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Bearing the Unbearable Together

By Hal Potts, member

That room. I couldn’t believe I was sitting in that room in Gilda’s Club. I learned about Gilda’s Club six years ago when my best friend Danny developed brain cancer and died six months later.  I had set up a CaringBridge website for him and three years later, to my complete shock my own wife Trish would be diagnosed with a very aggressive form of Stage IV terminal metastatic breast cancer. We were told it was very unlikely that she would be alive in three years. I could not fit that thought into my mind, much less say it out loud.

We joined Gilda’s Club immediately and have both been attending group meetings every Monday night for three years now. We have learned that most people we know care very much about us and are very well intentioned in their remarks and concerns. But the only people that can really understand what we are going through are the people in that room. That’s why we keep going back every week.

Trish and I have been very lucky. Thanks to her amazing doctors and about two hundred doctor visits she has been able to lead a fairly normal life for most of the last three years and still teaches school.

My view of life has changed considerably. I am much more acutely aware of how precious our time is together and I try hard to be with her as much as I can in every way. I don’t get mad about who vacuumed the floor last or who cleans the kitchen.

The truth is that people treat you differently when they learn you have cancer. And that’s weird. Sometimes they want to be helpful by offering you the latest celebrity book about the Acai berry that cures cancer. They tell you about Aunt Caroline who had cancer and drank ionized water.  An employer might throw an over-the-top  birthday party with three cakes and huge banners and employees you have never met before, and you know it’s because you have cancer. They’ll talk about how wonderful it is that there is pink yogurt now. It can be very strange and very difficult to deal with and can seem borderline crazy at times. Very few people understand how that feels except for those people in that room at Gilda’s Club.

We’ve learned about the many misconceptions that people have about cancer. Like if you just fight hard enough you will win. If you are just brave enough you will win. It will all be okay because I know you are a fighter. You are strong. Banish all negativity in your life and your cancer will shrink.  Pray the cancer away. It would be great if these were true, but the reality is they are not. Gilda’s has helped us come to terms with that. It is not a fast process. It takes some time.  I can now say things that were absolutely unthinkable to me three years ago. We could never have gotten there without the love and support of our friends in that room.

Most of dealing with cancer on a day to day real-life basis is up to you to figure out on your own.  What do I do with my life now that I know it will be shorter than I thought? What is really important.? What really matters? Who will I be without my loving partner of 28 years in my life? Not easy questions. And you can’t figure it out on your own.

We laugh and we cry and it’s hard and it’s ridiculous and it’s absurd and it’s unbearable and yet we must bear it, all at the same time. I don’t know how I will come through it all, but I do know that Gilda’s will continue to be a big part of it. Because we need those hugs “behind the red door;” and that room.