It was the Fall of 2008. I was faced with the reality that my now ex-wife could die after being injected with the latest concoction to kill the cancer cells left behind after two surgeries. During this change from one chemotherapy drug to the next, my wife at the time was given anti-anxiety drugs as well as medications to avoid a fatal allergic reaction. Eventually she drifted off to sleep as the latest chemotherapy was started. As I looked around the infusion clinic I saw the usual crowd. Many of the cancer patients were there all by themselves doing what was necessary to endure another round of treatment. I talked with the nurse for a few minutes and then slipped out for some fresh air and to get something to eat. My usual routine was to walk to the nearest Jamba Juice and bring back a smoothie for my wife. That day I spent about nine hours waiting for my wife’s treatment to be completed. At some point she woke up and we resumed a Scrabble game. This was my life every two weeks for sixteen weeks. Never missed an appointment and witnessed first hand the ravages of cancer on both the young and old. It was during these hours spent in the infusion clinic, waiting rooms, exam rooms, and emergency rooms that life came into focus. These experiences changed how I respond to a medical crisis. The stress and anxiety that use to overcome me during an emergency was replaced with an ability to do what is necessary.
October 2010 brought a whole new level of change. I was sitting with an orthopedic surgeon in front of a computer screen. The MRI results of my lower back were grim. He told me that the injury was serious. He then repeated himself when I did not respond. I heard him the first time but was absorbing what I was seeing. The L4/L5 disk was severely herniated and only about 30% of the space in my spinal column was left for the nerves. It was clear why my back and legs hurt. The surgeon wanted to operate that week but I needed to arrange time off from work. At this point in my life, nearly all of my sickleave and vacation had been used caring for my wife. I now had to ask my co-workers to donate their vacation time to allow me the time off needed for the surgery as well as the time to recover. Several weeks later I was lying on my back and looking up at an anesthesiologist as the surgical team was going through their check list. I soon drifted into unconsciousness. Later that day I was sent home to start the recovery process. It took about six months before I started to feel back to normal. That is about the time when my L4/L5 disk herniated a second time. At the end of February 2012, I was once again looking up at the anesthesiologist and listening to the surgeon go through the check list. Another six months went by before I felt normal yet again. A few months later my wife walked out for the first time only to return three days later. Over the next 16 months this would be repeated several times until she walked out and never returned.
When the Spring of 2014 rolled around, one evening I was sitting in a circle of people I barely knew. The room had two doors and no windows. The men and women gathered together shared the common thread of being separated, in the midst of a divorce, or recovering from a ride on the family law roller coaster. During this meeting a woman shared that her husband wanted to try counseling before continuing with the final steps of the dissolution process. His hope was to save the marriage. She expressed her doubts that it would work based on what I shared from my marital counseling experience in a previous meeting. Sixteen months of counseling and a lot of money could not save my marriage. The counselor leading the group interjected and stated that my situation was unusual. The counselor then explained that when a divorce case involves a breast cancer survivor, it is the husband who leaves the marriage. In my situation, it was the wife who walked out. As life moved on, as it always does, I adapted to being on my own for the second time. Both of my children were busy with their graduate school education and living on their own. I pondered where I want to be in my job and I concluded that my career path is still on track. My old house has enough projects to keep me busy. Now that my life was free of the clutter that once was, I had a new sense of keeping my life simple. I have recycled or disposed of a lot of files and other items that serve no purpose. I have no desire to fill the empty rooms in my home. I’ve settle into a old but familiar routine. But over time I started to see that I was no longer living life from one crisis to the next. With the help of my counselor, I learned there is no answer as to why my ex-wife left the marriage. All I could do now was to keep moving forward and stop trying to figure out what happened. I accepted the change and embraced it as an opportunity for a new start.
It did not take long to notice the void of having lost my best friend and partner. But not living in a crisis mode was worth the change. The mere thought of dating seemed foreign and daunting. Then one evening I found myself sitting across the table from a woman at a Mexican Restaurant. We were having dinner and talking about our shared experiences. This first date led to a second and then to many. Lisa also has experience as a caregiver. The first event happened when when her mother’s health suddenly declined and she passed away. Then Lisa lost her husband to cancer after a six month battle. About a month after we met, her father’s health suddenly declined and Lisa flew home to Louisiana to check-in on him. Lisa did not return for over a month and would spend several more shuttling back and forth caring for her daddy and trying to stay ahead of the demands at work. We stayed in contact during his care, death and the subsequent time for Lisa to deal with her father’s estate. What started as a first date over dinner has evolved into a growing and healthy relationship. We are now seen as a couple by our family and friends.
In life we will all experience change. Some changes will be exciting while others changes will be difficult. All of these changes have taught me that during the darkest days, I can still choose to be happy.