Archive for Cancer

Two years

Seems longer than that. Seems like the months and years leading up to that last one were a blur, a speck in time. A fight that kept us swinging and one that never let us believe that we would lose. We knew the statistics and they kept us honest, but we never thought we’d end up anywhere but on the good side of those numbers.

Those last few weeks are still with me in surprising detail. The last few days and hours will never leave me. Not ever.

Last night I was reading through her Facebook account and some of the posts people made on their own sites about Dawn, and a common theme was the relative surprise with which she left us. People just didn’t realize how far along she was and how bad her health had gotten. She didn’t want people to feel bad for her. She wanted them to heed her words and remember her fight and she wanted her strength to be her legacy. She wanted her happiness and attitude about her life to be what she left with you when she passed.

The fact is, what she never said, what she never allowed to get her down, was that she felt cheated by life. Some days she would gather all her strength just to get down the stairs to the couch to be there with her boys. She’d push aside what ailed her in favor of sharing any happiness she could with anyone. She worried more about others’ bad days than she did about her own. She did whatever it took to keep her friends happy, her family optimistic, and her business open.

None of this was a burden on her. It was just her way.

~~~~~~~~

I don’t look with sadness at the pictures that still decorate our house that show her smiling face. I don’t see a hospice bed in my living room anymore. I often think about the conversations we were lucky enough to have time for that made my new life so much easier to walk through. That being said, I will never forget how she breathed in those last few days.

I remember her smile. I remember asking her if she wanted everyone to leave that last weekend when all the cousins came over and she told me “I’d rather have them here than not here, no matter how I feel.” That statement alone changed my life. She couldn’t stay awake for more than an hour at a time, but her life was growing short and she wanted that time to be spent with those who mattered most to her.

There were probably times in the months that followed that people thought that the old me was lost forever. I struggled a lot in everything I did. I was suddenly a single father, I was suddenly a business owner, and I wanted nothing more than for everyone to leave me alone to find my way and anyone to come hold my hand and guide me through. At some point the tide turned and I took back my life and steered it in a direction I wanted it to go. I met a wonderful woman who has wonderful kids and I almost feel guilty for having this feeling a second time in my life. I’ve grown as a person, a father, a man. I’m still worried every second about my boys but they are doing well. We’ve found our way.

And we still miss her like crazy.

 

Choosing life, over life

I spent a lot of time today participating in a discussion about embryonic stem cells.

I spent a little time in my closet packing up Dawn’s clothes.

I won’t try to claim I’m an expert. I will freely admit that I probably portray a much greater knowledge of any subject than I really truly possess.

But I will gladly process 1000 unwanted embryos if it will keep one person and one person’s family from going through what Dawn went through, from what I went through.

Our son turned 11 today. He was nine when she died.

You’ll never convince me that embryonic stem cell research is a bad thing.

It took me 16 months to clean this closet.

One year

Tomorrow is a year since Dawn lost her battle with melanoma, leaving behind me and two wonderful boys, a business, friends who miss her every day, and a family that would give anything to have her back. She was just 39 years old.

From the day of her diagnosis, she preached the use of sunscreen and checking your skin. She implored strangers to stay away from the tanning bed, but they rarely listened. It couldn’t happen to them, they’d tell you. It couldn’t happen to us, either, but it did. It didn’t faze them. She told so many people that I’d be willing to bet that at least one of them has since been diagnosed with some form of skin cancer, and maybe they’re remembering that woman who told them to stay away from tanning beds. Maybe they’re telling a stranger now. I sure hope so.

I’ve told Dawn’s story several times here, and I invite you to go back and find some of the posts about her struggle. She really was an amazing woman in the most difficult time of her life, never once giving up on her fight; never once thinking she was going to lose. She smiled every day and she took in visitors whenever they wanted to see her, and she never wanted them to leave. “Even if I fall asleep,” she’d say, “I’d rather have them here than anywhere else.”

The thing I miss most is her touch. The way she’d run her fingers through my hair as I laid on her lap after a tough day. She would almost always fall asleep if I asked this of her in bed, and that became a running joke. She also picked on me incessantly, with that shit-eating grin accompanying her ribbing of me. If I did something stupid, she’d give me that deadpan “really?” look. But it’s her touch I miss most. Her hugs. She’d hold me when things were rough, and for the last 18 months, things were rough for me, too. She didn’t let me hide behind being the strong one or the caregiver. She knew this disease was almost as much mine as it was hers. Thing is, she’s done with it now. I’m still suffering from what melanoma takes away.

I’ve cried oceans of tears in the past year, and in many ways I’m worse now than I was then. A year ago the future held that she wouldn’t be here, and I’d be responsible for everything with the kids, the house, and everything else. I was aware of probably 10% of what that meant, and besides the tangible things like keeping our lives going, there was a storm waiting for me in the form of social interaction. I was going to fall in love again, and I wasn’t going to be able to stop that from happening.

I’ve found comfort in the huge number of new friends I’ve made over the past year, who help me along my way when my best friends, the ones who have always been here, can’t be there. We all have lives, but I’ve rarely felt nobody was there. I’m incredibly lucky for that. I’ve gotten too close with a few in that time, but that’s been part of my growth as a widower as well. I have regrets and wish I’d done things differently, but who wouldn’t? This new life of mine has been full of mistakes, but I move on and try and go to sleep at night and hope I wake up the next day, and I do it all over again. I’m often lost and lonely and miserable, but the clock keeps ticking. Someday I won’t hear that ticking and I’ll be back in a good place. I’ll keep trying different paths until the right one comes along.

What gets me out of bed every morning is a promise I made to Dawn in her last days. I was keeping the house so we could stay close to friends, I was going to continue pushing the boys to be the best men they could be, I was going to take over the business and keep it on the path she wanted all along. But mostly, I was going to live with no regrets over her leaving. We left nothing unsaid. We were lucky enough to have time to make our peace with our lives and our marriage, and this disease. She blessed my future in any way that made me happy, and I don’t know that I would even be here without that gift.

I’m still feeling my way through the dark with almost every aspect of my life. I have a wonderful therapist who doesn’t speak ill of my mistakes, but rather, she takes me where I am and guides me along the way to peace and happiness. I have friends who let me hide in hotels with my tears, understanding that I just can’t be with them that night. I live in a town that knows my story, and while I’ve spoken ill of that curse, as it were, I’m touched by the closeness of the community as they come together for one of their own.

Mostly, though, it’s all of you who shepherd me through. There are too many to name, for I’d surely forget a few who deserve to be named as much as anyone else. But there’s always someone around the corner holding a light for me, and they do as Dawn did – pick me up when I need to be picked up, or sit down in the dumps with me until I’m ready to climb back up. My boys and I cannot even remotely express the amount of gratitude we have for all of you, but we send an unending supply of virtual hugs and kisses to each and every one of you, for you have kept us breathing.

As time goes on, I’m sure the pain will be replaced bit by bit with loving memories. There’s not enough room in my head or my heart for all of it yet, but I’m making room. I’ve still got a lot to tackle in this, but every day is a new opportunity. I’ll surely phone some of those days in, and maybe even stay in bed all day, but they keep coming and I keep trying to make them work for me. I can’t touch her, or feel her, or talk with her, or kiss her, but she’s here. She’s happy with my progress, I can just feel it. I’ve questioned my direction a couple times but I’ve made adjustments. Perhaps that was just her turning my shoulders in a different direction.

I love Dawn very much, even to this day, and I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t appreciate and accept that of me. I look at her smile every day and marvel at how she was able to wear it in those times. She truly is my hero, and is easily the most courageous, strongest, bravest person I’ll ever know. I just wish she was here so I could tell her that.

I love you, baby.

 

132 days

That’s how long it’s been.  I know this because I turned Dawn’s phone on tonight to clean up the junk email and update the apps.  I still keep the phone active and up-to-date.  I don’t know any other way.  While doing this I scrolled through her Twitter app and found so many wonderful thoughts and messages from the day she passed, 132 days ago today.

I’ve been having a hard time lately.  It’s been difficult ever since she passed, but the last couple of weeks have been especially difficult.  I don’t know if it’s because of changes in my life that are, oddly, bringing me happiness, or if it’s just time for the latest wave of grief to pass through.  I contacted a counseling center today and am waiting for them to call me back with a schedule, because I have to start getting therapy.  I met with a grief counselor once but I feel I need more than what she could provide.  I think it will help.

My heart hurts tonight.  My chest is tight with sorrow.  132 days ago I watched her breathing weaken as her life was reduced to minutes and seconds.  Now, as I try to establish myself as a business owner, as a father, as someone people want to spend time with, I still feel like I’m that guy whose wife died of cancer.  Perhaps I always will be that.  In a way, it makes me happy, because those people will think of Dawn, and I’ll remember how many lives she touched.  I hope she inspired you and made your life better.  I know she did for me.  God, I miss her, especially tonight.

On Dignity

If you didn’t know Dawn, you probably thought she was, at best, overly optimistic about her condition, and at worst, completely oblivious to it.  The fact is, however, that she was more aware of her fate than any of us and she knew it was just how it was going to be for her.

The Melanoma Research Foundation will give you all the statistics you need about this disease.  The following is all statistically speaking.

How many people do you follow on Twitter?  I follow just over 1500.  MRF tells me that of these 1500 people, 30 of them will develop melanoma.  They won’t be alone, because eight minutes later, someone else will be diagnosed, and every eight minutes after that.  Every hour, someone dies of melanoma.  Another 270 of the people I follow will develop some other form of skin cancer in their lifetime.

Going back to those 30 who develop melanoma, pretty much all of them will survive at least five years if the melanoma is discovered and treated before it spreads to the lymph nodes.  An annual visit with a dermatologist is the most effective way to stay on top of this.  If the melanoma spreads to the lymph nodes, 10 of those 30 won’t survive five years.  If it spreads beyond the lymph nodes, 25 of those 30 won’t survive five years.

This is the reality we lived with for almost four years.  Dawn watched a mole and the second she noticed a change, she was in the dermatologist’s office.  Was she too late?  Fact is, probably.  Could she have done anything sooner about that one mole?  Fact is, probably not.

Fast-forward to her last hospital visit.  The tumor in her abdomen was bleeding, and it was attached to the bowel, and we knew in the back of our minds that this might be it.  Our oncologist delivered the news that confirmed our worst fears.  From that point forward, the hospital didn’t focus on Dawn eating, or really anything else that would keep her from going home.  It was obvious they knew, too.

She was home about two weeks when she passed, and she did so with no worries about dignity or accommodation.  She had her boys around her and she ended her life how she wanted to within the confines of her physical ability.

She wasn’t oblivious to her diagnosis.  She wasn’t ignorant of her fate.  She wasn’t happy her life was ending.  But she wasn’t going to let that beat her.  I said she didn’t worry about dignity.  She didn’t have to.  It just came naturally for her.