! Therefore, I demand, whether we have one day left together or another few decades, that I’m a better husband from this point on.

I suppose life as the missus and I know it will never be the same, regardless. There’s that unavoidable anxiety when pondering the possible future “what ifs.” I will not dignify cancer by listing any of them here. Anyway, I think there’s a saying, “I have cancer, but cancer doesn’t have me.” Rhonda has lived this truth since her initial diagnosis. God has her!


An Unexpected Journey (Part 8)

The Caregiver (2/20/20)

The thought of solely taking care of my wife after her surgery (“in sickness and in health”) was a no-brainer for me. Acting as my bride’s caregiver was even appealing to me since I’d been looking forward to us spending a full two weeks together 24/7. But now I felt so helpless and inadequate as the newly discharged patient and I pulled into our driveway. Rhonda was pale, frail, and still quite high from the administered pain medication which was expected to last a good three days. She was also sick to her stomach from the anesthetic – as was evident when we were forced to pause midway through the garage so she could make good use out of her barf bag. The short distance from the car to the house became a worrisome saunter that lasted several minutes. It was difficult seeing my lovely wife so unsteady and fragile.

Once inside our safe haven, I cautiously positioned Rhonda into MY chair. Oh yes, I felt the comforts of my La-Z-Boy (aka the old gal) was the place for the missus to be at this time. Unfortunately, within a couple of minutes I needed to start all over and reposition my wife. I had spilt water on her, and a decent portion of my La-Z-Boy, so I had some sopping up to do. I had tried giving Rhonda a few sips of water through a straw (her first drink of anything since the night before) when I carelessly tilted the glass too dang far. I was extremely embarrassed by my untimely negligence, but hopefully the missus was still too hopped-up on drugs to remember that. Anyway, about three hours later it appeared as though “death” had finally left the building. My lovely wife was no longer pale, and she was beginning to act like her old self: scrolling through her phone. (That’s my Rhonda.)

Three weeks removed from her breast cancer surgery, Rhonda has not experienced much pain. Severe bruising and discoloration, yes. A twinge (as she calls them) every now and then, check. Two fairly sizable, itchy incisions, and one sporadically uncomfortable armpit area – presumably due to the removal of a lymph node, check and double check. But pain? No. This cancer ordeal has been a new experience for us, and I would not wish it on anyone, but we are both very grateful because we know Rhonda’s situation could be a whole lot worse. By now, you should know WHO we are thankful to and WHO is worthy of our praise!


An Unexpected Journey (Part 7)

Going Home (2/20/20)

Death. That’s how I would describe how Rhonda looked immediately after her breast cancer surgery. I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting…but certainly not that. Prior to the shock of seeing my wife in such a sad state, a hospital liaison had ushered me past several “rooms” divided only by long white curtains. The representative had also informed me, on the way to meet my missus, that she’d already be dressed and ready to go home. With a hesitant smile in tow, I slowly stepped into the appointed room. I intentionally entered the makeshift room in a gingerly fashion, as if playing a game of hide-and-go-seek, in order to playfully welcome my lovely wife back from unconsciousness. But she wasn’t there.

However, soon thereafter I spied the missus in a wheel-chair being pushed toward me. I mustered up another mischievous grin upon my worried mug, but Rhonda wasn’t having any of it. With a glum expression on her face, she simply shook her head from side to side. My faint smile dissipated as I attempted to decipher what my wife’s no actually meant. I had only a quick moment to contemplate because the attending nurse, even though seemingly compassionate, appeared all too eager to send us on our way. Post-Op instructions, an ice pack, and a barf bag were Rhonda’s parting gifts.

Before I knew it, I was driving home with “death” riding shotgun. I had never driven those familiar streets that slow before – hardly ever reaching the posted speed limit throughout the duration of the trip. But then I had never been so aware of the precious cargo I had onboard either until that exact moment in time. This drive home was similar to when we brought our newborn home from the hospital decades ago. In both instances, I found myself wondering, “What the hell, now?”


An Unexpected Journey (Part 6)

The OR Waiting Room (1/28/20)

Bad coffee. Numerous conversations. Concerned looks. An unwelcome guest. What are – nix that – I suppose this is more like a $100,000 Pyramid list than a Jeopardy question. So, the answer is “Things found in the OR waiting room.” My lovely wife is having breast cancer surgery…and I am here. I was one of only three people waiting, while our loved ones are being sliced and diced, just a few short minutes ago. But now there’s over a dozen anxiously awaiting family and friends occupying this OR waiting room. A place where everyone’s welcome. Well, apparently almost everyone.

A portly fellow, I’d say probably straddling the age of 40, was just surprised by a female visitor. Presumably she came to show support for him and his loved one, but the befuddled fella immediately asked, “What are YOU doing here?” The apparent “intruder” responded with something akin to being able to fit this stop into her hectic day before her 10:00 a.m. appointment elsewhere. My hunch is the portly one wished she wouldn’t have arrived at all, for he did not utter another word.

The intruder spoke non-stop (at a high decibel) for a good while, until she whipped out a sandwich from her purse and eagerly began ingesting. That was the only time the poor fellow had a little relief, except for when the one-sided conversationalist made good use of the coffee machine around the corner. I couldn’t help but laugh hysterically (on the inside) when the woman, returning from the coffee area, quipped, “I got decaf. I don’t think I need any more caffeine today.”

I’m glad I started this entry, this way. I think it has made time go a little faster during this waiting period. The waiting room’s message board shows that patient #517 entered the OR at 8:06 a.m. Number 517 is Rhonda, and it is now 9:24 a.m. My wife’s surgery time was estimated to be approximately 90 minutes. We are getting pretty (BREAKING NEWS – I just shot out of my chair after hearing the waiting room spokesperson, addressing those of us assembled in the room, softly say, “Jim?” Speaking of hearing, I guess the representative had said, “Jenny?” How embarrassing.) So, what I was trying to say before was that we are getting pretty close to that estimated time of 90 minutes.

I am thankful my mind has been preoccupied with this pen and paper in front of me, instead of being consumed with what’s happening to my lovely wife somewhere in this hospital. Rhonda has not had a broken bone or a torn anything, let alone a surgery of any type, in the 36 plus years we’ve been an item. This is a new experience for us both. As we’ve grown older, the missus and I are more about having experiences than receiving gifts. But this is NOT what we had in mind! It is what it is. Rhonda’s a trooper. I’ll have to deal with the situation the best I can. And God is good!


An Unexpected Journey (Part 5)

A Side Note (1/17/20)

On a side note, God is good! His timing is sometimes unexpected, sometimes surprising, but always precise. Besides Rhonda’s cancer situation, I’ve been thinking of something else lately – death. My lovely wife’s recent diagnosis ferociously awakened something inside of me that we are all very aware of, yet I hadn’t really thought about…until now. Mortality. My wife’s, mine, yours. This has been a lot to process in my mind alongside Rhonda having cancer.

I am not nearly as concerned with my mortality as I am with my loved ones’ earthly demise. I have been struggling a bit with the no longer dormant knowledge that the chances of losing several dear ones in my lifetime are extremely great. The fact of the matter is this: Whether a person lives to be two, one hundred and two, or somewhere in between – life on earth is microscopic in comparison to eternity. Pondering these thoughts got to be somewhat exhausting, but this is where God’s timing is no accident.

Yesterday – and I mean YESTERDAY – I was reading The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Truth In God by Dallas Willard when the following words, undoubtedly meant for me at this time, jumped off the pages: “So as we think of our life and make plans for it, we should not be anticipating going through some terrible event called ‘death,’ to be avoided at all costs even though it can’t be avoided. That is the usual attitude for human beings, no doubt. But, immersed in Christ in action, we may be sure that our life – yes, that familiar one we are each so well acquainted with – will never stop.”

The Christian author continues his take on the topic of death with, “How then are we to think about the transition? Failure to have a way of thinking about it is one of the things that continues to make it dreadful even to those who have every confidence in Jesus. The unimaginable is naturally frightening to us.” Mr. Willard then relays a superb picture as to what a Christ follower can expect when leaving his or her earthly body. The depicted, and I think comforting, scene is that of a woman who walks to a doorway between two rooms.

The author conveys, “While still interacting with those in the room she is leaving, she begins to see and converse with people in the room beyond, who may be totally concealed from those left behind. They come to meet us while we are still in touch with those left behind. The curtains part for us briefly before we go through.” Dallas Willard ends his enlightening view on the subject of death with this simple, yet profound statement: “It will be our birthday into God’s full world.” Just what I needed at this particular time in my life. Thank you, God!