Posted by: Ken Wheatley | September 27, 2008


On my way back from lunch yesterday I was listening to NPR and a guy was talking about how he and his family were dealing with his sister-in-law’s breast cancer. It’s not often that you hear from the support side, so his comments drew my attention.

I’m glad I listened to the segment instead of changing the channel like I normally would because I don’t want to hear about any more cancer issues if I can avoid it. Especially when I’m not around Sheila.

The guy on the radio used a term that immediately captured what I’ve been increasingly struggling with the past few weeks. And somehow, giving what I’ve been feeling inside a label provided some relief. He described his experience as “palpable trepidation.”

“Palpable” is defined as “capable of being handled, touched, or felt.” “Trepidation” is “a state of alarm or dread; apprehension.”

I’ve been going around with an achy heart, and I couldn’t put my finger on what was causing me to be so tense inside. I haven’t been sleeping well – waking up every two hours and then having trouble going back to sleep. Yes, I know it relates to Sheila’s cancer, and in many ways we’ve adapted to its existence in our lives. For the most part.

So when I heard him say “palpable trepidation” it crystalized the heaviness, ache, pain, and anxiety I’ve been feeling. It’s the constant low-level hum of apprehension and dread that I carry with me 24/7. It’s the hurt I feel when I see Sheila in pain, which is now a constant, daily “companion” for her.

The trial drugs may be working, but the side effects are both painful and visible. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been able to kiss her. And of course when you can’t do something, you want to do it even more.

Her hair is falling out and noticably thinning. We had to take her bathroom sink drain apart this morning because it was clogged with what hair she hasn’t been able to catch. She mentioned that she’s thinking about getting a wig. She still has “plenty” of hair, but unless the hair loss tapers off and stops, the wig may be an inevitablity. However, I reminded her of our pact to be bald together. I would not look good with “a rug.” Hopefully I don’t have a weirdly shaped scalp under these curls.

We’re certainly happy and grateful for the apparent progress she’s making with the trial drugs. I think the anxiety and apprehension comes from her fellow patients in the support group who aren’t doing so well, reading about others – like Paul Newman who passed away yesterday from lung cancer – and seeing the physical changes to her body that reminds us that we’re still in a desperate fight.

I love Sheila soooo much and my soul is so sad for this to be happening to us.



  1. Fighting breast cancer is so important, and funding for more cancer research is vitalf for this.

  2. Thanks for the comment. I wasn’t exactly clear in my post – his comments on the radio piqued my interest because it was from the support perspective, not because he was talking about breast cancer. Sheila, a person who never smoked, has lung cancer.

    Research is vital for all cancers. “Unfortunately” breast cancer gets top billing and therefore more funding. Lung cancer kills more people, and increasingly young non-smoking women.

    But there’s an understandable perception that lung cancer is self-induced because people smoke(d). So while that’s true in many cases, there are cases such as ours where smoking wasn’t a factor.

    Good luck if you or your friend(s) are dealing with cancer as well.

    Take care….Ken

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