Over my shoulder the sun is breaking up the clouds above the Arenal Volcano. It’s day nine of our (nearly) two-week trip to Costa Rica, It’s been a blast. Hummingbirds are so close you can hear their wings beating.
The kids went back to our lodge cabin after a delicious breakfast. In the open air dining area, Trish and I linger, drinking real Costa Rican coffee (which we found to be rare in Costa Rica). I write and edit photo’s for that day’s blog entry on my laptop.
Watching her weep, It’s hard not to sob in sympathy and my own despair. She’s been avoiding crying the entire trip, hiding tears from the kids so they can enjoy the vacation. We’ll talk to them when we get home.
The love of my life, and the most amazing mom to my daughters has a very deadly disease.
Evoking the spirit of 2010’s Cancerpalooza, she jokes edgily that she wants to control who I marry when the cancer eventually takes her. It’s a good effort at humor, but it still goes flat. We haven’t gotten enough perspective yet for humor to be healing. The hurt and fear is too raw.
Neither of us can put into words how we feel. It’s just best to get through the vacation first and do it a day at a time. Costa Rica is a great trip, life-affirming. In the most adrenaline filled moments, we even forget reality for a moment. But then again we both find ourselves lost in thoughts and memories.
Back at home
We’ve been home for a week now and any glow from the vacation has worn off. We had considered cancelling the trip but agreed it was better to go. We don’t regret that decision. News like this takes time to process emotionally, mentally and physically. Staying at home doesn’t help anything.
But still, coming back from vacation is much harder than we expected. Trish burst into despondent tears at her favorite Dance class last Monday night. “What’s the point?” she sobbed anticipating a life of chemo-fatigue, “I’m never going to get any better at dance than I am right now.” Dance has been a source of comfort, passion and love for Trish. I’ve never seen her like this.
We talked with the kids on Sunday. It’s hard for them to understand completely but that’s okay. It’s not important right now for them to focus on the future. She’s healthy and here today, and will be for the near term. Lily has visibly struggled the most, calling home daily from school and weepy. I got them pink Kindle Fire’s, which they adore. That helped soften the immediate blow.
There is some reason to be hopeful for many years to come, primarily because it was caught early. The complete diagnosis and treatment story is here for those that want more detail.
There are simply no words to describe the feeling and thoughts she is going through. If you are reading this you probably care deeply about Trish yourself and you can only imagine the existential crisis this creates. Trish is a grounded, practical and stoic human being. To see her dislodged, shaken and existentially despairing is unbearable.
Let’s stay hopeful
There are some positive things to consider. For one, Trish is a fighter and a survivor. She had salmonella poisoning at age two, was thrown violently off a horse and only broke several bones at age eight, suffered a horrific car accident where she should have bled to death at 21 , walked for two weeks on an undiagnosed broken back that should have paralyzed her, birthed her first child through an emergency c-section (and second one with a bad-ass VBAC) and has been treated for this aggressive cancer three times including a lumpectomy, radiation, two brutal chemotherapies and a double mastectomy.
Second, we are not completely shocked by this diagnosis. And we have been preparing for this since her first cancer. Even though she had every reason to think she would completely survive the first cancer in 2004, we had an epiphany. We changed our lives
Both of us quit our high-stress jobs (me in 2006 and her in 2009) and we’ve been taking our kids traveling around the world. For us, sharing the experience of adventure travel with out darling girls is the most important thing we could do in life.
The third is that she has caught this Stage IV early and has an extra weapon to deploy – localized radiation. They don’t often treat stage IV with radiation because there is no point once it’s in multiple sites. But she has just one.
She will nuke this lump right now and be in remission (with luck) by June. Then she will start a low-side-effect prophylactic chemotherapy in to prevent the cancer from attaching to any of the organs that are vulnerable: bone, brain, lung, liver. We have a head start.
How is this ever going to be normal?
And now we wait.
We wait and try to find a ‘new normal’ even though we are at high risk of losing her. We wait and hope every 8 weeks that the scans come back negative. We wait and hope she can keep up the Chemotherapy and maintain the life she wants and deserves.
I don’t know exactly how we will do that. But I’ll do my best to help Trish and the girls enjoy the days we have.
In 2010, I made the cancer event into an adventure, thinking the diagnosis and treatment would be a few months. It was one of the most exhausting things I’ve ever done, while Trish suffered brutally with the chemo and reconstruction mess. It turned out to be much longer but was still only a year.
How does one cope with this if it goes on for years? Some of you are living with this now, or have already lost loved ones to cancer. There certainly aren’t any easy solutions. For the moment, we’re just trying to get through each day.
And we are grateful that our lives have been filled with joy and relative comfort compared to so many others in the past and present. We appreciate your love, help and support. Wish her, and all of us, luck.