15 steps up. This is where we were last year at this time, me and Handsome Husband. We’d gotten to Cathedral City, and our 3 month rental. We were going to seek medical treatment for him, get him better, and continue on with our travels.
These 15 steps confronted us and I knew things had changed irrevocably when all that Handsome Husband could manage to carry up those stairs was our camera and a small pillow. I walked up behind him so that I could catch him if he fell. I would have fallen too, of course, but at least (so went my thinking) I could break his fall. He was in pain and coughing.
These 15 steps loom large in my mind. Today, one year ago, was the true beginning of the end. And yet. As I look back to his first cancer, I begin to think that his first cancer never really went away. To one degree or another, we never stopped dealing with it. Massive radiation to stop the growth of the terrible and horrible Wilson, as we named the tumor. 5 surgeries, 3 post-cancer screenings, systemic fungal infection, and what we thought was a bad back or kidney stones that was actually the pain from the cancer eating through his ribs and the tumor in his lungs and the tumor in his groin that made it more and more difficult for him to walk easily. (We thought that was a pulled groin muscle).
My mind is a whirling, swirling, violent twister these days. I’m walking and talking and doing and appearing oh so normal but thinking that in 9 days it will be 3 years since he had his 10 hour surgery to remove the dastardly tumor. I’m remembering all that led up to it-his 3 week drive from Oregon to New Jersey after dropping me off at the airport so that I could fly back to Jersey to be with a dear friend who was dying of cancer (I didn’t arrive in time-she died while I was in flight), his return to our rental after dropping me off and noticing a tiny, tiny bump under the skin of his left forearm, which, by the time he arrived in NJ, had grown to the size of a small orange. And so the horror began.
My mind is a maelstrom of images and emotions: tumors, gauze pads, waiting rooms, loving faces of friends who rallied around us, going back on the road as quickly as we could, snapshots of places he and I traveled, remembered joy at seeing monuments and towns and family and friends around the country, talking endlessly in the car about everything under the sun, my hand massaging his neck muscles as he drove, his hand on my knee across the console. Him holding doors open for me, me grabbing him and kissing him just because I loved him so much, him encouraging me constantly to go one step further out of my comfort zone. Adventuring with this wildly handsome, passionate man.
I’m completely out of my comfort zone now. Emotionally and physically. I’m living a life I never thought to live: full-timing in a T@b trailer, camping. How unreal is that? (Believe me, its unreal in every way and Handsome Husband would be completely and totally disbelieving and also proud). Emotionally I’m a raw wound, bleeding out pus and poison, much as his wounds did post-surgery.
All of this, the toxic memories and the pain, is enfolded in the love that wrapped us then, during the Wilson tumor time, the nightmare time of his hospital stay at Eisenhower Medical Ctr in Palm Springs, CA, his hospice time in Palm Desert, and all the love that has come to me as I’ve traveled in the almost year since. The grief is enfolded in his love for me and the promise he made me that he will never, ever, leave me and that he will see me again.
His missing-ness from me is a physical pain. I run out of words to describe it. Equally so I run out of words to describe the love that is on the other side of the scale. On any given day, I strive to keep a recognition of the love to balance the grief.