cancer · family · grief · parents

Notes on Moving Someone with Brain Cancer (for the second time in three months)

Moving someone with brain cancer requires packing most things at the last possible  minute so the Cancer Patient doesn’t get too disorientated. No matter how long you try to delay the packing, be aware that the Brain Cancer Patient will begin looking for their belongings immediately once they’ve been boxed up, no matter how many times they are reminded that the boxes are merely temporarily holding places their personal items. Upon learning this, the Brain Cancer Patient might respond dejectedly with comments like, “Oh, I guess I didn’t really need that bathrobe. I could always buy another one,” confusing the item’s disappearance from its regular location as an actual disappearance, or in some cases, a theft. You will need to remind them, multiple times: the item is not lost, only packed. “Packed for what?” the Brain Cancer Patient might ask. “For your move,” you could gently nudge. If this isn’t enough to jog their memory, you should probably elaborate, “For your move to the assisted living community. The one on 11th Avenue that you picked out.”

During the packing phase, the Brain Cancer Patient may get upset when their belongings are put in boxes for transfer instead of the boxes and belonging being immediately teleported to their final destination at the new home. You might need to explain, multiple times, that boxes and bins and lifting and carrying and transporting things are all part of the magic of the moving process, while actual magic is not.

The Brain Cancer Patient will likely not be able to assist with any packing, because the Brain Cancer Patient likely has the attention span of a gnat. The Brain Cancer Patient might be able to work up the focus to move one item into one box, once a day. Examples include moving an empty container of lotion from the trash, to a box labeled “Frames and pictures”. Moving a cup of coffee everywhere, except their own mouth. Moving a love seat to a position so that it is awkwardly blocking the front door.

The Brain Cancer Patient may insist they need random items immediately after said items have been packed and set aside for movers. These items will generally be things the Brain Cancer Patient has not touched in two-six months and may include hypothetical articles like a laptop, a printer, checkbooks, a fall 2010 Good House Keeping magazine, nail clippers, a bathroom scale, a bottle of Pinot Noir from Tobin James Wine Cellars, a silver necklace with a J on it, a pair of favorite flip flops they don’t necessarily want to wear but just want to make sure are packed properly, packets of apple cider, a microwave, a Keurig machine, an ipod (as well as the doc that goes with it), a travel toothbrush, a bag of special event makeup, a cup of pens, some scissors, a coaster, hand soap, and a holiday-themed table runner. Just as examples.

If someone else is assisting you with moving the Brain Cancer Patient, make sure to openly disagree with them from time to time, even if you don’t really have any issue with anything they’re saying or doing. This helps ensure the Brain Cancer Patient doesn’t start thinking you healthy-brained folks are banding together to gang-up on them with weapons like logic and common sense, and keeps them from accusing you of conspiring with the other person to make decisions for the person without a brain without first consulting the person without a brain.
Once at the new place, the Brain Cancer Patient will probably want you to unpack the wine, the television, the bed, the clothing, the hand soap, and the coffee immediately. Not in that order. Just.. immediately. All at once. The wine and television, in particular, should be moved separately from everything else and made available promptly upon arrival.

If the Brain Cancer Patient is a hoarder, try placing things like their two microwaves, four bathroom trashcans, 18 Christmas coffee mugs, 23 towels, and 62 watches next to each other so the Patient can pick out their favorites of the bunch and potentially see for themselves that they can get rid of at least some of the excess items. This extra effort may indeed prove to be useless, but even if it works once every dozen times, it will be worth it.

The Brain Cancer Patient might ask you, on hour fourteen and a half of moving day, to locate something insignificant while you’re mid-way through acquiring the wine, the television, the bed, the clothing, the hand soap, and the coffee that they would prefer be fully set up. Say, a magnet they got as a gift in 1994, for instance. What ever happens, don’t sigh or tense up. The Brain Cancer Patient will read this nuance in your body language, even if when you’re out in public they can’t see two inches in front of their own face. If they do interpret any tension, it is nearly certain they will take personal offense and think you hate them, negating all the work you’ve done up until that point. They will likely say something like, “I can’t help it if I’m annoying! I have cancer!” before breaking into tears and fleeing from the room like a swollen, blind, short-haired, blood clot prone, Scarlett O’Hara, which will surely make you feel as small and insignificant as the 1994 magnet you should have just searched through the remaining 97 boxes for in the first place.

If, by chance, you do let your exhaustion get the better of you and react with frustration in a moment of your own weakness, find a way to immediately call an end to the unpacking and get the Brain Cancer Patient to sleep as soon as possible. Otherwise, you might be inviting the Brain Cancer Patient to relieve their own moving day stress by providing you with an itemized list of 36 years of your own personal shortcomings as a daughter (or brother or friend or neighbor or whatever your personal relationship with the Brain Cancer Patient is). If the Brain Cancer Patient does get agitated and isn’t taken directly to bed, they may begin poking at old, gaping, unresolved wounds. So if this happens, remember them to be a Brain Cancer Patient and do not, under any circumstances, try to reason with them. Walk away. Go to bed. Leave. Remember that there will be a moment, though it seems both all too soon and all too far away, that you will grieve and miss the Brain Cancer Patient, in spite of the fact all you feel like you see anymore is their most frustrating, stubborn, annoying, hurtful qualities because of the cancer.

If the Brain Cancer Patient informs you they think all the problems in the world stem from the fact that they think you live a miserable existence and they believe it’s because you haven’t allowed Jesus into your life as your personal lord and savior, don’t scream out the words “YEAH, WELL YOU SEEM PRETTY FUCKING MISERABLE, TOO, YOU SLOBBERING, STUPID, BRAINLESS ASSHOLE!” Don’t yell at all. Instead, try hugging the Brain Cancer Patient. Tell them you love them, and you’re sorry it doesn’t always seem that way. Tell them you wish with every ounce of your being that you could come to a place of understanding and forgiveness with them before they die. Tell them you want to fix your relationship and hope to fix your relationship and will do everything in your power to fix your relationship in the time there is left, as long as they please try, too. Tell them you never asked for this, either. Any of it. And you don’t mean to be disappointing or upsetting or “sinful” or different, but you’re really just trying to be authentic by any means necessary. Leave them with this thought. Better yet, leave them with a joke. Know that other people can help with the rest of the unpacking and it will actually be better for the Brain Cancer Patient that you don’t always take care of everything for them. Don’t judge yourself for all the emotions the move brings up in you. Let yourself feel the anger. The Sadness. Resentment. Exhaustion. Just feel it. Cry. Scream. Meditate. Breathe. Write it out. Don’t go home and drink yourself, you shouldn’t be drinking anyway. Don’t go home and eat. It’s been a long day and you’re not even hungry. Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t bitch and moan. Just try to be a better daughter (or brother or friend or cousin or neighbor) tomorrow. Tonight, try to rest. Wake up and just do the best you can in any given moment. Evaluate. Expel. Evolve. Repeat.



9 thoughts on “Notes on Moving Someone with Brain Cancer (for the second time in three months)

  1. I do love your writing, although these blog posts always make me cry. I also admire you for the care you are giving your mom at this awful time.


  2. Your mom was a shining light at the end of the Hall when I worked with her at Bret Harte School. I battle Lung Cancer Stage Four with my Mom for five months, unforchanatley it won.
    Your mom has been blessed with two amazing Daughters, keep up the good fight, never loose sight of the fact that she has unconditional love for you.


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