Sunday, June 24, 2007

My Strong Friend

This blog's dear friend Roseanne (names have been changed to protect the innocent) has just told me that she has stage two uterine cancer. This causes me deep distress--mostly on her behalf, but also on my own, because I love her.

She faces a total hysterectomy, plus some tests to determine if the cancer has spread beyond her womanly parts. But that's just the medical stuff. She also has to somehow figure out how to pay her bills while she's off work for six weeks after surgery. (And we're not even thinking beyond that at this point.) Her employer has informed her that she gets three weeks of short-term disability--but of course, that probably pays about half of what she normally makes.

There's no help from her husband, Kirk Van Houten, who has not worked at the cracker factory for at least seven or eight years. All he's able to do is watch cable, wash dishes occasionally, and fall apart at the thought of losing his meal ticket, I mean Roseanne.

His emotional maturity never grew beyond pre-teen self-absorption, which is to say he just doesn't understand about taking responsibility. He's not a bad guy, or a toxic guy--he's just kind of emotionally retarded, which makes him more of a liability than a life partner.

Kirk Van Houten has been known to proudly say things like "I cleaned out the cat litter for you" or "I mopped the floor for you" to Roseanne when she gets home at midnight from her second job. No lie. And he says these things without the slightest trace of irony or shame. I honestly do not know how Roseanne does not smack him with a frying pan.

Roseanne's younger sister died from cervical cancer at age 36 about six years ago. Her out-of-state brother has some kind of brain cancer. Roseanne's mom--let's call her Narcissus--had this response to Roseanne's news: "I'm just sitting here wondering what it is in my genes that has given all three of my children cancer." Because of course, her daughter's cancer is all about her. I'm not even lying. She might as well have said, "Why me, God? Why me?"

Narcissus is retired on a humble fixed income, and doesn't drive. Roseanne's kids are old enough (14 and 17) but not emotionally healthy enough to be helpful.

And yet, facing all of this, my strong friend Roseanne laughs in the face of danger. She makes fun of herself, she cracks jokes about "pulling the cancer card" to get away with a moment of well-deserved crabbiness, and she lets me weep on her shoulder about my own comparatively minor troubles. Nobody makes me laugh harder than this woman.

Roseanne gets me. When I recently had a brief bout of depression and anxiety, she said to herself, what would cheer E. Peevie up? And she brought over The Departed to watch with me, because she knew that there's nothing like a bloody action movie to lighten my mood. "Most folks, you'd bring a light-hearted comedy to cheer them up," she told me, "but not for you. You need explosions and shooting!" And she was right.

How lucky am I to have a friend like this.

God, I'm asking for a special dispensation of healing for my friend Roseanne. She could use a break.

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