Love, my Love
by Lyn Ann
(Kingston, Ontario, Canada)
My husband Jim was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in May 2010. It was devastating. Although he was quite a bit older than I, he was always so healthy - walking 18 holes of the golf course and carrying his clubs was the norm up until a couple of months before he died.
We decided the 'treatment' for this disease was much worse than doing nothing - and the survival rate after 5 years was only 25% - so we decided not to opt for the chemo/radiation/surgery - but to wait until swallowing was impossible and then go for a 'stenting' option. PET and bone scans showed that there was no spread to the abdomen or bone so we thought he might have 2-5 good years ahead.
Not so. He complained of weakness in his legs through most of the summer, and in October he had a strange speech episode that took us to emerg. A CAT scan revealed tumors on the brain. At this point our life began to get surreal - he was whipped into radiation treatment (on the brain) which hit him very hard. It was supposed to make him tired, but then get better. So we kept waiting for the 'get better' stage- but it never came. We had such hope - everyday thinking he would feel better, but it never came. This is now the object of my anger - those damn radiation treatment pamphlets that had only a couple of bullet points on the significant symptoms of brain radiation treatment and 3 pages on hair loss and finding the right wig!!!
By November the oncologists had given up on Jim, and handed him off to the Palliative care team. Praise God for these people - what a wonderful, caring group. We set up a hospital bed in the living room, and I stayed home from work to give him 24/7 attention. He couldn't eat much but loved his oatcakes and cups of tea. He slept for about 21 hours each day and would wake whenever - at which point I would crawl into bed with him and we would read, or look at photos - anything just so I could spend every waking moment with him.
But he deteriorated quickly - each day worse than the previous. It was heartbreaking, he was frustrated and I was exhausted. On November 18th he went into hospital because he was getting extremely agitated and confused at night and I couldn't deal with that at home. They tried to treat him for dehydration with an IV but ultimately the fluid settled in his lungs and he never recovered from that.
On November 20th he gasped for air all day, unable to move or open his eyes but often clearly awake. Our 17 year old son Ben came in around 8 pm and talked to him for awhile, then left us alone. I set up a slide show on my computer, sat him up and went through old photos - describing them since his eyes wouldn't open. Then I lay him down again and gave him a full body rub. I could tell he was so tired... So I told him how much I loved him, and how much all of his kids loved him. And I told him that if he decided that it was time to go, that he had our permission.
He fell asleep and for the first time all day, his breathing relaxed. I held his hand over the next hour as his breathing became less frequent, and finally, at 11:15 on November 20th, he breathed his last breath.
Godspeed my love.
My grieving began in May, when Jim was first diagnosed with cancer. Throughout the summer there was sadness, mixed with terror, mixed with hope, mixed with exhaustion. It was like watching your lover die in slow motion. After Jim died Ben and I took the following 10 days for the funeral and the family gathering, but then had to go back to work, and Ben back to school.
So everything is the same... but nothing is the same. The worst thing is that now the initial shock has worn off, my mind just keeps trying to take me back to the old "normal" - I walk into the living room and my eyes look to his usual chair, and wait for his usual greeting.
Friends tell me to take things day to day, but it is hour to hour, minute to minute. I can be perfectly composed one minute and dissolve into tears the next. Today was the first day I have ever been handed a box of kleenex by a bank teller...
But my story wouldn't be complete without sharing how I managed to survive the whole 'cancer' process. At the very beginning, in May, I started to pray and I haven't stopped since. And I enlisted my extended family and all of their 'prayer warrior' friends to do the same. At first i prayed and prayed for Jim's healing, but now I realize that my version of 'healing' was not the Lord's version. I didn't feel I was very good at it - but my prayers and those of others gave me an enormous amount of peace and support. And not just spiritual support - but real, in-the-trenches support - just when I thought I could no longer cope a family member would show up for a day, a week, and even a month to keep me going.
But for now, the grieving continues. I miss Jim terribly, horribly; I want him back every minute of every day, and I cry a lot. But prayer continues to give me strength, and small moments of peace that I know will grow with time.