Thanks for having me as a guest!
To bring you all up to speed with what’s been happening in my world, the week before Christmas my husband of thirty-four years had what we thought was the dreaded flu. The week before he fell ill, I’d been home battling a wicked-ass stomach bug. The worst day of it, I lay in bed all day without even turning on the TV, flippantly wondering if death might be a better option. So we simply assumed that when Jeff started feeling punk, he was getting my virus.
But he never really did suffer. He ran a fever. He ached. Then he’d rebound a little. He even went to see the nurse-practitioner at our family doctor’s office to see what the heck was going on. She ran some blood tests, but the only true red flag was that his kidney function was a little “off.” She prescribed an antibiotic, thinking he had the beginning of a kidney infection.
Two days later, he wasn’t any better. I returned from work to find his groin had swollen as though he had a strangulated hernia and decided enough was enough. So off we go to the Emergency Room.
Then all hell broke loose.
The doctor also thought Jeff had a hernia and ran a CAT scan. One look at his face when he came back with the results made my heart plummet to my toes. Jeff’s colon had ruptured, and he had a massive abscess of infection on his left side all the way to his groin. He needed immediate surgery.
We’d walked that path before. Jeff has Crohn’s disease, and almost twenty years ago, he had a perforated colon. But that time, he’d been in immense pain and there was no doubt something was seriously wrong. Since the symptoms this time were so benign, we never suspected.
At this point, Jeff’s vitals are declining rapidly. He’s rushed to surgery, and he pulls through fairly well. Unfortunately, that was the last good news we’d have for a long, long time.
He went septic because of the waste products that had spilled into his body with the rupture. Only a few hours after the surgery, he was put into a drug-induced coma, put on a ventilator, and then put on full dialysis when his kidneys shut down. I was told he had a 50/50 shot at surviving. Two days later, he had a second emergency surgery, and his odds were closer to 25/75. But you can’t keep a stubborn man down.
After suffering through seven days that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, he began to improve. Christmas came and went without any celebration. Then we made it to the day we woke him. When he was finally coherent and the vent was removed, he asked how long he’d been out. I told him a week, and his response was, “Wow,” which he repeated about twenty times.
But there was one more stunning blow.
Jeff’s rupture wasn’t caused by Crohn’s.
He had colon cancer.
So here we are, in the middle of a war. We’re battling this bastard disease with chemotherapy, we’re battling the insurance companies to be sure he gets the best treatment regardless of cost, and we’re battling to stay afloat through what now totals (and will continue to grow) over $300K in medical bills.
Cancer changes everything. This is his disease, but we share it on a level only those of you who are in a long-term committed relationship can understand. I figured I’d share my list of the five biggest things you learn when someone you love has cancer.
1. If you think you know a lot about medicine, you’ve got another think coming.
Obviously, that sentiment doesn’t apply to doctors or nurses, although I’m sure even those people might need a crash course in cancer. Today, for example, we received the genetic testing on his cancerous growths. I spent the entire afternoon trying to educate myself on immuno-therapy treatments for colon cancer. My vocabulary is growing at a phenomenal rate, but I doubt you’ll ever see those words in my romance novels.
2. Life becomes a form of Limbo.
Yesterday, Jeff looked at me and asked what day of the week it was. I had to check my phone, because I didn’t know, either. Why? Because you live day-to-day, and those days of “the same old, same old” begin to blur. The only things that interrupt that daily survival mode are doctor appointments, chemo sessions, or church.
3. You feel helpless.
For a Type-A like me, this might be the worst. I want to fix this, damn it! I’m a doer! I’m a get-it-done woman! Yet here I am, watching my husband suffer through his ordeal with nothing to offer except taking good care of him. I can’t make the cancer go away. I can’t make the side effects leave. I can hold his hand, fetch his drinks, make his favorite foods, and listen to him when he needs to talk about things. Seems quite insufficient when I’m so used to problem-solving every other aspect of our lives.
4. The love between you grows.
Amazing how the word “cancer” can change how you look at life—and at each other. Now, the petty little things just don’t matter. If his socks don’t make it to the hamper, who gives a crap? And the love I feel for him is deeper and stronger at the notion of losing him. When he was in ICU, I wasn’t allowed to sleep in the room. Because I have lupus and must watch my own health like a hawk, I forced myself to go home to sleep at night. All sleeping alone in that big, cold bed did was make me realize exactly how much I needed him—and how much I wasn’t complete without him.
5. You find out who really cares for you.
I’ve always been close to my in-laws, but not in the way we are now. My mother-in-law is an amazing woman, and I’ve always loved her as though she were my own mother. My father-in-law and I share a love of writing. And I’ve always enjoyed the company of Jeff’s three siblings and their spouses. Now, I know just how they feel about Jeff—and about me. We never see each other without hugs, and we never end a phone conversation without saying, “Love you.” And we mean it.
In conclusion, I’ve had so many people ask why I don’t set up a “Fund Me” account or something similar. I don’t because I don’t want handouts. We’ll make it through this. But if you would like to help, please buy one of my books. That way I can focus on taking care of Jeff rather than worrying about being away from my teaching job. Bloggers such as our own Ms. Anna have been so supportive in getting the message out to buy my stories to help with Jeff’s cancer battle, and I appreciate their efforts more than they’ll ever know.
Thanks for listening to our story! ~Sandy
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