December 20th 2009 started like any other morning...five days before Christmas. The house was full of little girl excitement and mom stressing. I had planned to finish shopping before the kids finished their half-day starting Christmas break. That all changed when Mike asked me to drive him to the hospital this morning for his outpatient testing. He was having a lot of fatigue and stomach pain so his doctor was performing some tests. Sitting in the lobby waiting for Mike to finish I was trying to plan another way to finish everything. I was interrupted by the nurse coming to get me to escort me back to Mike. He had finished his testing and we were now waiting for the doctor to give us the results and release Mike. All I was thinking was if this doctor hurries I still have time to run errands.
Impatiently, I sat there waiting while Mike was still groggy from his procedure. As I turned to see the doctor approaching the room, I knew something was wrong. He began to talk but I am not really sure I heard a word he said. It was similar to Charlie Brown's teacher, noise but no words. Next thing it felt as if my stomach fell out of my body to the floor. My eyes could not focus, everything was blurry. I could hear the doctor’s voice but still could not process anything. Then my ears hear that one word, “cancer”. They had found Mike had Multiple Myeloma, a bone marrow cancer. Our whole life as we knew it as a family had changed within seconds as the doctor spoke. The doctor continued explaining the plan from this point on but nothing was coherent to me.
People began coming into our room gathering Mike’s belongings and then the wheelchair rolled in. It was all happening so fast as I sat frozen in my seat still not saying a word. My eyes scanning the room watched everyone work and my brain not processing any of this. Then I heard the doctor address me looking right into my eyes pointing his finger at me, "You will have the hardest job of them all, caregiver." Instantly I snapped out of my trance thinking this doctor is crazy. Later, I found out exactly what he meant.
Mike did not come home that day, being admitted to the hospital and immediately starting dialysis and chemo. We begged the doctor to have him home for Christmas and the doctor allowed him to celebrate with us. We celebrated two more Christmas's after this but this was the last one we did so on Dec 25th as a family.
Mike researched myeloma doctors and decided to have treatment at UAMS in Little Rock, Ar. He and I moved to Little Rock for 10 months while Mike fought his battle having my parents move into our home to care for our children. During those ten months, I myself fought my own battles. Being a caregiver, mother, and wife all at the same time I was struggling to make it through each day. There were many nights I wished for someone to talk to, tell my feelings, let me know what I was feeling was okay. I was sitting next to someone almost every minute of everyday yet was so alone.
We got up every morning and went to infusion 7 days a week, holidays and birthdays, no breaks, and no days off. Imagine having the flu, just wanting to sleep and be left alone. Now imagine me waking you up making you get ready, take medicine, eat something, bundle up and head out into the cold winter morning to the hospital for more medicine tests poking and prodding for hours. After all that you go home to sleep and start the whole thing over the next day. Through it all I struggled to care for me. I went days only eating a granola bar and maybe a snack or two. How I did not collapse or get sick myself is a miracle. Daily phone calls from home with the girls crying wanting us to come home. The constant loneliness, fear and exhaustion we both battled endlessly.
On Mike’s good days, we planned and discussed his inevitable passing and what I was to do after. We both knew from the beginning Mike would not survive this disease, yet told no one. We hoped for at least 5 years, but as time passed we realized that was not going to happen. Still, Mike fought through each grueling day never giving up. Knowing the outcome, I did a lot of my grieving during this time as well.
Mike lost his battle 15 months from diagnosis on St Patrick’s Day 2011. He was 43. If you knew him personally, it is so fitting to his personality. Our family experienced a tremendous shock and tragedy in losing Mike, a great father and wonderful husband. Together, we have come a long way since that December morning. The strength and bravery my children exhibit daily amazes me. I gather much of my own strength through them. Mike would be very proud of his three baby girls growing into beautiful young women. And in a humble way, I hope he would be proud of me as well.