In Sickness and In Health– a reflection during Owen’s treatment last Fall

Owen and I right before he started treatment

Owen and I right after surgery but before he started chemotherapy.

No one ever writes Cancer on their life plans. At least in my circle of experience, we don’t. We plan for the good life. Not trials.  I planned for a teaching career, marriage, family, travel. And while I already have experienced so much, when I married my husband, Owen Hemsath in October of 2009, I had no idea that almost 6 years later, my 35 year old husband would be diagnosed with a Cancer so rare, doctors don’t know how one gets it, or how to cure it enough so it doesn’t come back.

If anything that is on the list of events not to experience during one’s life for many people, especially health conscious ones like our selves. This is why I have spent so many hours reading health articles and meticulously shopping at the grocery store for organic vegetables, alkaline water, GMO-free foods, no food dyes, and products with no high fructose corn syrup. I did it so we wouldn’t get cancer.

So even after multiple trips to the hospital for chest pains so bad it brought Owen to his knees on our living room floor, night sweats so strong it literally left the sheets soaking wet, weight loss and the loss of appetite—I still didn’t suspect Cancer.

I knew something was wrong, no doubt. I’m the one that urged him to go to the hospital each time. But I thought it was a lung infection. I thought it was that damn cat my husband refused to get rid of that had given him so many sneezes and coughs—it had finally done him in. That we’d go and get a big bottle of antibiotics and the problem would be solved.

But hospital visit after hospital visit with no answers came and went until April of last spring.

So at the 4th visit in two years, there Owen and I sat in the brightly lit emergency room at Scripps, Encinitas at 2 o’clock in the morning, hoping this time we’d get some answers as we watched the pretty doctor with the brown pony tail and mousy ears  come down from upstairs, studying his CT scan and EKG results and white blood cell count with her eyes brows drawn close together at the center—concerned. Perplexed. None of the doctors on any of the 3-4 other ER visits had that look on their faces.

“What’s wrong, doctor?” Owen said finally, pale- faced and looking so small under the hospital sheets. “Your face has cancer or something written all over it. Are we looking at something like that here? Or am I misreading you?”

And we watched her sit there silently, studying his face. Hesitantly. Like she was already regretting having to say the words. “Yes,” she said.

At this point, it is difficult to explain what it felt like. For me it was like I was not actually in the room. Like I was outside of my body watching this whole scene in front me on a television or movie screen. I watched myself put my hand on his knee as he stared stoically at the doctor—so strong—and then watched him crumble into millions of pieces like a sack of flour the following day after the oncologist came in with the unofficial diagnosis of lymphoma.

And even now, four months later, after the official diagnosis of thymoma, after the surgery that removed the 12 cm sized tumor in his chest that had spread into his heart, after the first 3 rounds of chemo that has stripped him of his hair, beard, eye lashes and color from his skin, I still feel like I’m watching it all. I make sure the heroine in the story acts heroine-like—supportive and loving, doing more around the house and maintaining her joy, seeking God for her strength. I pray just like the rest of the audience that the hero in the story beats the cancer and is able to achieve all of his life goals that cancer has sought to destroy—successful business, travel, speaking gigs, a home in Carlsbad, and giving to charity.

We now begin our fourth round of chemo today. I say we, because whatever affects him affects all of us. He is my love and I am with him through sickness and in health. And while I don’t look forward to the nausea this week or the fatigue or even the sadness that I know he will feel as he lays on the couch wondering how and why this happened to him—I do look forward to the increasing amount of closeness that he and I have developed through this. There is something that sickness does to a marriage when the couple loves each other. There is gentleness and a cherishing that increases significantly for both parties.

This chapter is not over—we’ve got at least 2 more chemo rounds and an entire month of radiation. In two weeks we get the next CT scan to see if any of the treatment has made a difference. Who knows when this chapter will end? I know that it is silly now to finalize life plans. Plot twists come our way and complications arise that the hero and heroin in the story do not anticipate.  I guess the point of life’s story is how we handle it when it comes. Will we allow it to change us like a good dynamic character? Will we resurrect in the end as the hero and be stronger than ever before?

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