Note: The following passages are excerpts from Laura Yeager’s chapbook, “Cancer Loot: The Stuff That Helped Me Survive Two Bouts of Cancer in Ten Years.”
I lay in bed, holding the call button, eyeing the red circle smack dab in the middle.
The call button was the cancer patient’s world. I could use it to turn on the television and switch channels endlessly. I could raise or lower my bed. I could call the nurse, and a light would blink outside of my door so that someone would come to my aid.
But I didn’t want the nurse. I wanted my husband, Stephen, who was sitting in a chair across from me. Two days ago, I’d had a double mastectomy. It was 2012.
Strangely enough, I felt no pain. They had just cut off my breasts, and I felt nothing. That must have been some strong pain medication. I was highly grateful that there was no agony.
I didn’t feel discomfort, but I did feel dirty. Luckily, I was in a private room with a private bath.
“Would you give me a shower?”
He made a face.
“Can you even get out of bed?” he asked.
“I’ve been going to the bathroom with a catheter. They just removed it. They said I could shower.”
“OK,” he said reluctantly. The last time he’d washed someone was when he’d bathed our six-year-old son Tommy. That had been last night. He wasn’t out of practice.
How hard could it be? Lift the wife out of bed, guide her to the shower, turn on the water, soap her up and rinse her off.
This was the gift I remembered from my husband; he cleansed me. Oh, he did a lot more while I was out of commission after my cancer surgery (laundry, cooking, childcare, housecleaning), but this was what I remembered the most because this was what I needed the most.
He soaped my upper body and then my backside. As he soaped this part of me, he said, “Yuch.” I forgave him for it. After all, I’d probably do the same thing.
This experience was a spiritual gift.
Jesus had washed his disciples’ feet. Stephen was washing my whole body. Both actions were done out of love and devotion.
On Aug. 23, 2022, we will be married 25 years.
This shower was illustrative of the fact that my husband Stephen would do anything for me. Sometimes it took a crisis to realize how blessed we were.
[excerpted from “Cancer Loot,” chapter three]
I’d known Noah for 36 years; specifically, we met in 1985 when I was living in New York City. His mother, Barbara Seaman, graciously allowed me to move into her office when I was having difficulty with an overly strict landlady. Barbara was writing a biography of Jacqueline Susann called “Lovely Me.” I did a little work for her, proofreading and making copies and doing anything that needed done such as running errands.
Barbara, an Oberlin College graduate, introduced me to her son Noah, who was five years my senior and an Oberlin graduate (I too was an Obie, graduating that year in 1985.) We hit it off.
Over the course of the next several years, Noah and I tried to make a go of it as a couple, but it didn’t work out.
I forged a life in my home state of Ohio. I met Stephen in 1993. We married in 1997 after a long courtship.
Noah and I continued to be friends, and my husband tolerated our friendship. Noah Seaman, a great writer, became my editor in the 2000s. He wouldn’t take money from me for editing my work, so I began to send him clothes via snail mail. Noah (and my mother and sometimes my nephew, Aaron) edited everything I wrote.
But when I had cancer, Noah did something very special for me. In 2016 after the LD flap procedure, he talked to me on the telephone while everyone slept. At 2:30 in the morning, everyone I knew was sound asleep. But I knew if I needed Noah, he’d pick up the phone.
When I was lying on my couch on my side in terrible pain, and doctors wouldn’t prescribe me pain pills for fear that I’d become addicted to them (Northeast Ohio was a capital of prescription pain pill addiction), Noah talked me through the dizzying pain.
What did we talk about?
Broadway shows. Our families. Current events. What we’d had for dinner. Anything. We talked about anything and everything that would keep my mind off my current predicament.
“They’re reviving ‘She Loves Me,’” Noah said one night.
“How many times have you seen that?”
“I’m not sure. Many, many times.” Noah loved Broadway. It was common for him to see the same show more than a dozen times. He’d seen “Into the Woods” many, many times as well. Noah was a big Sondheim fan. It was New York, after all.
Friends of mine, I knew, frowned on my friendship with Noah. How could I keep up conversing with an old beau while married to Stephen? My relationship with Noah was platonic, I told them.
Cancer was an awful illness. Part of its curse was how alone it made you feel. I was never one for cancer support groups.
With Noah, in the middle of the night, I never felt alone.
[excerpted from “Cancer Loot,” chapter 11]
Laura Yeager is a women’s health writer with over 10 years of experience writing for mental and physical health venues. From 2015–2020, she blogged regularly for psychcentral.com on topics such as bipolar illness and autism. Since 2016, she’s blogged for curetoday.com on the topic of finding happiness after a cancer diagnosis. Her earlier health writing was anthologized in 2012’s “Voices of the Women’s Health Movement,” edited by Barbara Seaman and Laura Eldridge. A graduate of The Writers’ Workshop at The University of Iowa, Laura teaches writing at Gotham Writers and at Kent State University at Stark. More of her cancer writing can be found at curetoday.com/contributors/laura-yeager. Laura Yeager lives in Ohio with her husband and son.