Today Owen came home from the hospital. He had a strumectomy done to remove the 12 cm sized tumor growing in his chest–a malignant thymoma. When the CT scan was performed a month ago, the oncologist said it looked like it was in stage 2 and it was the size of like a tangerine. But this one was the size of a grapefruit, the largest the thoracic surgeon had ever seen in his career (and he has been a surgeon for like 40 years!) and it had grown into stage 3 cancer–invading his heart.
So they couldn’t remove all of it. Had to leave the part of the tumor on the heart alone. It has left an exclamation mark scar on his chest. I knew that meant either radiation or chemo or both. Deep down, I was holding out for just radiation. But sure enough, on Wednesday, the oncologist came in and explained to us the treatment plan in his thick Hebrew accent. We held hands hearing about all the chemical combinations and the side effects– hair loss, fatigue, nausea, weight gain. He used words like “aggressive” and “kill everything” to explain the process but encouraged us with words like “you are strong, you will be able to handle it.” Supposedly the research suggests that with the chemo combination often called PAC, performed every 21 days for 4-6 sessions and included with it a month of daily radiation at UCSD, Owen will have a 80-90% chance of being cured.
I don’t like those numbers. I want 100%. I can’t even imagine a world if that 10-20% chance comes crashing through our lives. That would mean more chemo. More radiation. More suffering. And what if, it is never cured? Then what? I don’t even want to imagine. So I cling to what Owen says.
“You know the strongest man you’ve ever met going through Chemo, doctor?” He said, matter-of-factly.
“Yes,” the doctor replied, questioningly.
“That will be me, doctor.” I loved that.
Given we were already mentally preparing for this talk, however, it didn’t come nearly as emotionally shocking as it did when we were in the hospital a month ago, and the first doctor from upstairs came down and suggested the word Cancer with her concerned eyes. We were not expecting that. That was the moment that slowed down, where like in the movies, the sound quiets and all you see are the characters’ expressions as they hear the grim news. The doctor pulls out the documents and solemnly words the news. The wife stares blankly at the doctor and puts her hand on her husband’s knee. He leans down and rests his head in his hands. And you know. You as the audience know they just heard they’ve got cancer. But when you are the one in that scene, it feels like a dream. At least it did for me. Is this real? This wasn’t part of my life plan.
But still, I was emotionally jarred by the official news that chemo was next. It made everything all the more real. Even more real than the surgery. This is what I think of when I hear of cancer. I think of the chemo–the monster that kills cancer patients faster than the cancer can kill them–but somehow, doesn’t kill them, just leaving them bald, frail, weak, and in bed. So after the doctor left the room, I went into the bathroom and cried. Cried for my husband. Cried for me and for the kids. I don’t want to go down this road. I don’t want to have to see my husband in that state. There are many more tears ahead and I don’t want to cry anymore.
Today I had time to process it a bit more. In the quiet of the day as my husband recovered on the couch and I paid the medical bills we had already accumulated with the blessing of donations in our GoFundMe Campaign, an intense chest pain came over me–anxiety. Almost an attack. But I prayed and asked for prayer. I decided–no cleaning, no added stress. Instead, I spent an hour designing a banner for a buy, sell, trade group I’m co-administering on Facebook with a couple of close friends. It was medicinal. I need a creative outlet. In the end, I think today’s anxiety came today of all days and not earlier because my body is finally having time to just feel. I’ve been in survival mode for a while. I just hope my milk supply goes back up. The baby is now drinking mainly formula, because 2 weeks ago, once Owen started getting another flare up (chest pains, nausea, night sweats, fatigue, weakness, poor appetite) my supply plummeted. In my mind, I felt like I was so strong. But the body knows. Survival mode kicked in. And that means less milk for my baby.
Owen went through it too–negative emotions I mean. Some friends of ours, the Pallottos, came over tonight and took care of the kids for a couple of hours, asking us to go out for a while and just be together. We did. It was good for us. We went to Red Lobster and picked at our crab legs between holding hands, talking, and sharing silence. We laughed. We even cried. My husband’s lips were ash and he didn’t have much of an appetite. He broke down a couple of times unexpectedly. We held hands and for the first time in our marriage, remembered that in the big scheme of this life–it is the two of us in our family who are one. Our kids will grow up one day and leave and they will not be with us. It will be us two. I will be with him through this cancer. And he, God willing, will be with me when I experience my big issue in the future, whatever that may be. It became so much more real tonight. So this is marriage. This is sickness and health. And strangely, it brought me comfort and an overflowing surge of love. I love him. I love this man. And he is mine and I am his till death do us part.
I drove us back home afterward, and felt a poem forming in my mind about my mixed emotions– sadness, anger, and yet love and joy still.
I told Owen–“I have a poem forming in my mind. It’s called the Paradox of Pain. You know–I want to laugh, I want to cry.”
Then Owen replied quickly, “…I want to stab you in the eye.”
“Yes!” I cried, “You know!”
I write this blog because I believe in being translucent. I don’t think we can truly know each other and love each other unless we allow ourselves to see one another as we truly are. Listen, I know the truth. I know God loves us. I know he has a plan for us. I know he will use this for good. I know he will be there with us through it all. I know this. And knowing that certainly gives us a hope and a strength, I could no way have on my own. But it doesn’t mean that I want it. I don’t want it. I want a life of bliss and no suffering.
Ironically, I say that knowing that it’s silly and knowing that it is through our suffering that we become strong and better people, which I want too. I want to grow closer to Christ. I want to be stronger. I want to be more compassionate toward others. I want to grow closer to my husband. I want to appreciate life more and take less for granted. I want all of that too. But you can’t get all that growth, without some pruning. Pruning cuts and it pinches and it hurts. It hurts! But I do know that the Master Gardner has a beautiful plan for his garden. And we get to be a part of that plan. I do trust in that. And while today was a tough day and not the last of those tough days, I know that because of what I know, there will be many great days too.
Thanks for reading. If you have gone through cancer, how did you deal? How did you come to terms and move forward? Would love to know more of your stories.