One of the hardest parts of being a survivor’s wife is living in a world of what-ifs. What if the swollen lymph nodes are not because of strep throat? What if that rash isn’t just poison ivy? What if the cancer comes back? I worry every day that we won’t recognize the symptoms. I am constantly on alert.
Even in my heightened sense of awareness, there are certain times of the year that trigger what I would consider to be a near panic. One of those times is the couple of weeks leading up to a routine oncology appointment. When the office starts calling to remind my survivor about CAT scans and blood work , my anxiety begins to build. As the date of the appointment grows closer, my stress level climbs like a thermometer in August. What if the CAT scan comes back inconclusive and we have to wait for PET scan results? What if the blood work shows elevated levels?
Even harder than worrying is trying not to let it show. I’m supposed to be the strong one. I got us through three years of what-ifs. I should be able to handle waiting for a little appointment with our favorite doctor. For the most part, I think I’m being successful in managing it all, but then I find myself sleeping less at night and being more short-tempered with the kids. I have to remind myself that they don’t understand – they have no idea what is going on. They also survived such a difficult time in our lives, I owe it to them to protect them from the worry. Sometimes, I just have to take a step back, breathe and enjoy a nice glass of Riesling, all while refocusing my energies on what’s important.
We survived another oncology appointment today with a clean bill of health and for that I am eternally grateful. Now to tackle the next 6 months as a better person than I was yesterday…
We all get busy in life. Work, kids, family, dishes, laundry…the list is endless. It’s very easy to get caught up in the routine of raising a family and just as easy to sacrifice quality time with your partner in the process. Often, we find ourselves with a peck on the cheek as our spouse runs out the door to drop the kids off at school and you don’t reconnect until you lay your too tired head on the pillow at night. This becomes the norm, not the exception and somehow the romance is lost.
The most significant thing that the past 5 years has taught me is that it is important to take the time to nurture the relationship with your spouse. One day you might not have that opportunity. It doesn’t have to be a week long vacation to the Bahamas (although that would be really nice). It can be a twilight walk around the block or sitting by the fire pit with a glass of wine. Whatever time you can carve out of a busy day can be enough.
Every year we take one weekend in June to recharge our batteries and reconnect with one another. Believe it or not, my responsible, devoted husband used to be a die-hard adrenaline junkie! In his younger days, he raced Super comp Motorcycles (yikes!). For the past four years, the NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) has hosted a national event at our local drag strip in Epping, New Hampshire. One live race, and I was hooked! I am now a front row spectator with a favorite driver in every category.
For this one weekend, we spend our days cheering on our favorite drivers and our nights outlet shopping and exploring new restaurants. We stay at quaint bed & breakfasts and simply enjoy one another’s company. We talk about whatever comes to mind – work and kids are off limits – and rediscover why we fell in love. The romance that falls lower on the priority list (but never forgotten) is a priority. My husband holds the door for me and holds my hand. I look forward to this weekend for the whole year.
Take the time, whether it is a few minutes or a few days, and make sure you are connecting with the person you have chosen and who has chosen you. The day will come when that opportunity is no longer there.
When I originally started this blog, I was proud of being the strong one. I was the spouse who had held it together while our family turned upside down. I worked full time, was pregnant with our second child, sat in on countless doctor appointments, tucked in our child and never missed a school event. I substituted for dad during hospital stays and times when getting out of bed was just not possible for him. I did it all with an unwavering faith that our time as a family was not up. I KNEW we would beat cancer! There was no other option.
Several months ago, I came to the realization that I was very capable of being the strong one, but much less capable of dealing with the actual sadness that accompanies illness. One night, after positive results from my husband’s fabulous oncologist, I realized that the only time I cried about everything we have been through is the moment we received his diagnosis. From that day forward, I put on a brave face and soldiered on. No matter what happened, I never waivered. Not once did I let myself believe that we would not win the war the war with cancer. I never broke down. I never let myself feel.
Fair warning to all of the strong ones, being the rock eventually catches up with you. For me, the moment of truth came from a friend’s innocent Facebook share. A country music fan, she share the story of Joey+Rory, a duo who were also married. Joey, the wife, had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and had gone home to pass peacefully with her family. Her husband started a blog to document their journey (http://thislifeilive.com/). I couldn’t stop myself from following. I read about her slow decline from perfect health and viewed pictures of her bonding with their young daughter. As the posts became more somber and it was clear the end was near, the amount of anguish I felt for this family and my own continued to grow. I couldn’t help but think that this could have been us. I could have been the one sitting next to that bed. Our children came frighteningly close to having to say goodbye to their father. I recognized myself in Rory – he is the strong one.
Joey Feek passed away this afternoon, at the age of 40. When the blog updated and Facebook flooded with the news, I felt such an overwhelming wave of sadness and loss – for someone I didn’t even know. Their story of love and heartache rang so true and real and so much resembled the bond that Dan and I share that for a moment, I was unable to separate the two. All of my fears, all of the thoughts I never allowed myself to have flooded my conscious. The tears that I never allowed to fall were unstoppable.
I had forgotten how cleansing a good crying jag could be. This superwoman just remembered that she is human.
I am still thankful every day that our family was given a second chance at life. I don’t recognize the life we had 7 years ago, but that’s ok. I love our life as it is now and I will love our life as it evolves into something new tomorrow.
Some people make New Year resolutions every January. Since fall is my favorite season in New England, I have a tendency to make fall resolutions. As I mentioned in a previous post, last fall I committed to a healthier lifestyle by combining the Advocare products with a healthy diet and exercise. Although I have used the products faithfully over the past 12 months and maintained a relatively healthy diet, I have not maintained my desired exercise level.
That all changes on Wednesday (Tuesday is my mother-in-law’s birthday and she has requested a dinner that I wouldn’t necessarily consider super healthy). On Wednesday, I will begin a 10 day Advocare cleanse. This requires that I return to clean eating and recommit to my exercise plan. No dairy for those 10 days. Although this might sound like a hardship to some people, I don’t drink milk and yogurt is definitely not on my list of favorite foods. I will be fine. The best part is, within 24 hours, I will feel fabulous. Clean eating always makes me feel like a new person. I have more energy and never get that too full feeling. I promise you that this will not turn into a 10 day gripe-fest while I recharge.
One of the best parts of the Advocare program is that I love it enough to share it. I do want to be clear that it is not a diet program – it is a lifestyle change. Even when my cheat day turned into a cheat week, the majority of the philosophies have stayed with me. This is how I lost over 20 pounds and have kept them off for a year – even through the holidays! It’s also how I got my family to eat healthier. Everyone feels better when I sneak shredded zucchini into the hash browns and butternut squash puree into my pasta sauce. My survivor doesn’t complain when the number on his scale goes down either.
(Sorry for the not so clear “before” image. It best depicted how I looked)
So, for tonight I will enjoy one of my daughter’s sugar cookies while I watch the Big Bang Theory and prepare myself for a healthy fall.
I have been thinking about this blog post for several days. There’s something I really want to share, but not at the expense of offending anyone who we are fortunate enough to call a friend or family member. One of the hardest things about being a survivor’s wife is learning a different way of communicating. The Big C is a scary topic that most people don’t understand. I know that questions are not being asked and comments are not being made maliciously, but I want to give a little perspective on the emotions and memories that those questions and comments can provoke.
On Monday, we attend a wake. One of my husband’s very good high school friends passed away. This was especially difficult for him because this friend was diagnosed with Leukemia around the same time he was diagnosed with Lymphoma. They had a special bond because they endured months of chemotherapy at the same time and could commiserate about the experience. Not only was my husband devastated by the loss, he also carried a certain amount of survivor’s guilt – the “why me” of remission. Although he was determined to attend the wake and provide whatever comfort he could to his friend’s family, he also harbored the fear that people would look at him and silently ask “why did you survive when he didn’t?”. I’m sure it wouldn’t have been intentional, but I can’t say I wouldn’t have done it had the situations been reversed.
We also knew that this would be the first time my husband would encounter some classmates and former friends since being diagnosed in 2011. Everyone would want to know how he was doing. Their concern would be genuine, but they would have no way of knowing that he couldn’t talk about it there. Too many emotions were already swirling around in his heart. He really didn’t have the ability to keep his emotions in check while discussing his own condition.
The moral of the story is, if you ask someone who has or has had a potentially terminal condition of any kind how they are doing and their answer is short, please do not be offended. They greatly appreciate your concern, they are just unable to express their feelings. My survivor does the best he can to talk about it when asked, but it is a difficult conversation for him. The best gift you could give any survivor (or survivor’s wife) is compassion and understanding. They will appreciate it always.
In the meantime, it is important to remember that life is precious; it is also very unfair at times. No one should lose a spouse or a child or a parent at the young age of 42. Treat every day is it was intended – as a gift. You never know when it will end.
It is not often that my husband and I have “kid free” time together. We are always jetting off to some school event or swim team practice or work related responsibility. Today, I’m happy to say, we were able to take some time to be together and enjoy one another.
We started out morning by dropping our children off to other people. Our daughter strutted her way to middle school in her very stylish skinny jeans and baggy sweatshirt. She’s just like her mama in that she loves the fall weather. Wait until she realizes that this is New England and she will be back in shorts and a tank top tomorrow morning.
Our son went off to his day care provider, where he was convinced that the “letter of the day” would be O. I love that he has 3-year-old concerns. I also love that he is social enough to be confident outside in the world.
Children deposited, we picked up Grammy (my mother) and headed off on our adventure to The Big Apple, a farm in Wrentham, Massachusetts. We have been going to this farm for the fabulous homemade apple cider and donuts since I was a young child. It is one of my favorite places because it really does make me feel like a kid again. Nothing has changed in the past 40 years and I love their dedication to the history of the farm. The ever-so-delicious caramel apples don’t hurt either!
If you ever get the opportunity to venture to Wrentham, it is definitely worth the detour. Close proximity to the Simon Outlet Mall makes it a double positive. Since I couldn’t convince my husband to make a stop at the outlets, we hit a couple of stores that were necessities, then had a leisurely lunch. It was a morning well spent and it was nice to spend time with both of them without constantly being interrupted with “Mama, I want a granola bar” or “Can I go to a friend’s house?”
However, 2:30pm is fast approaching. Children will be retrieved from their respective sites. Life will go on as it has for the past few years in our “new normal” and I will cherish the few hours I had to feel like we were dating again. It is important to take the time to support one another in your own relationship and nurture the bond, even in small doses.
I’ve known my husband since I was 8 years old. Although we drifted in and out of one another’s lives for the first 28 years, the man who I married was not much different from the boy I met in the 2nd grade. He would give anyone the shirt off his back. He always thinks of others first. He has always been a risk taker. Prior to his back surgeries, skydiving and dirt biking were two of his favorite activities. The world has always been his oyster and that balanced out my serious, studious nature. We were always the yin to the other’s yang.
In the face of dealing with the re-diagnosis of several friends, I have watched my husband transition from a free spirit to a much more serious person. He has become more reflective and sadly, fatalistic. Today, in speaking about a friend he lamented that “my time is my time”. I know this is his way of dealing with the reality that if people he knows can relapse, so can he. I am now the positive thinker that believes with all my heart that we have beat the Big C for good. Essentially, we have switched roles. He needed to come to grips with his own mortality and I need to believe that we have a lifetime ahead of us. I didn’t realize that I loved him until I had known him for 27 years. Life is not cruel enough to take him away from me before we have the opportunity to make up for lost time. I am going to continue to believe that – and I have enough positivity for both of us.