25 April 2019

Reliving My Early Fears

While my writings started long before my ex-wife Betty got cancer, it was her battle for life that changed my views of others. The thing that impressed me the most was the strength and courage all survivors have. This is a short story about those first couple of months, where we never really seemed to catch our breath. Everything happened so fast. And it never really slowed down for close to a year. It is an experience I'll never forget.

On her 40th birthday, she made a decision to start a regular program of annual check-ups. A mammogram and a pap smear would become part of this wellness check. She felt good after the first year showed that everything was fine. She had taken a step to be in charge of her life and as time would show it would be a wise choice.

As the second year rolled around she scheduled her appointments. The mammogram would take place on November 29th - her birthday. The pap smear would take place a couple of days later, where she would learn about the results of the mammogram.

At our clinic, our doctor told her that the radiologist had a concern about a lump deep in her breast. A normal biopsy wouldn't work and she would have to have it surgically removed. We talked to the surgeon and surgery was set for December 23, 1999.

As thoughts of Christmas approach, our thoughts were pre-occupied with the upcoming surgery. The 23rd finally came and I settled in the waiting room for the 45 minute surgery. The surgeon came in and told me everything went well and she should be back in her room within a half an hour. I asked him what he thought; he shook his head and said it didn't look good. I never told Betty about our conversation, not wanting to worry her and somehow hoping we could enjoy our Christmas together.

For the next six days we waited and I prayed a lot. Finally, the 29th arrived and we headed to the surgeon's office to get the results of the biopsy. We sat in a room for about five minutes, Betty and I not really saying much to each other. He finally came in, sat down, looked at Betty and said it’s cancer.

I tried to stay focused as he began talking about the plan of attack. A partial mastectomy would take place on January 3, 2000, then after some recovery time she would have radiation.

On the ride home, I was quiet and in shock. Already on that day, Betty was showing me the strength which would carry our whole family through this ordeal. It was her early strength that gave me the courage to realize that this fight wasn't just about me or her – it was about us.

Not only did our Christmas have a cloud over it, we were now ready to enter a new year, with an even bigger cloud. The 3rd arrived and I was prepared for another hour in the waiting room.

I grabbed a cup of coffee and headed outside for a quick smoke. I wasn't outside 10 minutes when a nurse came out and told me the surgeon needed to talk to me. Telling me to have a seat in the waiting room, she went to get the doctor. He came in and sat next to me. He said it was worse than he thought and I had to make a decision for her. He wanted to remove her whole breast. I didn't know what to say, Betty thought she would come out of surgery still pretty much in tact. I gave my permission and began to prepare for Betty in the recovery room and tell her about my decision. An hour and a half later surgery was complete and the surgeon said he didn't remove the breast - which he believed he got it all.

Three days later, we were back in his office and found out that he did not get it all that Betty's breast would have to be removed ASAP. Five days later, on the 11th, her breast was removed.

Again, three days later we sat in his office waiting to find out what would be next. He planned CT scans, MRIs, and bone scans to see how far the cancer had spread. Then in a couple of months, chemotherapy followed by radiation.

One final surgery would need to take place before chemotherapy started. Betty has really small veins, so she would need a catheter would have to be placed in a main vein, so the chemo wouldn't destroy her veins.

This was supposed to be a 15-20 minute surgery and a half-hour in recovery and out the door we go. Surgery was scheduled for February 7th. Our minds were elsewhere that week and didn't give much thought to this surgery. We took it for granted. I was still in the waiting room an hour later, when the surgeon finally came in and said it was more difficult then he thought it would be.

I went to Betty's room and watched her. Something wasn't right and the three nurses that were in the room knew it. One left the room and got some more help and a doctor. I sat and watch as Betty went from sitting to laying back, her eyes closing and as I looked at the machine showing her vitals, everything flatlined.

She would return to us a few seconds later. That day I learned that there is no such thing as a simple surgery. Nothing can be taken for granted. What we thought would be an hour in the hospital, ended up being three days as Betty was moved to ICU.

Not only would we fight cancer, but that day I realized that cancer would fight us. There would be more trying days ahead, but those 20 seconds of being a widower - prepared me to expect the unexpected.

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