Dad Chimes In

My dad – the infamous author Spider Robinson – would like to share a few thoughts about the noble task of caring for a loved one with cancer.  Having been on both sides of the equation I couldn’t agree more with his sentiments.  So here we go…

EU TE AMO, MEU GENRO! (a guest post by Spider Robinson)

I am grateful to my daughter for allowing me to hijack her splendid blog for a day.  I want to use it to propose a quick toast to The Unsung Hero, the overlooked warrior who is currently fighting one of the most difficult battles imaginable: one in which there isn’t a damn thing he can do, but keep smiling as if nothing were wrong.  I speak of course of Terri’s Heroic Hubby, Heron Gonçalves da Silva.  I happen to have walked a very long mile in his shoes, and I’m here to tell you all—since he can’t—how much his feet hurt, right now.  So much, it’s hard to remain standing.  And still, he keeps going.

There are two full-grown Graceful Warriors in the da Silva family, and only one of them is a woman.

When something attacks their loved ones, men are supposed to fight bravely, ferociously.  It doesn’t help at all that there is no enemy available to attack, here.  Heron’s wife is under deadly threat, and everything in his warrior heart yearns to hunt down whoever’s doing it, and kill the bastard, as many times as necessary.  And he can’t.  He is more helpless than if he had no arms or legs: he can’t even try to bite the enemy to death.  I remember very well the sense of total panic that can overwhelm you in those circumstances.  It’s the kind of dilemma that can send some completely round the bend; I don’t mind admitting that at times it very nearly finished me.  But Heron knows he can’t afford that kind of self-indulgence.  He just keeps on coping, quietly, steadily, every day, every hour.  I have watched him deal with Terri’s situation literally from day one, and I want to say I am seriously impressed, fiercely proud of my amazing son-in-law.

All the time Terri’s mother was battling cancer, well-meaning friends would always thoughtfully remind me to be sure and remember to take care of myself, too.  Unfortunately, none of them ever came up with a concrete suggestion as to exactly how I might do that.  Not their fault: there just aren’t many good suggestions for how to endure the unendurable.

But by accident, I stumbled across one thing that helped more than you might think: small self-indulgences.

I found it really helped to treat myself, in small ways, any chance I got.  Go a few extra bucks for the Haagen-Daaz, for a change.  Buy some of the CDs on your own wishlist.  Spring for the really good coffee.  Get that hardcover book you’ve been jonesing for, instead of waiting for the paperback.  Little things like that.  You might be amazed how much such silly little things can affect your morale.  If you feel powerless, empower yourself.  My personal hero, Robert A. Heinlein, taught me, “Budget the luxuries first.”

So if you’re making up a care package for Terri—goodies, dollars, whatever—please consider throwing in a few good cigars for Heron, or a twenty dollar bill or two earmarked specifically for him, perhaps for purchase of cachaça, the magical ingredient of his favorite drink, the caiparinha.  And don’t forget to throw him a personal Attaboy, every once in a while.  What he’s doing is, although he’d probably deny it, at least as hard as undergoing chemotherapy….and the person who’s usually in charge of improving his morale is busy at the moment, letting him improve hers.

So let’s remember his courage and sacrifice, and throw him a respectful salute: he deserves it.

Hip, hip—Heron!  Hip, hip—Heron!  Hip, hip—Heron!

Obrigado, meu genro.  I am so glad my daughter chose you—and so was her mother.


21 Responses

  1. Thank you Spider for reminding us of Heron’s heroics. He does indeed deserve a nod. As do you also. Life has thrown you another curve ball and you are doing your best to make others feel good. That must be at least one of the things you can and are doing, despite being in a state of feeling helpless. Caregivers and family and friends are doing something by loving their loved ones who are suffering. Love is a verb afterall.
    Sending love and strong yet gentle hugs daily to you all; Terri, Heron, Marisa and you too Spider.
    Lisa Marie

  2. So Spider has once again made me cry at work! You said a mouthful, my friend.

    Heron, keep the faith, man…there are a lot of people who love you by default, because you are taking care of Terri and Marisa…I trust that you will take your father-in-law (outlaw?)’s words to heart.

    *hugs to you all*


  3. Terri,
    Clearly you get your writing skills from your Dad. :) Great words of truth and love. You are a lucky woman to have such great men fighting right there with you and for you.


  4. When Jeanne was first diagnosed it made me look at my own marriage. Would I rather be the one in bed or the one sitting in the chair next to it? Neither option held any advantage. Watching my husband see me suffer is nothing I ever want to put him through. Of course, Real Life does not generally offer us a choice.

    Terri and Heron are bravely facing their mutual enemy both for themselves and for one too little to carry her own sword. I am humbled by their struggle and their strength both physical and emotional. When I one day meet my own enemy may I have the fortitude to stand as they do and declare “You shall not pass!”.


  5. I can really sympathize. Is there a ‘respite’ program there as we have in Ontario? These allow the primary/sole caregiver anywhere from a few hours to a couple of weeks or more of restorative time ‘off’ while the affected family member is looked after full time by professionals.

  6. I know little of the challenges & fears a cancer patient must face, having little exposure to such,
    but my heart goes out to you, and gracious appreciation for Heron’s coping as best possible.
    Heron – since Spider & Jeanne (we miss her) are proud of you, you must be a very caring, loving person.
    yes: “Heron – Hip Hip!”

    I’ve been a fan of Spider’s since, Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon, partly from his consistant wording and descriptions of how people inter-act, and partly because I’m thrilled with puns,
    of which he is the worst/best (depending on one’s attitudes towards puns) in all of sci-Fi.
    His human sensitivity is well relefected in his comments to you; it takes a sensitive,
    intelligent person to wordsmith (it can be a verb) such thoughts to you.
    He is my favorite Sci-Fi author, only short of Theodore Sturgeon (as who Spider called “Teddy The Fish”)

    Thus I gently object to your saying “the infamous” Spider; granted, those readers who don’t understand or appreciate Sci-Fi, the field of vison he is known in is quite limited, but he has
    excelled and is famous within his world.

    Please be teaching your daughter, Marisa, all the good knowledge you can, and warn her of all
    the nastys in this word. As Theodore Sturgeon once said (paraphrased) “98% of everything in
    this would is junk, and it is our duty to offset this, turn back the tide, the best we can.”

    [a touch of wise-guy here, heartfully] I might suggest a vacation in Key West, yes, “the Place”,
    even if only in your heart, let the waves caress you, let the peacefulness there trickle, wave through your soul.

    I pray God, Mother Nature, all the sources of spirituallity, (including, as any Sci-Fi person
    would include – “Powers of the Universe”) help you, fight the cancer, bring you healing,
    long term (forever).

    Bob Sutherland

  7. Dear Terri and Heron and Marisa,

    I clicked myself off the post somehow and can’t remember what i was writing like i want to!
    Anyway, I’ll try again.
    Heron, whenever I think of Terri, which is every day, I do think of you! How you are, the daily coping and coping and coping. Thanks, Spider, for making me realize to address dear brave Heron!
    Terri, I’m elated that your white blood count stays up there. It’s all due to your vigilance while on this path that you never dreamed of. You’re truly doing the best that you can do. And it’s heartening that your medical team is seeing the benefits of your all-encompassing efforts.
    A big hug and kiss to you and Heron and Marisa! And that’s every day!
    Much love,
    Aunt Kathy

  8. My heartfelt good wishes to all of you–Spider, Terri, Heron, Marissa–in this struggle, especially after losing Jeanne two years ago. I’ve always been a fan of Spider Robinson’s writing (my wife and I enjoyed hearing him speak at the Vancouver Space Centre in 2007). My two sisters and I lost our father to cancer in July 2010, so I have some sense of what your family has been through. Abrazos (hugs) to you all.

    Carl Rosenberg
    Vancouver, BC

  9. Spider, Terry, and Heron, I watched my Mother die from cancer nearly 50 years ago. Things are so much better now, and there is hope. I understand the helplessness, and will lift you up to God.

  10. Terri, your Dad is a hero and you are an amazing light. Heron, be strong and remember there are those who keep you all in their prayers you have never met…. just because. Marisa, yo are a beautiful beacon of light. Shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased — thus do we all refute entropy.

  11. Spider…there are no words. You have hit the nail directly on it’s head, again. We caregivers surrender ourselves to this battle willingly because of the people we love and yet, if you’re not careful, it eats away at your very soul. You find yourself losing pieces of yourself to cancer, just like your loved one is. I LOVE your idea of little indulgences, I’m definitely going to try that. And hugs to your very brave daughter and son-in-law, both fighting the fight of their lives, both sharing a horror beyond horrors…there is no right way to do this, hence there is also no wrong way. God bless and hold each other tightly. Fellow warrior, Annette

  12. In this case (as he so often does), Father really does know best. Heron is a hero, too. As are Spider, Miss M, and all the aunts and family and friends who love you, Terri. I am so glad you have this warrior team to support you.

    I think of you all every day, and send love and health and positive energy to you all.

  13. Hip Hip Heron…Hip Hip Spider..Hip Hip Terri..Hip Hip all of us reading, praying, hoping, believing, moving forward when sometimes it feels like backwards and downwards and sometimes it feels like flying… Hip Hip… much love -marcia.. I write the prayers–you live the song..

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  15. I know eight women who’ve gone through breast cancer. Three were sisters. Their mother had died of breast cancer a decade before. Two of the sisters were diagnosed early and more or less speeded through treatment. Both had gottend a check because the third sister had been diagnosed, but not until she’d reached stage IV. ALL of them survived it, very much including the stage IV.
    ALL of the other five also went through it, all the way. Only one of those is still waiting for her 5-year check.

    The only one who “didn’t make it” was my own mother. She was diagnosed at stage IV. She was 74 at the time. But she DID die at 84! (So I kind of feel that she also survived it; don’t you?)

  16. All the time Terri’s mother was battling cancer, well-meaning friends would always thoughtfully remind me to be sure and remember to take care of myself, too. Unfortunately, none of them ever came up with a concrete suggestion as to exactly how I might do that. Not their fault: there just aren’t many good suggestions for how to endure the unendurable.

    True, but there are some good things I think I’ve learned.
    1) Eat… good, nutritious foods, whenever you can get ’em. Don’t be too depressed to eat, and if you gotta have some comfort food, go ahead, but make sure you’re getting in some healthy stuff too.

    2) Exercise. You don’t need to be a fitness buff, but if you can force yourself to exercise (even just a walk) it might energize you to do other stuff that needs to be done, and it can help burn off nervous energy

    3) Sleep – ’nuff said, I hope.

    4) Be happy – do things that feel happy. And for god’s sake, don’t feel the least bit guilty about finding some happiness. Happiness is what strengthens our minds and spirits for trials. Feel no more guilty about feeding the spirit than you do about feeding the body.

    5) be human… neither person has suddenly become a perfect saint by virtue of sickness. Keep perspective (maybe now *isn’t* the time to have a fight over putting an almost empty milk carton back in the refrigerator) but no one has to suddenly become the Noble And Self Sacrificing Angel Who Can’t Be Annoyed, either.

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