The pictures I’m not taking

I’ve tried to take at least some pictures while I’ve been here with my parents, both because I obsess that way, and because I want to record at least some aspects of this terribly important moment in all of our lives. I’m struck, though, by all the pictures that I didn’t (and won’t) take; images that I won’t forget soon, but which I’m not going to try to capture.

Some of it is just not very pleasant. Chemo makes him throw up (as it does many people). I’ve watched a fair bit of that while we’ve been here, although nothing close to what Mom’s helped him through, and these moments definitely fall in the “I wish I could pretend I hadn’t seen that” category. There are probably powerful images that could be made of this distress, and one could argue that going through this is a key part of the fight against the cancer and therefore worthy of documentation. But some other photographer will have to do that. It’s my dad, and I need to be giving him a hug and helping him wipe his face, not taking his picture.

Some of it is the sounds that still photography just doesn’t capture. Extreme discomfort can be a very noisesome beast, and there’s been plenty of that, with more to come. Harry Smith would probably tape the whole thing, but I’m passing on that as well.

Some of it I would love to capture, but just haven’t, and probably won’t, because it’s not easy and I’m only willing to go so far to record the moment. Mom stroking his forehead in the near dark, helping him calm down after a bad spell and encouraging him to go back to sleep. Her hand on his back; his hand in mine. Little glances; fleeting expressions; moments. In the end, the little signs of why we’re fighting this thing.

Sometimes you have to live, wading through the experience instead of recording it from the shore. I keep reminding myself that now is a good time to live.

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My father has become a foot soldier in the war on cancer

My father has cancer
It’s hard to know how to say this.

“My father is fighting cancer.” Nope. Sounds too much like a back alley brawl, and this is a much bigger deal than that.

“My father is battling cancer.” Closer. Given the great chunks of medical machinery being brought to bear on his illness, “battle” seems more descriptive than “fight”. But battles are (usually) parts of wars, and I’m inclined to be more explicit about that. So…

“My father has become a foot soldier in humanity’s on-going war with cancer.”

This seems pretty apt. We (mostly my Mom) are the support staff, providing love and support and matériel, eagerly and nervously awaiting news from the front. But he’s the one in the trenches, dealing with the foot rot and the deafening machines of war and the crap rations.

The key diagnoses were last week, and luckily my wonderful sister was able to fly down from New York and be with them for several days of intense and difficult information gathering. A huge thanks to her for being there for all of us!

Dad’s got cancer of the throat. The doctors place the odds at 50/50, but the system is pretty complex and there are a whole host of things that could slip or crack. He’s got several weeks of radiation and chemo ahead, so it’s going to be a long slog (and probably a rough Christmas), but Dad and Mom and the doctors are all prepared for the fight. Saturday morning was the first skirmish; happily he came through that in excellent shape.

Everyone here in Morris has been really supportive and wonderful, for which we are extremely grateful. We’re going to take off the week of Thanksgiving and will drive down to be with my parents for that week. Until then, it’s fingers crossed and a lot of time on the phone.

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