You're a Hero in My Eyes
"There goes my hero
Watch him as he goes
There goes my hero
This blog post is dedicated to my ordinary hero: my husband. A man who has filled my life with happiness and has made me laugh so hard my sides hurt. My soul mate, my rock, my other half. You are, and will always be, my love.
My timeline memories on Facebook this past weekend brought me back to 2009. I was two weeks away from entering grad school, about to board a plane to Kansas for a much needed long weekend away to see my life long friend (my last hurrah before grad school commenced), and only days away from my husband's routine PET scan and check up with his Oncologist. "Such a trilogy of memories", I thought. But it's that last one that really packed a whammy.
In 2007 my husband was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Nothing, and I mean nothing, prepares you for that. Nothing prepares you for your husband finding a random lump in his body or the phone call from your husband's doctor after hours. And nothing prepares you for the moment that you and your husband find out that his test results are back and he has cancer. Nothing. Prepares. You. It knocked the wind out of me, out of us. And just like that, our lives were changed in an instant: we'd embarked on a journey we never expected, but one that would show us our strength in the darkest of times and reveal humor and laughter when it was needed most.
My heart still races a bit and tears swell in my eyes as I reflect back on that time. Some days it's hard to believe it's been 9 years since that Spring day in May rocked our world. Some days it seems so distant, so far behind us. Yet other days it seems like it was just yesterday. But I guess that's a part of the journey - you carry pieces of it with you. Reminders, I suppose, of where you've been. For my husband, it's the physical scars from surgeries - somewhat faded now but always there - and the post treatment effects that he's learned to live with. For me, it's (at times) the overwhelming feeling and realization of "holy shit this really happened." Even as I sit here typing these words there's a knot in my throat and I am fighting back tears that so desperately want to be freed.
Since that day, I've openly talked about my husband's cancer and our experience during his year long battle; albeit mostly with friends and family. However, I've never openly written about. Well, that is, aside from the weekly email updates that I would send to friends and family. A link that I needed to share to aid us all in understanding. Somehow it helped make sense of it all. Sharing updates on Paul's progress gave me purpose. I became the communication hub. Amidst all the unknowns and things I couldn't control this was a role I could fill; something that I could do to help during a time when I felt helpless more often than not. It's never easy to see a loved one sick and in pain; especially when all you want to do is be able to wave a magic wand and make it all better. But it's not that easy as so many of us know. I think I've refrained from writing about my story because it has always been so deeply personal and I wasn't ready to expose that layer...until now. I'm still not 100% sure, but it feels right and the words are flowing. And so here I am.
I suppose there's a part of me that thinks by writing about this time in my life it makes it a reality again - causing my own inhibitions and fears to resurface. It's definitely taken me a long time to let go of the apprehension surrounding every cough, sneeze or ache or pain my husband experiences. It's not something that I can fully explain other than my own worrisome nature, and I'm fairly certain that I've driven Paul bat shit crazy on more than one occasion due to this. Thank god for his uncanny sense of humor and his patience. Two traits I truly admire in him. I know that cancer changed my husband - on many levels - physically and mentally. And I'd be lying if I said that it didn't change me.
It shouldn't be such a wake up call - such a slap in the face reminder - but aside from the disease itself, that's exactly what it was. It was difficult being a 30-something year old who all of sudden was facing this harsh reality. How could my big, strong, generally healthy husband have cancer? How could he be fine one day and not the next? So many hows. I was in shock, I was mad, I was upset. But most of all I was just plain scared. But not Paul - and if he was I never knew. He took his news like a champ ready to block and tackle at every turn. His immediate rapport with the doctors and nurses said it all. He faced it all head on, no holds barred. God how I admire that in him.
One of the most difficult aspects for me was that he didn't look 'sick' and was asymptomatic. The very things that on the surface made it so hard - for everyone - to comprehend. Some people never fully grasped the magnitude of what we were going through and I came to accept that. We are all wired differently; and subsequently handle life's unexpected challenges accordingly. Even if that means retreating or escaping from our emotions. At first, I was upset and angry at this. Then I realized that I was wasting precious energy harboring those feelings. So I let them go. Looking back I think that moment was the start of things to come. Funny that it took something like my husband's battle with cancer to open my eyes.
I remember thinking that we were supposed to be in the prime of our lives. Maybe so, but clearly God had different plans for us. I know that now. As a wife, and then as a care giver, it became about whatever I could do to help my husband. We went to Dana Farber in Boston and met with an Oncologist there. My fears were encircling my heart that day and I was grateful that my husband's brother and his wife were able to travel with us. My sister-in-law, who continues to fight her own battles with cancer, understood the nuances, fears, and unknowns that came with fighting the "big C" as Paul so often referred to it. She also knew that more than one set of eyes and ears was needed. She was right. I was never without a notebook and pen at any of the appointments.
I was sitting in the waiting room at Dana Farber with my husband digesting my surroundings and coming to terms with the road ahead. His matter of fact nature combined with his humor helped us both that day. There was an uneasy comfort in being there. As I sat among this roomful of strangers observing my surroundings, I found my strength and my quiet resolve. A different side of me kicked in - the fighter, the nurturer, the steadfast rock peeking above the water. I was a wife who wanted her husband to get better. I was afraid but not alone.
It was about fighting back against a disease that had infiltrated his body and our lives. It was about making the most of every damn moment. It was about us - nothing less, nothing more. And so, as we battled the disease, we also fought for us - and for the days ahead we hoped we would have. We've fought so hard to return to a new normalcy since those days without ever really returning to how things were before (if that makes any sense at all). But this much I know. Cancer changes you. It changed us. It changed our life.
His first chemo treatment. A failed surgery to implant a port. Another successful surgery to implant a port. A cocktail of pills to counteract the wretchedness of his chemo. The loss of his hair. Weight gain. Neulasta and Leukine shots. Bone marrow biopsy. Auggie the pet therapy dog. Snacks in the chemo room. Breakfast every other week at the hospital. His first radiation treatment. Setbacks. Steps forward. Appointment after appointment. Scans and check ups. With every single step, a story of trials and tribulations. With every single step, I watched my hero never give in or give up. I admire his courage and tenacity as he fought through each day and as he fought back so heartily - rarely complaining. Working most days and knowing when to rest on others. His humor kept us afloat. Our strength kept us solid.
I'm pretty sure this life challenge was set in place to help lead me - us - to somewhere. I'm not sure we've reached that destination yet, but I know this much. It has helped me reach some pretty amazing heights in my life. It's given me perspective, it's made me appreciate the moments, and it revealed to me a strength that I never knew I had. Perhaps, it's even led me here today to share a small piece of my story. One, that on many days is so far behind me, but that will always be a part of me.
I am so thankful for the love and support of my family and friends who stood by us unwavering - who listened to me cry in the quiet moments, who kept us laughing, who kept us in their prayers, who sent cards and emails, and phone calls to check in. And, when all was said and done, who shared celebratory hugs. Most of all, however, I am thankful, grateful and blessed that my hero beat his cancer and is doing well. He is without a doubt one of my pillars of strength and lord knows I love that man to the moon and back. Even if he makes me bat shit crazy sometimes too.
You shouldn't have to face something like this to find the lessons, but then again, maybe sometimes you do. For us, we've come out on the other side. Sure, we have scars, and yes, we've had set backs since then but we have each other. For better or for worse. In sickness and in health. And for that, I'll always be grateful.
Me and my hero.
Writing from the heart...always.
© 2016 Laura Mikolaitis