More than 17 years have passed since I learned the life I shared with my husband Brian was coming to an end because of mesothelioma. Time has not dimmed my memory of that sad day.
On a clear, sunny Dec. 18, 1999, the scent of flowers and bird songs filled the air. It was just one week shy of Christmas, and home windows and store fronts in every direction displayed festive holiday decorations.
But celebrating Christmas was the furthest thing from my mind. Brian and I were at the hospital about to learn of his latest test results.
Earlier that week, doctors said the fluid taken from Brian’s chest contained cancer cells. Other exams followed to determine the type of cancer. Already distressed about Brian's cancer diagnosis, I hoped it would be treatable.
In only a few seconds, my hopes shattered.
Dealing with the News of a Mesothelioma Diagnosis
The young doctor who stood before us wasted no time on trivialities or compassion: "Mesothelioma," he said. "Three to nine months I reckon."
When I heard these devastating words, darkness came over me, and I fell headlong into it. My heart ached for Brian — and for me. I could not imagine my life without him.
I remember the sun was still shining when we walked out of the hospital. It seemed wrong somehow, and I remember thinking how can the sun be shining on such a sad day?
When we arrived home, everything was as we left it: The trappings of our life waiting to be picked up and carried on with as if nothing had changed. But everything had changed, and it would never be the same again.
The doctor made it quite clear there was no hope of Brian surviving mesothelioma. Thinking about this reminded me of the hope I once held prior to Brian’s illness. All of it was wrapped up in him. With Brian’s life coming to an end, I believed I would never know hope again.
But I was wrong.
Finding Hope in Surprising Places
As I threw myself into the role of Brian’s caregiver, I found something to hope for. More than anything I wanted to care for Brian at home until the end and make sure he did not suffer pain unnecessarily.
Putting things in place to make this possible gave me a sense of purpose, and it removed the helplessness I felt since his diagnosis.
My newfound hope made me think about Brian and how he was coping with his prognosis. Other than discussing it with our children and close family members after his diagnosis, he never mentioned it, choosing instead to carry on with his life as he had always done — making short-term plans and moving toward making them a reality.
He even talked about what he would do when he got better. It was obvious to me that despite his prognosis, Brian was not ready give up on life or hope — and why should he?
Without hope, he would have awoken each day with a sense of doom instead of purpose. Without plans for the future, he would have nothing to look forward to other than death. He already knew life without hope had no meaning.
Brian Didn’t Waste His Last Years of Life
In the last two years of Brian’s life, many of his hopes came to fruition such as walking our eldest daughter, Michelle, down the aisle, and traveling with me to Tamworth during the country music festival to meet his idol Slim Dusty in person.
He also witnessed the completion of the patio on our new home, enjoyed Christmas on the patio with our family and friends, and went on a fun-filled fishing trip to Exmouth with his mates.
The achievement of Brian’s hopes ultimately realized my own.
With the help of a palliative care team, I managed to keep him out of pain and allowed him to pass at home surrounded by all of his loved ones. The peace I found in accomplishing this was everything I hoped for.
When terminally ill patients continue to talk positively about the future, some people are quick to say they are in denial.
But through my experience with Brian, I believe this is not necessarily true. He accepted his prognosis but refused to live the remainder of his days without hope. Life for him was far more than mere existence. Hope gave him purpose, expectation and a future no matter how short it turned out to be.
Remaining positive in the face of death isn’t denial. It’s a conscious effort to make life worth living.