The Moment it all Changed
I layered the black eyeliner on thick and a little lopsided, above and below my eyelids. Then I started braiding my blonde hair into small intricate braids, as that of the great Viking women who went into battle with their men. I may have been a tiny bit tipsy on white wine and watching the show Vikings for a couple hours, but I was pumped. Nothing was going to stop me. I was a Viking woman and I was going to fight until my last breath. Like the great shield-maiden and ruler Lagertha Lothbrook, I would run into battle just as strong as the men and fight alongside them. I looked at myself in the mirror with great glee and screamed at the top of my lungs, my war-cry. Running around the house like a mad Wonder Woman with Kendrick Lamar’s “DNA” up as loud as possible, I did a wild dance. Kicking and screaming at my imaginary foe, I was obviously kicking some pretend ass. It was probably quite a sight to behold, but I didn’t care. It was good cardio. My heart was racing and I felt like I could conquer the world. My dogs seemed to enjoy the show and watched in rapt amazement.
Why was I doing this? Had I gone mad? Maybe. But mostly it was because I really was in the fight of my life, and I needed the inspiration to keep on fighting. Months before, in an empty hospital hallway, I learned that my young, 35-year-old, vegetarian, ran-five-miles-a-day, never-sick-a day-in-his-life husband had Stage IV colon cancer. So if I needed to run around the house pretending to be a crazy Viking woman for some inspiration to keep on going, that is what the hell I was going to do.
You can never be prepared for that moment, when the doctors tell you something that changes your life forever. You see it in the movies. You know it happens to people. Maybe something like this has happened to your best friend’s aunt or your colleague’s father but not to you. Right? What are the chances?
It started with my husband feeling sick and constipated. He had been having some irritating pain in his lower stomach area for a few months, but he was seeing a naturalist. “Bear, (his nickname for me) don’t worry, I got it covered.” He was taking care of it. I thought. I told him many times I wanted him to see a doctor, but he continued seeing his naturalist. It seemed like it was getting better. One day the pain was too uncomfortable and I convinced him to go to the local Carenow. We thought it would be easy to get medicine and he would be back on his feet feeling better in no time. They did a quick X-ray and said that out of caution, they wanted to get a CT Scan. Not too concerned, we completed the CT scan with no problems. A few hours later they called us back and told us that he had a blockage. We needed to go to the hospital immediately. I heard the concern in the doctor’s voice. “This hospital will know how to deal with this kind of thing.” There was something in his voice. Alarm? Hmmmm… “This kind of thing. What does THAT mean?” I wondered. At this point, I was still thinking it was something that the doctors could remedy easily and wasn’t that anxious. They would have told us if it was serious. It was going to be fine. We headed to the hospital. The ER was the first time we heard the word “possible tumor” blocking his GI system. They didn’t’ want to scare us. We were still OK. We would have to stay in the hospital for a couple days but they would take care of it. No worries. Hours pass.
When we were waiting for our room to be cleaned, I saw the first sign that this wasn’t just any ordinary visit. As his IV beeped, I went to check it and saw it’s label: Oncology. My heart dropped.
We got up to our room and he was finally stable on pain and nausea medicine. My parents were on their way in from out of town. A PA peeked her head in the room and I mentioned that I had not spoken with a doctor yet. I told her that there was a suggestion of a possible tumor and wondered if anyone could give me more details on the situation. I was getting a little frantic. She quickly squashed my fears and said that I had nothing to worry about; She was sure the ER doctors were just being cautious. I sighed a big sigh of relief. Thank you, God. This wasn’t going to be as bad as I thought. Everything was going to be OK. This will be a quick blip and our life will resume as normal.
An hour later the PA pops her head in the room and asks to speak with me outside. Her voice is shaking and she looks worried. As I took each step, I felt panic rise in my chest. When anyone asks you to step out of the room, it’s not a good sign, right? As she was speaking, saying words like “multiple tumors on his liver,” “possible liver cancer,” and “tumor markers,” I felt weak in the knees. Time seemed to slow down and her words became long and deep. Suddenly she sounded like the teacher in Charlie Brown. My parents came rushing up at that very second and I leaned hard on my mother to keep from falling on the hospital floor. I could see in my parent’s faces that they knew it was bad too. My mind was spinning. My knees gave way. This isn’t happening. I was going to throw up.
My mom promptly took me to the bathroom. I didn’t realize how your body can actually have a physical reaction when a traumatic situation like this occurs. I kept repeating, “No…this can’t happen.”
I thought maybe if I kept saying no, somehow, maybe I could change it. No. No. This can’t happen. This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening. My mom held me as I cried and flailed. She spoke words like a nurturing mother hen, none that I can remember now, but were meant to soothe. I could see it in her face too: the disbelief, the horror, the sadness. We sat on the dirty bathroom floor for a while in silence, taking it all in. Holding each other.
It wasn’t until days later till we received the official diagnosis, Stage IV Colon Cancer that had moved to the liver. It took me asking straight to the doctor’s face before they would actually say the words. No one wanted to tell us the truth. It wasn’t till days later that I had to sit down and explain to my husband what was going on. He was so doped up on pain meds that he didn’t really grasp what was happening. The first words out of his mouth when I asked if he had any questions was… “I’m so sorry we have to stop trying for a baby, but please don’t worry, we will figure it out.” Not worried about himself, but about me. I felt my heart swell with love.
Photo by Dominik Kuhn.