It’s a very good day. An important day. An anniversary.
No, not a wedding anniversary, or a dating anniversary, or a birthday.
Today marks one year since my husband had a drain tube pulled after six months of complications from surgery to remove a cancerous tumor that invaded his pancreas.
The difference between this year and last is almost beyond comprehension. Last year at this time, it was a struggle to try to feel merry. We had Christmas lights on the house only because our neighbor was quick to climb on the roof to help. Our tree? That was because my parents were sweet enough to drive an hour to haul it in and put it up so we could decorate it. And the general atmosphere around here? While we were so very thankful for husband’s treatment and his doctors, we were still uncertain of the immediate future. Not that anyone can ever be certain of the future, but you don’t realize how much you take for granted until you’re steeped in worry every second of every day.
This year? This year he’s been caught whistling Christmas carols behind the bathroom door as he gets ready in the morning. The lights on the house were up a day after Thanksgiving. He’s giddy at the prospect of presents on Christmas morning. I’ve come home to find Christmas music playing in his home office as he works. He couldn’t wait to help me address the Christmas cards. He was excited to get the tree, put it up, and wrap the presents that went beneath it. In fact, this might be the first year that he wanted to be involved in seeing all the gifts before they were wrapped instead of settling just for knowing what was bought.
This is a man who has fully embraced the holiday and the feeling of family. So happy Winter Solstice! I’ll take 12/21/18 over 12/21/17 any day, for as grateful as I am for this day last year, I’m a million times more grateful for every moment we’ve had since.
If you want to know the value of a year, ask anyone who has faced this kind of diagnosis or worse. We were lucky. His was only a stage 1B. Prognosis is good. Our future is optimistic.
But that doesn’t stop me from asking ‘What if?’ a hundred-thousand times a day. What if things had been different?
So if you want to know what a year is truly worth, spend an afternoon with a cancer survivor and ask them to share their experience. And never take for granted another year, another day, another minute, again.
June 5, 2017 changed our lives forever. I have felt a level of gratitude every day of this past year greater than I could ever have imagined. If you want to know the value of one year, simply ask yourself, “What if?”
It’s Saturday. More specifically, it’s the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I’m supposed to be happy. We are full-fledged into the Christmas season. I should be baking Christmas cookies (and eating half of them) while my husband strings the lights outside and I watch from the warmth of our living room. The kids should be bouncing off the walls and playing Christmas music. Instead, we’re doing nothing we should be doing and it hardly feels like Christmas at all.
In fact, Thanksgiving, with the exception that we got to spend it with my family and my mom made another fabulous meal for the books, pretty much sucked. Older child had the stomach virus two weeks ago and now quite suddenly has severe panic attacks (most likely due to her father’s prolonged physical illness whether she recognizes it or not). She couldn’t enjoy Thanksgiving dinner and didn’t even manage a bite of dessert. Younger child had lice three weeks ago (that was fun) and we’re still vigilant with our checks to make sure we’ve taken care of the issue. And husband now seems to have a stomach virus on top of all else.It’s 11 a.m. and he’s still sleeping. My guess is that he was up all night. I couldn’t tell you for sure because older daughter has taken his place in our bed the last three nights so that I could make sure she got real sleep.
I have so much to be thankful for, but it’s really difficult to remember when everything around you seems to be falling apart, falling down.
Falling Down. I might be showing my age here, but remember that Michael Douglas movie from the early 1990’s? The main character essentially has a nervous breakdown and starts randomly killing people before ultimately taking his own life. I was 15 or 16 when I watched it with my brother on t.v. one night and I remember being utterly disenchanted. I had just wasted two hours of my life to watch a guy go crazy and shoot people up before killing himself? What was this crap? What was the point?
Let me just say: I get it.
I get it. I get it. I get it. (No, no need to call anyone to have me psychiatrically examined. I won’t take that route.)
Watching the outside world tank over the last couple of years has been depressing enough and being part of the #resistance movement has been taxing (especially as a major introvert who just wants a blanket and a good book, dammit!), but when you’ve got life also screwing you over on a personal level at the same time, it’s almost too much to take.
Remember when I thought seven weeks with a drain tube was a long time? Well, my husband has had one in for 19 now. His next appointment is December 7th, so that will bring our total to at least 21 weeks. Short-term disability runs out on December 2nd. He’s trying to figure out if he is able to go back to work, even with his drain in, and I’m not sure he’s at that point yet. His sleep is miserable (as a result, cognitive function isn’t always top-notch), he’s frequently in pain, and he’s irritable (which might not be the best state for the customer-service aspects of his job). We were supposed to talk it over last night, but talking it over wasn’t a possibility when he ended up battling a stomach virus all night, because a tube in his abdomen apparently wasn’t enough misery. Because he needed another hurdle.
Because apparently the universe isn’t done throwing shit at us yet. I keep wondering how much more it could possibly have in store, but I’ve learned it’s not good to ask the question aloud.
Despite it all, I am still thankful. I am. I am thankful for medicine, for incredible doctors who have brought us through the most difficult times and quite literally saved his life. I’m thankful that, by some miracle, we managed to discover the cancer early. I’m thankful for others’ stories who help us get through. I’m thankful for friends, old and new, who continue to offer support of every kind. I’m thankful that he didn’t need to follow his surgery with radiation or chemotherapy. I’m thankful that a miserable drain tube can prevent the need for another surgery.
I am thankful. And nothing the universe throws at me will ever change that.
That’s all I can think as I sit in this hospital room, watching my husband snore softly as he recovers from an invasive surgery that left him with no spleen, no gallbladder, lost lymph nodes, and half a pancreas.
Why would I think this?
Because I’m the one who always imagines every scenario. I’m the one who always thinks the worst, even when there’s no evidence that the worst is actually going to occur. I’m the one who has imagined every pain, every injury, and every possible way to die. One might say I just like to be prepared, but the truth is that I wasn’t prepared for it to happen to someone else, to someone I love.
That’s not to say that I think about this stuff often. I don’t. But I guess you could say I think about it more than most. I live in my head a million lives I’ve never lived out loud. I imagine that’s the case for most avid readers and writers.
My husband isn’t like that, though. He’s my superhero. He lives for the moment—each and every moment, and to see him reduced to lying in agony on a hospital bed, exhausted from the pain, the common complications, and lack of sleep is both heartbreaking and gut-wrenching. He’s always so sure of things. He’s always so positive.
I have faith that I’ll see the man I know again and probably soon, but at this particular moment, “soon” feels like forever.
But this, too, shall pass. I am a student and the lesson is patience.