On the Wikipedia page, Sancho Panza appears first on the list of famous fictional sidekicks. Not surprising, really: Don Quixote is one of the greatest and most famous works of literature and, more than four centuries after its first publication, it continues to exert canonical influence.
I’m going to hazard that Sancho Panza was the first ‘sidekick’ and thereby set the template. The ‘lead’ character is energetic, zany, prone to flights of fancy and makes the choices that generally dictate the overall direction of the story; the ‘sidekick’ is more down to earth, more rational, more concerned with the practicalities of getting through each day and ensuring that, on balance, success outweighs disaster.
I am a person who does not have cancer in my body; but I am caring for someone who does. She is the lead – going toe-to-toe on a daily basis with all that cancer can throw at her: it attacks her breasts, her liver, her brain, her lymph system, her lungs. The disease and its outriders – the radiotherapies, the surgeries, the chemotherapies, the 200+ pills a week – induce innumerable decays: the skin, the muscles, the alveoli, all weakened; the hair, the fingernails, the veins, the muscles, all depleted.
But not the Will.
I am the sidekick. I apply lotions and push wheelchairs, I arrange appointments and do laundry, I carry and salve, navigate and support, I cook and I clean. I listen at the darkest times and laugh and cry at the magnificent insanity of it all. As she paints her T-cells and her brain scans, I see Don Quixote, imagining a solution, an answer, that cannot possibly be true – but is nevertheless real and powerful and extraordinary.
I am Sancho Cancer.
Image (c) Pablo Picasso, 1955