Lessons Learned

Our roles as “husband” and “wife” were pretty clear cut for the first 6 years of our marriage. Brian was the foundation, and I was the soft place to land. He was the rational one, I was the emotional one. He was the one who took care of me, I was the one who needed taken care of. We made a great team. I always knew that, when something bad happened, I could fall apart, knowing he would be there to deal with the details.

When we suddenly lost our 1 year old cat, Eddie, to unexpected heart disease, I thought my life could never get any blacker.
Sweet little Eddie with the nubby tail.
I laid on the couch, crying, for days. I’d never considered the possibility that something so devastating could happen to us. And Brian was there–to console me, to grieve with me, to pick up the broken pieces I left in my wake.
We got through it. I still have a raw spot in my heart that is Eddie, but I figured out how to live again, how to breathe and laugh and feel good again. Brian helped me with that, his role realized. We moved on with our lives, and everything was good. We were making plans for Brian to attend nursing school. We were enjoying our lives with our friends. We were trying to have a baby.
On October 9, 2010, my husband went to the doctor with what we thought was a urinary tract infection. He came home two hours later with cancer.
No one can prepare you for that kind of news. No one can prepare you for the way the blood rushes into your ears, so it’s the only thing you can hear. No one can adequately describe what it feels like when your life suddenly changes direction, like the earth just started spinning the other way on its axis.
That day, I met my husband at the door. The fear was plain on his face, and clutched in his hands was a sheaf of paperwork 2 inches thick. “How To Deal With The Diagnosis,” and “Dealing with Cancer,” and “What to Expect in the Early Stages of Cancer Treatment.” Lists of specialists, oncologists, surgeons, urologists, counselors.
The first two days after the diagnosis are a blur for me. I’m sure we talked about it. I know we made plans. I know we put on our brave faces when we went out into the world, and I know that we clung to each other like frightened children in the darkest parts of the night.
I also remember when the shift in our roles happened. For the first time, in a difficult situation, Brian needed someone to lean on. Someone to pick up the pieces. Somewhere soft to land.
When Brian couldn’t bring himself to do it, I picked up the phone and called all our family and friends to let them know that “Cancer” had been introduced into our lives. I answered their questions, called with updates, consoled those who needed consoling. I made arrangements for friends to stop by to keep Brian distracted while we waited those miserable 5 days for the biopsy results to come back. We went on car rides in a convertible with the sun beating down. We had potluck dinners with those we love most. We still managed to laugh and joke and stamp the worry down with the determination to win.
When Brian’s doctor confirmed that it was a malignant tumor, and said it was approximately the size of a softball, Brian’s demeanor changed. Surgery wasn’t a maybe, it was a must. This tumor, if it wasn’t removed quickly, could kill him. Words like “colostomy bags,” and “bowel resection,” and “possible removal of the bladder,” were used. Brian’s fear showed plainly on his face. He carried it around like a bulky backpack. He retreated within himself, living out his reality in his own mind, not wanting to burden me or anyone else with the fact that he was facing his own mortality at 30.
At that moment, hearing those words, I found resolve. I told myself I wouldn’t cry. I would be strong for him like he’d been strong for me so many times in the past. I would encourage him, buoy him up, remind him of all he had to live for. And for the next few weeks, he never saw me break. When the panic would rise up in me like so much bile, I would retreat to the shower, letting the hot water wash away my fear and grief and nausea, so that I could continue to help him through.
The day of Brian’s surgery, I felt like there was an ocean behind my eyes, waiting for the dam to break. My head felt heavy, and the desire to lay down and weep was overwhelming. But I sat with him while they explained the procedure. Held his hand as we gave them all the necessary information they needed. Kissed him goodbye when they took him back for prep. Rather than fall apart, the way my body, my psyche, desperately needed, I gathered my things, left my family in the waiting room, and went to meet with the financial counselor. An hour later, mountains of paperwork completed and signed, copies made, I dragged myself back to the waiting room.
When Brian’s surgeon came around the corner and asked to speak with us in a private room, I stopped breathing. They only do that on Grey’s Anatomy when it’s REALLY bad news. And so I walked with him, heart in my hands, and waited. It was gone. Every last bit of the alien that had taken over my husband’s body was gone. He would live a long, happy, normal life.
The dam broke. I wept for all we’d been through, for the pain I knew he’d be in when he woke up, for the anticipation of his reaction when I told him the good news, for the knowledge that he would be fine.
A fuzzy cell-phone pic of Brian about 2 hours after his surgery.
Throughout it all I learned some very valuable lessons about myself. I am stronger than I give myself credit for. My husband needs me as much as I need him. And nothing, not even cancer, can tear us apart.

One thought on “Lessons Learned

  1. The Vegetable Assassin

    Wow. Holy crap, I’m sorry you both went through something that devastating, but I’m elated you came out of it stronger and healthier and things are good. I kind of feel like I intruded just reading this. I hope you guys never have to go through anything this awful again.

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