We walked towards the hospital exit doors. We left behind the patient beds, normal days, and life, as we knew it. We pushed open the hospital door, exited and entered the second gate of Werner’s Run, denial.

“Why did you tell her that I have cancer?” Werner sat at the long kitchen table looking at me as if I told a lie.

I had just said good-bye to my mother who telephoned to ask the results of the endoscope. I told her that the endoscope results were malignant.

Incredulous that he asked me such a question, I stood at the end of the kitchen table with my mouth hanging open…angry, stunned, speechless.

He wasn’t finished… “I don’t want my staff, the kids or the club members to know. I can handle this by myself. No need to make a fuss over it.”

Classic Werner, a stoic Swiss. He expects us to go on as usual and pretend that cancer has not entered our home. Am I to keep this a secret? I realize we are both in shock, but he can’t ask me to deny that we are walking down an unknown and frightening path. I am all too aware of his need to keep all things private, emotions, and what he accomplishes, but this confrontational question and request for secrecy is unacceptable.

Holding back tears, I said, “My love, you are going to lose your hair. How will you explain that to your staff and family?”

Without looking up, he sipped his tea. I sat down next to him. We didn’t touch or speak. In that long tortuous silence, I began to realize, when cancer strode across our home’s threshold, it brought with it other baggage containing its own set of psychological, emotional and spiritual rules. I knew if Werner left the table now and walked out the door enclosed in his usual silence, a wedge would develop between us. Shocked, stunned, sad, whatever I felt or he felt, we had to communicate right then or an unhealthy stoic silence would set the standard throughout this fight. I prayed, please don’t leave the table. Cancer without physical treatment will multiply, fester, and finally kill. Denial has the same possibility to kill us.

Smothered in the silence, I waited. Finally, Werner said without looking up, “OK, you can tell your family, but no one else, not yet anyway. Give me some time. I will figure out how and when I tell my staff.”

“I respect that. One thing we cannot do is to hide.”

Relieved, I still tread softly, because, not only is he an emotionally private man, he carries on with whatever he does, without the need to talk about it.

“We need to put everything about this cancer on the table, so that Stefan, Jurg, family or friends won’t be afraid to ask a question, or talk about it with us. I need to talk about it. I can’t bottle it up. You know that people will want to offer help and encouragement. Helping will also be a comfort for family, friends, your staff, and your racers, because they care about you. What happens to you will emotionally affect others. Forcing my silence will build a barrier between you and me, our children, family and friends. How can we handle this challenge if we can’t speak about it?”

He took my hand in his and finally looked at me. “Just give me some time. I know this is hard for you. We’ll be ok.”

He kissed my cheek smudging my tears. I stood up, picked up his cup and put it in the dishwasher. He got up from the table, folded me in his arms, and said, “I love you. We’ll be Ok. I am going out for a bit.”

Tasting my tears, I smiled at him and whispered, “Ok.”

Together, we made it through the cancer’s second gate – denial.


1 Comment

  1. Martha says:

    This brings back so many memories, Carla. After my first husband was diagnosed with lung cancer, we told some people at the Unitarian Universalist Church where we belonged, and a few days later folks from the “Caring Committee” called to set up a home visit. My husband became so enraged that he resigned us from the church! Even though he was a psychiatrist who had helped many others cope with potentially fatal illness, his own rage and denial NEVER ended and he became impossible to live with. You apparently handled it much better than I did, and I’m eager to read your next installment. Martha


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