I’m writing a post I never thought in a million years I would write. Well, I never thought I would be writing this post either, but I’ll be honest with you, I look back and feel like my thoughts and fears back then were over-exaggerated, and that I knew deep down that we would be okay. Because stuff like this doesn’t happen to people like us. Kevin and I have an amazing marriage. We have two beautiful kids, our perfect boy and girl. Less than two years ago we had moved to Atlanta in a step of faith that seemed to be coming to fruition in a job for Kevin that was a perfect fit, an amazing dream house in a neighborhood that gave us a fulfilling sense of purpose. I have seen my children’s and my relationship with my parents and my sister and her family grow and blossom in ways that confirmed that moving to be closer to them was a part of God’s perfect plan. We have had challenges and quite honestly felt like we’d been “kicked in the nuts” as my friend would say, more times than we can count in the past year. From a NICU stay to three insurance battles… from monster car repairs to trees falling through our backyard… from shady contractors to three surgeries, six and a half weeks of radiation, four weeks of high dose interferon, and a month of subcutaneous interferon… God has carried us through. We both honestly thought that we’d just be plodding through this horrible year of interferon, wipe our brows and say, “Whew! I’m so glad that really difficult period in our life is over… Now we can get back to living!” We were both preparing and processing how to deal with the fear that someday the melanoma might come back, and how to live our lives without always just waiting for the other shoe to drop. But other than that, we really did think we’d simply be giving God the glory for carrying us through, and what an amazing testimony we’d have!
Everything changed last Tuesday. We went in for a one month follow-up to discuss how Kevin was doing on the interferon. The doctors took one look at him and were concerned. They ordered a PET/CT scan and an MRI for as soon as possible, which was Thursday. They never used the R word, recurrence, but I knew that that was what we were looking at. Even though the scans hadn’t yet been conducted, my hope was shattered on Tuesday. I remember sitting at breakfast with Kevin, tears streaming down my face; he asked me what I was thinking about, and I told him that I didn’t even know if he wanted to be buried or cremated. I told him that I didn’t know when the mortgage was due, or how one pays the bills or any of the hundred other things necessary to keep a household together in the first month after someone is lost. I told him I didn’t “think” he was going to die, but I “felt” it at the same time. I told him I felt guilty for feeling that way, just horrible, and selfish for being more concerned for myself than him. I told him that I wondered how melanoma would make him sick if it did… up to this point, all the sickness he’s had has been related to treatment. I cried and cried and didn’t eat a bite of my breakfast. The poor waitress, as she was wrapping up my meal and Kevin was paying the bill… she asked me tentatively, “Are you okay?” And I thought, now it begins. Now I have to start making the choice every time, do I give someone an out and say, “I’m fine, just having a rough day… thanks for asking.” Or do I just come out with out and decide not to care how awful it makes the other person feel. I chose to be selfish in that moment, and plainly told her, “Thank you for asking, no I’m not. My husband has cancer, and we think it may have come back.” The look of horror for what she had said was apparent on her face and I immediately followed with, “It’s okay… thank you for asking. Don’t feel bad.” She fumbled around and weakly said, “Well, come back. We’ll feed you.” I am so grateful for her mercy and tenderness in that moment.
I don’t know why Tuesday was the rougher day for me. We didn’t even know then, but for some reason, maybe the fact that the doctors had acted so swiftly, Tuesday was when I lost it. I pulled it together enough to make home and Kevin, bless that man, headed back to work. I know what you’re thinking, how can he work through all of this? But really, how can he not? He felt well enough to be at work, and there was nothing else to do, except perhaps to sit around and feel sorry for one’s self. And we all know how far that’s ever gotten us. His only concern was that I didn’t have to be alone, and I had a friend waiting at home with the kids for me. So off to work he went and home I went to get back to “real life”, changing diapers, handling tantrums and time-outs.
I kept as busy as I could for the next couple of days and made childcare plans so I could be with Kevin for his scans Thursday morning. I won’t say we felt some amazing peace that morning, it’s just… well, it was what it was. We weren’t sitting there biting our nails and freaking out, but we weren’t sitting there feeling all zenlike either. I read crappy waiting room magazines and Kevin read an IT exam prep book on his kindle. For those of you who might not know, these scans take quite a while, and they shoot Kevin up with this crazy radioactive dye (the syringe is literally in a lead box) and then they leave us alone in a lead lined room for an hour so that it can spread through his body! I remember thinking about the absurdity of it all, trying to find out if he has cancer by injecting something that could cause cancer into his body. Not that they take it lightly or anything, but it was another indicator of how serious this all is.
After we were done, Kevin again headed back to work and I tried to get a few things done around the house while we waited. My parents still had the kids, and, for the first time in months, Kevin was actually feeling pretty good by the time he got home that evening. We decided to try to actually get out and go somewhere and ended up at Centennial Olympic Park, spread out on an old quilt, dozing lazily in the evening sun. It was so nice. I know that is such a simple sentence… It was so nice. But see, that’s exactly what it was, simple and quiet and really just… nice. I remember daring to hope, for just a second, that the scans would come back clear AND they would say that the interferon was just not being well tolerated by him, and that we would just go off everything and wait for it to hopefully not return. I thought, wouldn’t that be so nice to get our life back? To have more evenings like this, perhaps with the kids toddling around in the ring fountain? Wouldn’t it be so nice to be able to plan a real vacation, or to be able to take evening walks down to the park with the kiddos? Wouldn’t it be nice? This here, this right now, this is so. nice. I remember thinking, is that so much to ask, God? I’m not asking for amazing. I’m not asking for all my dreams to come true, to be a millionaire, to be able to travel the world, I’m not even asking anymore to be able to grow old with this man, because that is starting to seem like too much to ask for. I’m just asking for nice. I’m just asking to have our life back for now. Just for now, you know? That’s not too much to ask for, right?
Friday morning we got the call that confirmed my grief from Tuesday. We were brought in to confirm via a fine needle aspiration that the cancer had, indeed, returned to his original primary site. They also scheduled him for an MRI of his liver to confirm whether or not the spot that was glowing on the PET was also melanoma. As I write this on Monday morning, we are awaiting results from that MRI which will help to determine a treatment path. The spot is most likely melanoma, and we are prepared to hear that news, because our doctors explained to us that for the melanoma to have recurred at the primary site, after surgical removal, heavy doses of radiation, and all of the interferon, it suggests that the cancer is very aggressive and that it has probably spread to other areas, even to areas that did not show up on the PET scan (the PET can only detect cancer cells in larger amounts).
Oh geez, I cannot believe this. As I am writing this, Kevin has pulled back in front of the house (he was on his way to work), and he has a flat tire! This was after he was so nauseous this morning that he needed to rest back in bed for a while before heading into the office. I just got back from helping him get the tire changed and having a friend help him get the car over to our mechanic and drop him off at work. Seriously, God? Seriously?! And of course look at me, the thing I’m complaining to God about is that flat tire, not the cancer coming back! That’s the crazy thing about all of this. It’s the little things that break you. It’s the little things that wear you down. Maybe that’s why it was too much to ask, at least for now, for the little things. I don’t know. It sure would be nice to just have “nice” for a while.
Now I know I can’t end this post on a negative note. It’s not good for me or anyone. Although I’ll admit I’m pretty tired of always trying to find that silver lining. Quite honestly, there is no silver lining here. A recurrence in Kevin’s situation is bad. It’s very bad. It’s put everything else in a different perspective. We want to take a trip to LA to see family and friends. We want to get rid of this debt we’ve amassed this year. We want to get things in order around the house. And Kevin wants to start writing letters to Jude. God, just writing that last sentence gave me pause. This is so. hard. This is so hard for Kevin. It’s so hard for me. It’s so hard for our kids. It’s so hard for our friends. It’s just. so. hard. We think about the bad things, the worst case scenarios, and we talk about them. It’s better that way. It’s like we’re staring down our fears. But not for too long. We talk a little, discuss some plans, and then talk about something else, or watch some TV for distraction. Or we try to pray. But honestly, praying is the hardest thing right now. I have no words as I try to speak to God. I just start crying or moaning. But I know that he hears my prayers through the cries of my heart regardless. And that is a beautiful thing. And then we feel a little better, and then we stare down the bad stuff a little bit more. And then we got put Jude in timeout. Or change Evie’s diaper. See, that’s the way it goes with this. It’s not all drama and crying or rejoicing like in the movies. Of course, it makes sense that the movies wouldn’t show all the boring stuff, like how you still have to go to the bathroom when you’re done crying, or do the dishes, or change a flat tire. But that’s the reality of it all. This weekend we’ve been kind of numb sometimes, kind of in a funk or feeling down sometimes, and some of the time, we’ve felt complete and total peace. We’re grateful for that some time.
And when we are able to feel grateful, that’s when it really gets good. We can think about how there truly are very real options for treatment, as much as it feels so discouraging. We can think about how there have been more advances in melanoma treatment in the last 18 months than in the last 15 years, how two years ago this would have been a death sentence, but that it isn’t now, not yet. We can think about how amazingly grateful we are that we are the absolute best treatment center with the top doctors there. We can think about the financial provision we’ve had and the amazing ways that friends and family have stepped up and shown their care through repairing roof leaks to coming over and helping me clean my house. We can think about what an amazing marriage we have and how that will never change. We can think about so many things that we have to be grateful for that can never be taken from us. And in the moments that we can feel that gratitude, that we can remember the multitude of gifts and blessings that have been bestowed upon us, in those moments we can feel at peace. And it makes no sense at all. For that I am eternally grateful.