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.
When I look up there are tears running down Trish’s face. She turns away from the other people eating breakfast who are laughing and eager to do their adventure day in Costa Rica.
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 day before we left, Trish was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic, triple-negative breast cancer. Her fight with cancer continues.
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.
We were told to think in ‘years, not decades’ by the oncologist, and to take it ‘a month at a time’. Stage IV cancer isn’t curable, but with some luck it can be held at bay for a long time.
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.
She has been cheating death from childhood and there is no reason to think she will stop. Along with cockroaches and Keith Richards, Trish just may out live us all.
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.
Our goal is to take them for a year of international travel. So far, we’ve done 22 weeks on 6 major trips to 18 countries. We’re already doing what matters.
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.
I’ll be posting regularly, and we’ll come up with a way to live with this. We don’t have control over the way this will play out, but we can make sure each day is lived to the fullest.
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.
I’ve always admired Trish’s spirit and, while the news leaves me at a loss for words, I know that there’s no family better prepared to take this on. Think of you all.
we don’t know each other, but your family is incredibly brave. Living with a neulogical disease and battling it, and hearing your story makes me believe in the power of positivity. if anyone could conquer thier lifes struggles you can
Trash, How I love you so. I’m so glad to see that you have been traveling and rockin your life. You always have. I’m sending you strength and endurance from the rainy city. love bec S.
Thank you for taking us on this journey with you. i am at a loss for words. You are a beautiful couple and I know you will get through this with love and laughter and more than a few curse words. Go pink for Tink!
So much love and lots of thoughts from my family to yours. Trish is amazing and I although I’ve admired her since I met her back in 2006, I continue to admire her so much, and your whole family. Lots and lots and lots of love and thoughts and prayers and all that.
I am Amanda’s mother. I am a Certified Mgt Consultant with 13 years of having NCI as a major cleint. Please call on me day or night to help.
Wow, Trish and David, what an amazing way to approach this terrible challenge. Love and strength.
I am Amanda Hirsch’s aunt and am so sorry to be reading about your struggle. I spent the month of July 2010 being diagnosed with “early” stage II breast cancer. I spent the month of August 2012 weeping at every moment, having been diagnosed with not stage II as thought, but with Stage IV. Thank goodness I had told them to do a mastectomy or I would have crawled in my closet when told of the real diagnosis.
I admire you for making all of the changes you did. I have been seeing an acupuncturist in Silver Spring who works with Quigong medicine and she is my life saver. I see a chiropractor in Bethesda who works with spinal energy. I would be happy to share informaiton with you.
I work in TP at Montgomery College and would be happy to share anything I can.
I also have two daughters, much older than yours, but still telling them was very difficult.
My prayers are with your family,
We still support and love you Tink!
I’m so sorry its happened again. I know you’re super tough and you can kick its ass one more time – I’ll be cheering you on!
~Jillian (aka Alteia/Quali in WAR)
You are an amazing family, and this sucks ass. Your girls couldn’t ask for a better set of parents
Hi guys. I know that Trish one of the strongest, beautiful people I know. She has conquered so much and she still is going super strong. Trish, David, Emma and Lily, you are all in my thoughts and prayers every day. I love all of you!
Your sister, sister-in-law and aunt,