Cancer Suddenly Changes the Meaning of Everyday Moments
“Mesothelioma, three to nine months, I reckon.”
Those were the seven words a young doctor told me on Dec. 18, 1999 — the day my husband, Brian, received his mesothelioma diagnosis.
That sentence spoken with indifference took my breath away. It signaled the end of Brian’s life and changed the course of my own existence.
By the time we walked out of the hospital and into the parking lot, sadness had settled on me like a cloak, and it altered how I saw my world.
Nothing Is the Same
The first thing I noticed was our dinghy in the driveway.
Only the day before, Brian and I had taken it to our favorite fishing spot. We had spent hours catching fish and enjoying each other’s company. We laughed a lot that day, mostly over who caught the largest fish. Now the car brought up a memory so precious it almost made me cry.
Inside the house, I saw tell-tale signs everywhere of our life together: Our coffee sat mugs side-by-side on the sink. Brian’s half-finished crossword puzzle lay beside my magazine on the dining room table. Our sandals waited by the front door. A basket full of our clean clothes was ready to be sorted and put away.
Looking at these and countless other everyday things around our home, made me feel incredibly sad because they reminded me Brian would not be sharing my life for much longer.
It was no different when I went outside.
Baskets full of petunias decorated our patio. Brian and I planted the pretty flowers every year. It was our ritual.
Brian’s vegetable garden thrived by the fence. I studied the healthy plants and thought of the many times Brian had me stand beside him with a bowl for the potatoes he plucked from the ground or the fresh beans he picked from the vine. The look on his face at these times was always one of joy and pride.
Despite Our Problems, Life Kept Going
I was hesitant to leave the house for days after Brian’s diagnosis. Our friends and acquaintances knew we would have the results of Brian’s pathology tests. They were waiting to hear how he was. But I was not ready to tell anyone he was dying.
I felt incredibly vulnerable. Brian’s impending death was on my mind constantly and kept me on the verge of tears. I found it almost impossible to fit back into the routine I had followed prior to his diagnosis.
Regardless of our sad situation, life around us continued. I had a business and a home to run, and there were decisions to be made. Eventually, I ventured out of the house, told our friends and acquaintances about our situation and tried to get on with my life.
The trouble was I no longer knew in what direction my life was headed. There was nothing I could plan for or look forward to in life. All I saw ahead was sadness, and I felt as if I was dying along with Brian.
Brian Soldiered On
While I was battling my own emotions, Brian was getting on with his life. In the early days following his diagnosis, he still looked and felt well. His pain was kept to a minimum and he was able to remain active thanks to the excellent pain management routine I kept him on.
That helped him believe he was not going to die of mesothelioma. Loving him as I did, I soon realized that living in hope of a cure, gave meaning to his life. Determined to help him in any way I could, I decided to react in a positive way whenever he spoke of our future together.
Supporting his hope, while knowing there was no chance of his survival, was incredibly hard for me.
However, there came a time when I learned to live each day for the precious gift that it was. Life was no longer normal in the true sense, but some things never changed: Our deep and abiding love for each other, and the joy we found in each other’s company.
These were the things that really mattered. We continued to enjoy doing our favorite things together for many months and even found reasons to laugh. These were precious times, and I am so grateful for them.
As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, I kept a journal during the two years before Brian passed. The journal was an integral part of my life. I wrote in in daily, often expressing my emotions through poetry.
I wrote the following poem, which is published in my book, “Lean on Me,” shortly after I decided to live each day with gratefulness for the gift it was.
There’s laughter now in our days
For we have grown stronger
We have learned to push our grief away
And to live each moment
Of every single day
For we know that tomorrow may never come
And that our goodnight may well be our last goodbye