You Must Be Brave

Published 2006, Guideposts Books

“You must be brave,” said my husband.” You must be brave, I thought; he must be kidding. The peril we faced suffocated me. Being brave was as far removed from me as the life we knew and the future fast slipping from our grasp. Where would I find how to be brave in the midst of this nightmare?

Werner’s oncologist appointment ended staggering us with the Stage III Esophageal Cancer diagnosis at the stomach junction. The treatment protocol included months of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, followed by a radical partial esophagectomy, the likes of which I can’t begin to understand. Brave, I wasn’t brave, and I was numb.

Eighteen years ago, Werner and I sat for several anxious hours in the well-used hospital waiting room chairs while our son underwent neurosurgery to remove a brain tumor. Three years later, we repeated the same anxious wait while our son’s neurosurgeon removed a second brain tumor. Now Werner and I are forced to take our seats in tiny exam rooms where the fight for Werner’s life begins

Exhausted after the long day of hospital appointments, we headed for the exit doors, but I didn’t see the exit doors, instead, I saw flashbacks of our son’s battle with brain tumors and neurosurgeries merging with Werner’s cancer fight. My emotions went down like a sinking ship so I lagged behind before I followed him out the doors to the sidewalk under the noisy portico. When I thought I looked upbeat, I weaved my way around the people streaming in and out of the swinging doors until I walked directly behind him. We took only a few steps in this position when he stopped so abruptly I almost bumped into him. Ignoring the people walking around us he turned, faced me, and placed his hands on my shoulders. I looked up at him surprised by his uncharacteristic public display but the determination written in his eyes captured my utmost attention. And then his words “You must be brave,” pierced my heart.

As abruptly as he stopped me under the portico, he dropped his hands from my shoulders, turned from me, and walked down the sidewalk. Did I respond to his request? I must have said yes, I will be brave. Of course, I said yes. I don’t know if I said yes. I don’t know what I said or if I said anything at all. I stood there staring I clearly understood courage was embedded in his character and courage was how he chose to face cancer. When I became aware of the people skirting around me, I followed him, wondering how to honor his request. When I caught up with him, we walked several steps without speaking, when I felt him take my hand in his hand.

People walked by in slow motion and the noise from the cars parked curbside with their engines idling wound down like the sounds of old phonograph records playing at the wrong speed. Time stopped when he locked his eyes on mine and I saw Promise me you will be brave. I am forced to attempt the most life-threatening climb of my life. We are roped together on this climb; if you let go of the rope, I cannot fight. I will suffer enough, but my suffering will be unendurable if I must watch you suffer too.


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