We call it The Year of Cancer. It was 2014, and I was staying home with my daughter, who was three years old at the time. I don’t mean to sound flippant, I deal with stress by making light. I know that compared to other cancer (or healthcare related) journeys, we got lucky. This story ends happily while others are not so lucky.
My husband, Adrian, felt an uneasy “tugging” when he stood up. He felt his testicle and one felt slightly larger than the other. Adrian regularly diagnoses himself with the oddest of things, and I roll my eyes at his homespun medical expertise. He asked my opinion, and I told him that they felt like every testicle I’ve ever had the pleasure of holding and that he was worrying too much. He decided to ignore my advice, and we are both glad he did.
Adrian made an appointment, and they immediately recommended removing the testicle to have it biopsied. His appointment was at 11 p.m. and he returned at 3 a.m. telling me that surgery was scheduled to have it removed. This sounds odd to anyone in the civilian healthcare side, but in the military, this is average due to high medical needs. Lucky for me – a glorious mom friend of mine was married to a nurse and kept her phone on at odd hours. She agreed to take my daughter, Amelia, while I took Adrian to the hospital for surgery.
That was only the beginning and the easiest part of the whole year. The surgery was simple and the recovery short. It was shocking – but after we got over it, we held hands and braced for impact. The cancer had spread to his lymph nodes which are located behind his intestines. He would have a 9-hour surgery to pull out his internal organs and meticulously cut out five lima bean sized nodes. The surgery is called a Retroperitoneal Lymph Node Dissection or RPLND for short. I am not a medical professional, BUT this is one medical term I will never forget. He woke up from surgery in a drug-induced haze and kept telling me how beautiful I was. It was at this point I begged the doctors to give me some of the anesthetic to take home with me for recreational use as my husband is not prone to compliments.
Leaving the hospital that evening, a woman passed by me, 9 months pregnant and clearly in labor. I clenched my jaw as I passed her knowing that there was a very real possibility that I may never be in her position again. I may never get the family that I had always hoped for. The fact that I might lose my husband to cancer was a more pressing burden at the moment, and I tried to get over my selfish peril. I wept as I walked back to the hotel where my mom and my baby slept. My mom heard me come in and sat with me as I sat on the floor. “You want a beer?” She asked me. I said “No thanks. I don’t think it will help.” I didn’t know what would help. All I knew was constant and endless despair. So I sat in it.
It seemed like minutes between the time he was normal old Adrian, walking around strutting his two testicles until he was a shell of himself – his body quaking from the effect of chemo drugs – two major surgeries under his belt and an unknown future. At one point he could not put on his own pants or tie his shoes. He needed help getting on and off the toilet. He couldn’t eat anything. Not because of any physical reason but because he didn’t feel hungry and everything tasted terrible.
We spent multiple nights in the hospital for fevers, bowel obstructions and at one point he spent a week in isolation – because his immune system was too weak to be around us. We drove by the hospital one day and my daughter proclaimed “Look! That’s where Dad lives!”
I got angry at him. All the time. For being sick. For being selfish. For leaving me alone with our toddler with no family nearby to help. For not helping with the household chores. For not giving me the second child we had both hoped for. He was always sick. Always needing something from me. I was angry that he had fallen off his white stallion. My 6 foot 5 inch, half marathon running Army officer needed my help getting on and off the toilet. It was not my proudest moment.
Today we can look back and make light of it. He has climbed back on his stallion. We tested out the capabilities of his anatomy after his surgery and were delighted and confused to find that the healthy testicle still worked perfectly. I was not able to sit with Adrian during chemotherapy because I was pregnant with our son, now 2. The surgery had been successful and all parts were fully functional.
We learned a lot about each other that year. We learned that I should be the first to die since I am so uncomfortable with his weakness and probable mortality. I learned the value of getting to hold him every day and kiss him whenever I see him. I am grateful that my children know him and love him and I get to witness him be an awesome father.
Some people do not have this luxury. Sometimes you need to see some ugly things before you can truly appreciate what is beautiful and I can say that I have seen some things.
And I appreciate.