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Living All the Way

I Have A Little Shadow that Goes In and Out with Me

by Joy Johnson

I first saw my shadow when my husband, Marv, and I were eating ice cream at a Stone Cold Creamery. His phone rang and the young doctor who had treated him for two years told him the biopsy for esophageal cancer had finally come back positive. When I looked up, eyes damp, I saw my shadow. It had a long black cape with the hood pulled up so its face was hidden. It was dipping a double chocolate peanut butter into a waffle cone and it looked like a skinny Grim Reaper.

It followed us out the door to our truck and climbed in the backseat with Barney, our Bernese mountain dog. The dog didn't seem to notice. That evening, when we had dinner with friends and told them Marv had cancer; my shadow just sat at the table with us and quietly sipped a dry martini.

It was with us for every radiation and chemo treatment. Cancer treatment is a kaleidoscope of horrors administered by loving people who care. My Shadow bent over us and looked as if it cared, too. Once I looked out the window of the cancer center and there was my shadow, talking to a group of other shadows. The place was loaded with them. I looked hard and I'm sure some of them were smoking.

I have to admit it is a very loyal shadow and it has no modesty. It follows me into the bathroom, it takes showers with me. I think it would probably like to wear the Mickey Mouse bathrobe I love.

It went to Florida with us for the winter a couple of years ago. It liked Florida. Maybe it's a warm weather shadow. It stood with its arms crossed, leaning against a Palm tree while friends helped us hook up our RV because Marv was too weak to do it and I had broken my hip and was leaning on a cane.

Then, for one glorious, doctor-free year it disappeared. I didn't see it at all. I never even looked for it. But in December, when Marv had pneumonia and they discovered the cancer had come back, guess who was sitting on the foot of his hospital bed: The Shadow.

Now it never leaves. In our retirement apartment, it watches snow fall from our big windows. It sits on the couch with us when we watch Netflix movies. It seems to really enjoy the ones with car chases. The damn thing follows me everywhere. Our cat, Margaret Thatcher, walks right through it and it reaches down to stroke her back. It's not a mean Shadow – it's just persistent and ever-present. Oh, and it loves Marv's hospice nurse! It leans over her shoulder as she writes in her notebook, it pretends it has a stethoscope when she listens to Marv's heart. If the hospice brings new meds or new equipment, it actually gets excited.

I'm afraid it's going to be a constant companion long after the love of my life dies. I think it will mellow out some, but I know it won't go away.

I'm getting used to it.

I'm learning from it.

I've come to expect it.

That doesn't mean I have to like it.

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