Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The "L" word

My husband is tough.
When I say tough, I mean tough. Really tough. 
He survived a lacerated liver, due to a bull riding accident, in 1997.  (Actually an “annihilated liver”, in the words of his doctor.)   Then, in 2001, he survived an atrial fibrillation that caused his heart to randomly start beating around 200 beats per minute.  And then, again, in 2004, while hauling wood in a trailer on a icy gravel road, his tractor slid off the side, flipped, and came to a stop at a ravine-like ditch leaving him at the bottom unable to get out, but miraculously, only with a severely broken leg.
These trials, and his survival of them, seemed to be a testament to his unbeatability.   And maybe I took is toughness for granted.  I had more faith in his will power and sheer determination than in any other living person.
He is that tough.
I always knew he was the strong one.  Anyone that knew us, knew that.
I’m the worrier.  He’s the optimist.

I’m the thinker.  He’s experiences things instead of thinking about them.

I’m the talker.  He’s the observer.

I’m the weak one.  He’s the one who is strong.
I was in constant amazement at the limits to which he pushed his body.  Being his own boss, and knowing that a check came only when he worked, he didn’t need anyone to tell him to get to it.  He told himself that.

The mornings that 4:30 seemed to come only moments after shutting his eyes?  He got up and went to work anyway. 

The days that it was 100 degrees in the shade and he knew the job required welding in the heat of the day?  He went to work anyway.

And the days he could feel the strain that his line of work put on his body and the natural fatigue anyone would feel after working the long hours he did?   He went to work anyway.

But he had a goal.  He wanted a farm, and family, and the only way he could provide the best for both was to go “to work anyway”.
And that amazed me.  The drive.  The determination.  The dedication.
What amazed me more?
The days that I would come home from what, in comparison, was a cushy job, and I would feel like I needed just “5 minutes” to clear my mind, and the drain and the constant noise that fills my brain, only to see Steven come in hours later, dirt covered face, salt crystals dried on his skin from the sweat, and his eyes betraying his fatigue, only to hear his joyful voice declare “Hey kids!” and immediately watch him answer their pleas.  Sometimes it was playing with toys, sometimes it was going outside and showing him a new discovery, and sometimes it was him dropping to his knees and giving them horsey rides around the living room.  Although I know he came home depleted, you would never know it.  He was never too empty, too tired, or too busy for the kids.


About a month ago he started feeling a little drug out.  Although used to pushing his body to crazy limits, he started questioning why it wasn’t as easy as it should be, and blamed it on a summer cold that he couldn’t get over.  I jokingly said his age was catching up with him.

 A couple of weeks ago he insisted that the fatigue was brought on by shortness of breath…and that the shortness of breath was brought on by a fullness in his throat.  He even stated that sometimes when swallowing food, it seemed to go down slower.  When his cold worsened, I found him napping in the basement.  He fell asleep on Sunday morning at 10 a.m. and woke at 4:15 p.m. only when I woke him to tell him I was leaving to visit my grandma, who was dying, in the nursing home.

I knew that this was the real deal.  There WAS something going on.  My husband doesn’t lie around, sick or not.

That week was filled with chaos.  Our kitchen faucet quit working and we had to order another one.  One week without water at the kitchen sink seemed like forever.  Then the microwave quit.  Four microwaves later we found one that fit, worked, and wasn’t already damaged… something I never dreamed would be so hard to do.  Then, Thursday, I got a call that my grandma probably wouldn’t make it through the day.  I traveled between work and the nursing home with my sister, making sure that my parents and aunts and uncles had food and were able to stay with grandma the whole day.  After work, I did the same. 

When I left the nursing home that night, I prayed that God would take her.  I came home, went to bed, and shortly after, I woke with a start.  I looked at the clock and the time was 11:11 p.m.  I remembered hearing that this was a good omen or something along that line.  I said a prayer to God that he would take my Grandma then and there.

The next morning I found out that my Grandma did indeed die that evening.  When I went to work to do her paperwork (I work at a funeral home), I called the nursing home to get her time of death.

 It was 11:11 p.m.

 I felt that was as close to proof as any that God answers prayers.

 I didn’t realize that this faith of mine, that in that moment was as solid as it had ever been, would be shaken and tested in just a week’s time.


The time between grandma’s death and her funeral were a whirlwind.  There were instances of joy and laughter, peppered with instances of sadness and strained relationships made worse by the loss of the one that had held the relationships together.

Being with, and around, cousins that I hadn’t seen, or had grown apart from, was one of the biggest blessings brought on by Grandma’s death.  I could feel the security I had as a child, surrounded by people who shared the same roots.  Until my sister came along, I was the youngest grandchild on that side of the family, and I am sure they had always viewed me as such.  Getting to know my cousins in an adult capacity revealed even more common ground than we had known as kids. 

Monday, Labor Day, Steven finally decided that he needed to do something about his labored breathing.  We made a trip to urgent care, returning in time to go to grandma’s visitation.  At urgent care they were primarily concerned that it could be his heart causing his symptoms, and were unable to rule it out at their facility.  They also thought that the throat fullness could merely be acid reflux and Steven left feeling certain that it wasn’t his heart, and that the acid reducer would get him back to himself in no time.

Because I rarely believe anything Steven says in regards to his health, I went ahead and made an appt with my physician to see Steven the following week, and taking the advice of the urgent care doctor, I made an appointment for Steven to have his throat scoped in October for good measure.


After grandma’s funeral on Tuesday, my family and I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening with my cousin, Danny, and his family. We laughed and joked and we ate supper together, ordering pizza, because not only was the fridge empty, but it had also decided to go out. 

Yes.  Go out.  Faucet, microwave, fridge.  It seemed like everything was falling apart. 

Overlooking, what felt to me, like complete chaos, we enjoyed the evening talking about everything under the sun.  I was amazed at how transparent even Steven was with his feelings regarding family, faith and our future.  When they left that evening I had a sense of contented peace that I didn’t know I was lacking until it had been given back to me.

The next day was business as usual, except for a call from a cousin that I hadn't really talked to in many years.    After 2 ½ hours on the phone, it felt as if no time had passed at all. 

In the two days following grandma’s service, relationships, and refrigerators, were being mended and my faith was being strengthened.  I found myself wondering what I ever did to deserve being so blessed.


Thursday afternoon Steven came home early.  He had intended to go to the rural clinic in Conway to get some medicine for what he was sure was his cold that just kept hanging on.  As I watched him stop and breathe deeply after only walking a few feet, I knew that this was bigger than the Conway clinic could handle.  When he didn’t put up much resistance to my declaration that I was taking him to the ER, I knew that this probably wasn’t going to be good.  But, honestly, I didn’t even have a clue.

 After three hours in the waiting room, once again, the focus was on his heart.  EKG’s, blood panels checking for a “cardiac event”, and CT scans of his lungs, all came back normal.  At midnight it was decided that we would be admitted, solely so we could have a stress test first thing in the morning, and assuming all was normal, and they did, we would be on our merry way.

We went to our room, which was not private, and took the bed closest to the door.  We couldn’t see our roommate, but we could hear him.  Although it was midnight, he was a talker.  He also had an accent that reminded us of my uncle, Vic.  “Vic” talked for an hour until Steven politely told him that he had been up since 4 a.m. and was going to try and get some sleep.  “Vic” kept to himself and it wasn’t long before he nodded off himself. 

In the hospital bed with Steven, we snuggled up together, ready to rest.  And we did.  For about 30 minutes.  “Vic” wasn’t just quite a talker, he was quite a snorer too.  Like a “wake the dead” kind of snorer.  I felt the bed shaking under me as Steven tried to keep his laughter from spilling out of his lips.  We both got silently tickled and exchanged glances that, instead of making the situation better, wound up making it worse.  More laughter. 
That was the last time I've had  (relatively) carefree laughter with my husband.

At 2 a.m. we packed up our stuff and walked into the hallway and told the nurses of our intent to camp the remainder of the night in the waiting room. 
The nurses gave their consent.  However, before making it down the hall we were stopped by a nurse that had just exited our room.  After hearing “Vic” for herself, she decided that we could have a private room for the evening.


The next morning, bright and early, they wheeled Steven out to have his stress test.  My mom came to the hospital to sit with me.  A young hospitalist came in while he was gone and told me that she had noticed something in the “blood smear”.  She quickly named off some things it could indicate, however, the only ones I retained were “mono” and “leukemia”.

Mono made sense to me, but anyone who knows me knows that even the mere mention of something like leukemia made my blood run cold.  I told the hospitalist this.  She dismissed my concern and said, “I don’t think he has it, I just have to check some things”.  Upon more questioning, she refused to say anything else until she saw “the patient”.

When Steven returned he said that the stress test had gone well.  Steven felt that our stay was wrapping itself up, although, being the worrier, the “l” word was banging around in my head, silencing all other thoughts.  I knew with the throat issues, mono made sense. But, I couldn’t understand why she would have even mentioned the other.

However, my mom went ahead and headed back home.  She, like Steven, figured we were close behind her.

About ten minutes later a nurse came in and said that the doctor would be calling.  She set the phone on the bed and it rang a few seconds later. Steven, seated in a chair across from me, reached and answered the phone.

I heard him say, “Yes”, “Yes”, “I have cancer in my blood?” and then he hung up the phone.

(Part 2)


Manda said...

You have no idea how much you mean to me. I love you both and I pray everyday. I wish so badly that I could take even a part of your fear, pain, and anxiety away. I would do it. I am glad you are writing.

Amy said...

You are so much stronger than you give yourself credit for. Keep that renewed faith of yours, God is watching over you, Steven and the kids, that is evident.

Lori Smith said...

Oh wow. I am just now reading this. I can't even begin to imagine. Praying

Anonymous said...

Am very much mesmerized that you continue to follow mainstream medicinal ways of treating his leukemia given the outcome he has had. Natural has worked..perhaps not to cure but to improve a very long life, quality of life at that. Anything done natural tho must be done in excess to cure a disease or again, just improve quality of life...it is not for the nimble. Boost nutritional shake or drink (whatever you want to call it) is one of the worst things any cancer patient should be drinking, full of unnatural additives and nutrients and the worst foe any type of cancer...artificial sugar. I won't tell you to negate mainstream "cures" but what I will recommend is a highly nutritional natural diet on top of chemo or transplant or whatever, tho I am hard pressed to call it a diet. I would never suggest paleo, etc but I would suggest tons of vegetable juicing and no beef or chicken with any added hormones or antibiotics. Red meat is not the cause of cancer or heart disease but hormones in that meat are. Go non-GMO for all of your family with respect to grains and be very cautious with even "organic" products all the while sticking to them in this dangerous situation your husband lives in.