“I’ve had a good life,” said my wife with a bittersweet tone to her voice.
I was driving us back from Houston, and I couldn’t believe what she was telling me. NO! That’s NOT how it was going to be.
“You’re going to be fine,” I said, not knowing that my wife had less than a year to live. And, really, why shouldn’t I have believed a positive ending to our current crisis? I hear about people almost every day who found that treatments either held off the cancer or who conquered the disease. Sure, I didn’t expect it to be easy, but I thought it would be a battle that we would eventually win.
Then my wife slapped me with a dose of reality.
“No. I’m going to die. I’ve had a good life. You’ve been a good husband to me,” she said, sounding much more somber than the doctors who had delivered the news.
I couldn’t believe what she was telling me . . .
It’s actually much harder to get a cancer diagnosis than you might think. Or at least it was for us.
Part of it was our own fault. My wife had delivered our second child in October. Not long after that, she seemed to be tired all the time. But that’s not that unusual following childbirth, is it?
Then she developed a cough. And by December she seemed maybe even more tired than was normal. So we decided a check-up might be a good idea.
So she saw her doctor. Well, there were a lot of things that could be causing her symptoms.
The best thing, he said, would to be to run some tests. Then some more tests. And finally, a few more tests.
And then finally, after about a month of seeing local doctors and a series of test, we got that hard-to-come-by diagnosis – my wife did indeed have cancer.
Not long after that, we took a trip to Houston. We didn’t know how long we would be staying. We started at a hospital that was the home of an oncologist who used to work at M.D. Anderson, the nationally acclaimed hospital for treating cancer.
The first doctor we saw, had looked at the x-rays, but wanted to run some tests of his own. We were only at the first hospital for a couple of days.
Then we had a couple of days before we were to be seen at M.D. Anderson.
But other than the doctors, tests, and anxiety, we were able to find a little time to do some fun things.
One afternoon, we drove the hour south to Galveston, where we walked the beach and found a good place to eat. We saw a movie that week. We went to dinner a few times with friends of family, as well as friends of friends.
We had heard so many good things about M.D. Anderson, that we felt confident that the experts there would be able to help. But that wasn’t the case for us. The doctors, casually but matter-of-factly told us that she did have cancer, but they couldn’t determine the origin of the disease. So, there really wasn’t anything they could do for us
Huh? I would have thought a person with a rare type of cancer would be the perfect patient for a research hospital. I mean, Wouldn’t that make a great study case? Apparently not.
The next day, we left Houston. And on the way home, my wife delivered the statement that stunned me.
I don’t know how, but somehow she did know that she didn’t have long to live. The next day, the first oncologist we saw thought, but wasn’t sure, that her cancer was a rare type called cholangiocarcinoma..
I’ll never know how she knew how things were going to play out. But she did.
And throughout most of her illness, I continued to deny to myself that this thing wasn’t going to take her. I felt sure that the treatments were going to start working any day, and the disease would regress if nothing else.
But my wife knew. Somehow she never really complained about it. She was able to accept the diagnosis. She lived her last months just as she had her entire life up until the illness – with grace, dignity, and a smile on her face.
Even when she knew something that I refused to believe.