A note from me!! This is the third and final entry in a series in which I will share some stories about my time with my husband, Chris, as he underwent radiation therapy to kill the malignant tumor in his brain. If you missed entry 1 or 2, you can click on the link, here for 1, or here for 2 to get to them quickly! I hope to one day place these bad boys in a published book, so if it ends rather abruptly, that is because I intend there to be more to follow.
We had less than 10 appointments left when I had a sort of out-of-my-body, coming-to-Jesus moment while sitting in the cancer center waiting room. Next to me, were two women, one of whom I had already developed a comfortable and friendly relationship with through the three weeks prior, and another, new woman only in her second or third treatment.
Both of them are breast cancer patients receiving radiation and both have lost their hair from chemo-therapy. We began small talk about the snowy weather outside and the drive into Denver that morning. Chris and I came the furthest distance from our home in Colorado Springs and the other two still had a decent drive in from neighboring cities. The woman I already knew, (I’ll change her name to Carol for this story) complemented the newly redone purple in my hair and said she’d love to do something like that with her’s once it grew back a little more. Since I’d met her, I had already noticed it growing back into a beautiful white pixie style. The second woman, with whom I never found out her name, shared with us that since she has Alopecia, she is unable to grow her hair back, but oh! How she would love to do something fun with it if she could. Instead, she has a pretty serious collection of scarves and bandanas that she wears on a daily basis.
Our conversation over 12 minutes moved easily from hair loss, to bandanas and wigs, to masectomies and the difficulty the new woman has with prosthesis because of her latex allergy. She revealed to us that for now, she is “uneven” and she and her husband light-heartedly joke about temporarily having one “innie” and one “outtie.”
As I was a little taken a-back by her story, it was her laughter over it that put me at ease and I remembered how important it is to have at least a little humor while navigating through life’s tough times.
For instance, I’ll never forget the time Chris and I and our boys spent an afternoon at Garden of the Gods during the beginning of his treatment. This was when he still experienced peripheral vision loss in both eyes because of the location of the tumor on his optic nerves. After separating from us just briefly for a photo opportunity, the boys and I spotted Chris again standing directly in front of us, just about 50 yards away. There we stood, the boys and I looking directly at him and he at us, but we were right outside the spot where his vision stopped. The boys and I shouted, “Over here! We’re right over here!” We waved our arms around, kicked our legs in the air and moved our bodies back and forth to try and get in his line of seeing because we already knew what was happening. It had happened before. He could hear us, alright, but he didn’t spot us until we made our way over and stood right in front of him. We laughed about it then and we still do today because the shock of understanding his visual limitations had subsided and we had already learned to live around it.
Back in the waiting room, I didn’t expect that the conversation with these two women would wind up pointing a little more in my direction when the topic of the University of Colorado Hospital came up. One of them had a son-in-law that would undergo back surgery there the following day. I told them how I knew that hospital all too well, what with countless doctor visits, MRI scans and two brain surgeries under our belts, and now more recently the attached Anschutz Cancer Center had made a home on our radar. As I continued, the new woman was surprised to hear that it wasn’t me who was the patient, but my husband.
“Oh,” she said in a heavy tone, as if her type was suddenly not so bad. “Brain Cancer?”
And I kind of laugh about it now when I remember how I waved my finger a little in her direction and was quick to clarify that, no, his brain doesn’t have cancer in it, the tumor inside his brain does.
His brain doesn’t have cancer in it, the tumor inside his brain does.
This was when I stood outside myself a moment, right there in the waiting room in the middle of this unexpected encounter with these two breast cancer warriors.
And I asked myself…
How have I arrived here? How is it that this situation is my life right now? I never would have dreamed that I’d ever reach a point in my days that I would have a reason to so adamantly clarify the location of a cancer in my husband’s body to two other patients in a radiation center waiting room! I never imagined sitting here, in this spot while listening to their very humbling stories as well as sharing my own.
Carol showed deep compassion for Chris and I and our family as I progressed in my story-telling over one morning’s visit. Often, as the words escaped my lips that described everything from Chris’s seizure, to his first round of brain surgery, followed by the seemingly successful-at-the-time single round of radiation treatment via gamma knife, all the way to the shattering day we found out that he needed a second brain surgery because the tumor had reared its ugly existence again… it was as if a voice behind my thoughts whispered, “Yes, this is true and real. This is your life.”
I can easily remember the feeling of my body language as I shared our experience with her. Maybe it was my subconscious response to that quiet voice. The rolling of my eyes, the exhaling of my deep breaths, the movement of my hands through my hair and the resting of my cheek on my palm, as well as the constant utterance of the word, “dumb,” as a descriptor of pretty much everything.
I remember one of my first visits with Carol. She told me something I won’t soon forget. “If you and a group of people wrote your problems down, placed them in a bowl and then picked new ones from the collection, you might not be so lucky as to get your own problem back. Meaning, someone else’s problem is often worse than your own.
Her words rang very true for me and helped me in areas of perspective a great deal during Chris’s six weeks of radiation.
Looking back on even my darkest days, I know they were never as bad as they could have been. A cancerous tumor in Chris’s brain equaled four months of unlimited face time with him. It’s been 20 years since our first date together and we know each other pretty darn well, but I feel like we’ve learned even more about each other having experienced what we have together recently. I believe that experience has grown us stronger in our marriage, in our faith, in our coping and in our life-living. For that I will always be humbly thankful.