Today’s dispatch is the second guest post in our Caregiver Series.  It’s from Sally.  Last week she shared with us the beginning of her journey as a support and eventual full-time caregiver to her husband, who has battled both Stage 4 cancer (2003) and a massive stroke (2008).  Today she shares the next part of her journey – the official cancer diagnosis and initial treatment.  Throughout the post, you will notice a shift in her identity as she goes from simply being a wife to becoming a caregiver.

Life As I Knew It Was Over – A Guest Post by Sally 

On the morning of the official biopsy my husband woke up and looked me straight in the eye and said, “This is the hand we have been dealt … let’s go play it.”  So, hand-in-hand we left for Vanderbilt hospital where he had his surgical biopsy.

After a couple of hours, I was paged to the waiting room information desk and picked up the call from the surgeon.  In front of the whole waiting room I received the news that my husband had Stage 4 nasopharyngeal adenocarcinoma with skull base erosion.

At that moment, life as I knew it was over.

We went home and began to research everything we could.  We learned that every cancer is unique and we also learned that you can really scare yourself by reading things on the internet.
Our next step in the journey was to return for a follow-up with the head and neck oncology department at Vanderbilt University.  We were told in no uncertain terms that my husband should quit his job and that our family needed to seek grief counseling.  The doctor shook my husband’s hand.
Instead of taking their advice, we decided to obtain a second opinion at MD Anderson in Houston, Texas.  We made reservations on Southwest Airlines and, armed with our manilla envelope of x-rays, we headed to Houston.
When we arrived in Houston, we noticed a lot of other people in the airport with manilla envelopes under their arm, and we assumed they were also members of the “cancer club.”
The second thing we noticed in Houston was how the wives clung to their husbands as if they were literally holding on for dear life.
Our experience at MD Anderson was totally opposite from the one we had at Vanderbilt.  Flanked by our two daughters, we marched the halls in the most organized, positive place I have ever been.
This trip was my first step in realizing a positive attitude was of vital importance.
MD Anderson was a good positive place.  They were going to fix him.  Not bury him.
When we returned to Houston to begin our treatment journey, I was the wife clinging to her husband, trying to keep him alive.  Not knowing what was in store for us later, I now realize that was the easy part.  We had a plan.  I had things to do. I had to make sure he got 3,000 calories a day.  I had to make sure he got to treatment and that he did not get discouraged.
Our time in Houston might have been one of the most special times in our marriage.  It was the beginning of the change in the dynamic of our relationship.
Many nights my best friends were chocolate ice cream and wine but then letters and calls from friends would come or I would make contact with friends in Houston that I hadn’t seen in years.  He and I would walk through the hospital hotel with golf clubs and as long as was able, we would go play golf after treatments.
Anything to hold onto the real world.
My daughter asked me once if we were holding on to what we enjoyed or if we were just trying to hold onto our old life.  I think it was a little of both.
Inspiration came in all shape and sizes.  On Halloween, there was a small child dressed in a Superman costume also getting radiation.  Since he was a child, he was anesthetized for radiation.  But afterwards he got a soda and a doughnut.  He would come in and smile at everyone and want to know where his “treats” were.  How could adults who haves lived a pretty good life together be upset after seeing bravery like that from such a little guy?
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If you have been a caregiver for someone who is ill or injured, did you find yourself trying to “hold onto the real world?”  How did you cultivate a balance between the demands of the illness or injury and your desire to maintain some sort of normalcy in your lives?

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