Cancer sucks. In all that THAT word literally means. It sucks the energy out of a life filled with laughter, it sucks the spark out of a light burning bright and replaces it with a tenebrous one. It sucks the hope out of people in its path and everyone around it. It sucks the strength out of a once robust person. It sucks the smiles off the faces of children and replaces them with tears and worry. It sucks!
Thoughtfully Lovely is the name of this blog. I like this page to be full of thoughtful, lovely things. Cancer is neither thoughtful nor lovely. It is not thoughtful of how its presence will affect the person it infects. It is not thoughtful of the life it is threatening or the people around it that have to watch the slow decline of the person they love. It is not thoughtful about the possibility that the person it is growing inside of will have to leave the life, family and career they have spent a lifetime building too early. It is not thoughtful when it plays hide and seek. Tricking you to believe it has left only to find out that it, in fact, has not left and is now stronger and more destructive than before. It is not thoughtful at all.
It is not lovely, either. It is not lovely at all. The mere presence of it is ugly and it scares me. It means surgeries and harsh chemicals flowing through a body. It means exhaustion and fear for everyone involved with it. It means sadness and uncertainty. It steals the fruits of your labor in this life and leaves you with empty buckets and empty hearts. It is a thoughtless thief. It takes you on an emotional rollercoaster that you didn’t volunteer to be on and only want to get off of but can’t because it is just running on a continuous loop.
My husband has cancer. There are days when the fear takes over and there are days when we forget that he is sick. This is actually his third round of cancer after he was in remission both times before. When he was diagnosed the first time, we never would have suspected that he was sick. It all came about when, in the middle of the night, he couldn’t urinate. That resulted in a battery of tests that concluded he had Kidney Cancer. (Renal Cell Carcinoma or RCC.) Sure he had been tired and he had lost some weight, but we just thought “that’s what happens when you get older”. He was still in the gym 5 days a week, lifting heavy, and working a full-time job. No clue.
We found an amazing doctor in Indianapolis who did his surgery. He removed his entire kidney, surrounding tissue and reconstructed the Vena Cava. The tumor on his kidney was the size of a small grapefruit that most likely had been growing for a decade!!! We don’t know how that is possible. My husband is a big man, a former bodybuilder, but I still can’t believe that he never knew! He went through every test a person could possibly go through to determine if it was anywhere else in his body. It wasn’t. So they removed the kidney and tumor successfully and he was, “for all intents and purposes”, cured.
Recovery from such a large, difficult surgery was a long road. I have only ever known my husband to be strong and relentless with ambition. Physically and mentally strong. Even through the recovery he was determined to recover and return to the man that he once was. He had lost 50 pounds. FIFTY. But he no longer had any signs of cancer so he fought hard and came back. He put back on most of the weight and got back some of his strength in the gym.
From that point forward he had a scan every 30 days, then every 60 days. At the 9 month mark we had all but forgotten that there was a possibility of a return. He was feeling great before his appointment….WHAM! “You have a tumor on your liver this time. It’s still the kidney cancer and it is just now showing up.” The mood in the room immediately turned somber. We could sense the uneasiness of the doctor as he spoke the words so matter-of-factly. Fear took over…again. Another battery 0f tests, another surgeon, another surgery.
Flashes of his life and what he pondered he would never see happen in his life came rushing by him. Our daughter was engaged to one of the best people we know and a man we consider our son. We were there for the engagement. Now all he wanted to do was see our oldest daughter marry the love of her life. Another daughter was about to graduate from college. All he wanted to do was see her graduate. Our son was so close to graduating high school and beginning a new chapter in his life and our other daughter….well, he just wanted to watch her grow up.
When we found out about the surgery, the wedding was to be in 8 weeks. We still planned and hoped and dreamed for it. I really think that was a blessing as it drove him to push forward and soldier on. They took half of his liver in this operation. Fortunately the liver regenerates to work at the same capacity as before. It was a little easier than the last. He made great strides quickly.
We traveled out of the country for the wedding. The mental and physical wounds of a nagging cancer were still so raw and fresh and the fear was still palpable, but he went anyway. Nothing was going to stop him from being there to walk his first-born down the aisle. He slept a lot and hobbled around on the trip, but he was there. It was a beautiful time. You can watch their wedding video here. (It’s long.) All the pushing to get there was worth it. Unforgettable.
Fast forward 30 days….another scan….another day of bad news. We don’t know how much more of this we can take. It is life-altering and life-changing. Every.Time. Then come the talks of treatment. “You have seven options….” was what we heard and then it was kind of happening in slow motion and as the oncologist was speaking I was just trying to decipher the medical linguistics and put it in a way that John would understand. I would later have to tell him what the doctor said because he just seems to glaze over every time. Seven options and none of them good. I have been helplessly watching them cut away pieces of my husband for 2 years now and I have stood by and helped him heal. Now this treatment was going to hurt him in ways I couldn’t see with its side effects and unknowns that I couldn’t measure.
8 months of treatment that didn’t do what it was supposed to do entirely. It is a beast. All of it. And we have been able to tame it yet it remains unpredictable. So now, once again, we find ourselves in the hospital. With the kids by my side, the doctor comes out and gives us the synopses of what happened in that cold, sterile room. It was a difficult surgery lasting 6 1/2 hours. He got the tumor that he went in to get. He also got the one that wasn’t there 30 days ago…..WHAM! My head started to spin. Again. He went on to talk about the next steps. When the doctor left I repeated back to my son-in-law what I had heard. (He understands the language because he is a former med student.)
He had surgery last Thursday. He has had some setbacks and complications, but nothing too alarming. There are some hurdles for him to get over before he can leave this place. This place…I never ever thought I would be able to navigate a hospital the way I can navigate this one. I am not a doctor. I do not work here. I do not wish to be able to navigate this place by sound and smell. It has been challenging. I will spare you the details, but just know it has been challenging. Sometimes I have to walk out of the room to clear my head. Sometimes the days are very long. Hours can go by without even knowing it.
Now, as I sit here in ICU, I wonder what is to come and pray for healing. Healing for all of us. He has had a few complications that we hadn’t experienced in the previous surgeries and we are getting through it. I am not afraid. I just feel helpless. As the caregiver, it is hard. There is only so much I can do for him. Juggling a new job, kids at home, pets to care for, everyday things that need to get done and hospital stays has my mind running a little ragged. I feel like I am barely keeping my nose out of the water to breathe and it is hard. Cancer is hard for EVERYONE involved.
Fortunately, no surgery could take away his humor. Even today as I sit in this hospital room, watching him writhing and twisting his face in pain, he still has the ability to drive me nuts (we HAVE been married for forever) with his bad jokes and corny humor. He thinks he is a stand-up comedian and this room is his stage. It makes me laugh. It makes the nurses laugh. He is an ICU favorite. MVP. He is still so nice to the nurses, complimenting their hard work and excellence. He also wants me to tell him about the meaning of life and when I do, he just falls asleep. I am sure somehow my philosophical mind (not a thing) just lulls him to sleep. All kidding aside, though, I am sure it is the comfort of my voice. The one he has listened to every day for 27 years.
There is a possibility we are done and in remission again. There is the possibility we will have to endure the ugly, thoughtless hurt of cancer again. He may have to go on immunotherapy. I have heard great things about these treatments and I will remain hopeful. I don’t know what the future holds, but we will choose joy!
This is the only time I will write about the experience. I really want this page to be a happy place, but couldn’t go without pouring it out. Thank you for your constant prayers. The power of prayer is amazing. If you are on a similar journey, I just want to tell you that you are amazing. Don’t go another second without believing that! You are doing a great job and there is a special place in heaven for you.