I won’t admit that I took anything for granted before #hiscancer. I had already imagined myself succumbing to a long and painful death because my breasts or uterus would betray me. Certainly, I had amassed enough information in my son’s cancer 13 years ago and if I hadn’t, I collected the rest walking with my mom through her brain cancer just the year my son finished treatment. I knew the names of drugs. I had recited the protocols. I was familiar with suffixes and I could silence an alarming IV in the midst of a bandage change.
What I didn’t know then, I would learn last month, when it was my husband of nearly 32 years…..a man I hadn’t yet learned everything about.
Almost 2 years to the date, I got a phone call 20 minutes after he had left. He left in his riding gear…jacket and helmet, boots, gloves…like he always does. Bye, see you later. Yeah, have a good day. You , too. Love you. Mhmm. Love you, too. I’m in an ambulance. Shit. Shit. Shit. I watch the clock everyday. If 30 minutes goes by and the phone doesn’t ring, he made it to work and I don’t have to imagine him mangled under a car somewhere. What happened? I got hit. Where are you going? I don’t know. Where am I going? Scottsdale Osborn. OK, I’ll meet you there. Banged and shaken, but not broken. He hobbled home, made insurance arrangements and packed for his business trip to Geraldton, W. Australia. I was fortunate to have a friend with a physician husband who was willing to see him on short notice and under the circumstances. (The lesson here is: find a primary care physician while you are relatively healthy, because in a trauma situation no one will accept you as a new patient.)
A month ago, today, he was on a business trip near Boston when he felt bad enough to find an urgent care for his complaints. He was having trouble breathing. For a 59 year old man, that can mean some pretty serious things. Urgent care took xrays, saw the entire left side of his chest full of fluid and sent him directly to an ER. The ER drained his chest of liter after liter after liter after liter after liter of fluid. It was almost 5 liters of fluid. Imagine that for a few seconds. Yes, like big soda bottles. In his chest. Initially, the hospital was worried he had Tb. A CT would show a shadow and prompted a surgical biopsy. The cytology initially indicated what his doctors at home would confirm: Tcell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma. In between the beginning and the end of that sentence is a discharge from a small hospital near Boston, a long day of flying from Providence to Chicago Midway and on home, to Phoenix. We drove immediately to his PCP in advance of his scheduled appointment. His admission was swift, bypassing the ER and directly inpatient. He was assigned a smart team of doctors headed by the Lymphoma and Leukemia department. His doctor hedged a bet….used her gut and her heart, she told me. She told me this while he was laying in ICU. This tumor had grown 3 cm in the few days since he arrived from Boston. It had grown fingers and was growing into the space his heart occupied. It was strangling his heart. His left lung had filled with fluid again….what wasn’t occupied by tumor was fluid filled. His abdomen showing the 30 pounds of fluid he wasn’t able to evacuate on his own. The tumor was crushing the left side of his heart. What should be a roundish shape, the size of a nice rutabaga, was now a flat, compressed sliver.Breathing was strenuous and ineffective. The oxygen was turned up and he was forced to concentrate on every breath, as his now battered heart struggled to pass blood through it. He was dying. His doctor knew it. She admitted her fear was that he might crash in the night and promised a thoracic surgeon was nearby (standing in the hall is pretty nearby) and would open his chest and carve away tumor, if he had to. Her every wit told her it was a lymphoma and the endless drip of steroids would make those cells explode and as they did, the tumor would back off from it’s most recent edges.
And that is what happened. Exactly. We were standing over his bed the next day, embraced and celebrating this outcome! The only thing left was to wait for the complete cytology and begin chemotherapy.
He doesn’t remember much of that time. He admits, he didn’t know it was that critical. He was coping breath to breath. How could he imagine not walking out of the hospital? I had nothing in my brain to imagine leaving without a husband for me, a dad for our kids.
Since then, he has completed round one of chemotherapy, endured a core biopsy, a bone marrow biopsy, a central line install, numerous CTs, xrays,ultrasounds, echocardiograms,urine measurements, body weights,vitals checks. He has eaten through the entire hospital inpatient menu and all from the confines of his room. By the time he was discharged in a last minute offer (“How do you feel about recovering at home?”), he had lost 30 pounds and learned the DIY care ropes of a cancer patient.
Today was a nursing appointment at the Ambulatory Infusion Unit at Mayo Hospital. He got a new line dressing, a blood draw and a quick visit with his doctor. He is responding appropriately. The last echocardiogram shows his heart working normally. She reminded him of activities and warning signs. And asked about setting up his next admission. We anticipated it being tomorrow. The last day or so have been kind of sad, knowing he has to go back in for round 2. We are both weary of the strain having a family member in a hospital is. It’s exhausting and the worry is unlike any other kind of worry. It’s the work of being in 2 places at once……the one place you have to be in ‘normal’ life and the place you want to be-the hospital with him.
“How would you like to be home for Thanksgiving? I’m putting you in for a Friday admission.”
Something to be thankful for. I am so thankful. Do you hear me Mother Earth? I’m very thankful.