One husband’s view of breast cancer
It’s hard to believe it was eight years ago that we went through the absolute worst experience of our marriage, and there have been some pips.
It was just before New Year’s Day, 2008 that I received the call I had hoped wouldn’t come. I had changed jobs four months earlier and was working for an investment company, trying to sell stocks and bonds out of the back seat of my Chevy HHR.
“Psst. Hey, Bud, wanna buy a bond?”
There was more to it than that but that’s the way it felt at times as I walked the streets and roads of Fountain County during a cold, cold winter. One day, the temperature never rose above zero. I was thankful that day that I had made friends with a nice couple in Covington who shared a steaming hot beverage from their new Keurig coffeemaker with me.
But on this day, I was driving down the road on my way home and was approaching a bridge when my phone rang. A glance at the screen told me it was it was my wife, Linda.
We had been expecting to hear the results of her biopsy. She had prepared our family on Christmas Day.
“We have the results,” she began. “It’s not good.”
She had breast cancer and would face several surgeries in 2008 at St. Vincent Hospital, Indianapolis. We became very familiar with 96th Street and the hospital that year. I came to know what to order in the cafeteria and I even ran into a man who attended our church. I had not realized he worked for St. Vincent’s until I saw him in the cafeteria one day, he with a mop in his hand and me with our future on my mind.
When we first visited Dr. Schmidt’s office, I went in after Linda had some time alone with him.
“Do you have any questions?” he asked me.
“Should I take family leave?”
I thought Linda would be incapacitated by her surgery.
Mom had a mastectomy and went straight to a nursing home. Dad had lung cancer and became practically an invalid at home with terrible reactions to chemotherapy.
I remembered him vomiting in the middle of the night and seeing the ambulance pick him up early in the morning on more than one occasion to take him to the hospital. Then there was the time he spent one day in a nursing home before returning to the hospital where he died.
“Should I take family leave?” I asked.
“Why? Are you sick?” Dr. Schmidt replied. “No, Linda is not going to be an invalid. We want her up and returning to her normal activities as soon as possible.”
Then he turned to her.
“You can probably get him to help out around the house,” he said to Linda.
We have come to deeply appreciate Dr. Schmidt in the years since that initial conversation.
It was difficult for me to think about the unknown future before Linda’s first surgery.
I was working for a newspaper and the day before surgery I was asked to put together the page filled with weddings, anniversaries and birthdays.
I usually do a pretty good job with that sort of thing but that day I think I messed up every caption for every photo on the page.
Our editor and publisher were kind and understanding, but we all agreed I would take the day off if personal problems prevented me from concentrating on my work in the future.
Linda was on a pain pump right after the several surgeries she had that year. I was glad I could help in some way. One of my jobs was to strip her drainage tube. By forcing liquid out of the tube, we kept it flowing.
She made up a song.
“Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands,” she sang to me before I started every time.
Each time Dr. Schmidt removed a lump, he found the tissue in the perimeter around it was not clear, so he had to go back and remove some more.
The surgeries were outpatient, so Linda got to go home the same day.
One time, the nurse released Linda before she was ready.
While coughing, she tore out many of the stitches and had to go back into surgery yet again.
On another occasion, I had to take matters into my own hands. She was listless and wasn’t waking up.
Linda’s parents were visiting and none of us knew what to do, so I called her oncologist.
“I will prescribe a patch you can put on her neck like a Band-Aid,” she told me on the phone. “If that doesn’t work, you will have to call an ambulance and have her taken to the hospital.”
It worked and Linda perked up.
I found prayer to be a great source of comfort during those bad days.
I go to a church that has a pretty informal worship service. I remember sitting in front, near the pulpit, praying silently, while those around me were visiting and laughing before the service.
All of a sudden I felt a bump as a woman I had known for years slid in next to me. She wanted to visit. I did not.
I nearly lost control of my emotions because I did not need a visit right then.
On that day, Linda was sick and did not feel up to going to church but she wanted me to go.
I often sought counsel from others who had gone through cancer.
The year after Linda had surgeries I was doing interviews with cancer survivors to promote the Relay for Life.
One day, after an interview, I rode down in the elevator with Janet Dixon who had lost her sister to cancer and was herself a survivor.
“Every time Linda gets cold, I start worrying,” I confessed to her.
When she told me that was a common emotion for the loved ones of cancer survivors, I felt better. That 30-second conversation helped immensely.
Now, nearly eight years later, I still watch out for Linda’s health and I tend to be unduly concerned whenever she gets the flu or has other health issues.
I no longer take good health for granted.