2020’s Unwanted Diagnosis

2020 has been a rough start for us all. The last few months have been especially challenging. And I’m not talking about coronavirus.

My wife’s been in and out of the hospital treating a stubborn and elusive gastro-intestinal problem. Her symptoms grew more severe over a decreasing period of time.

It’s been months since Melissa’s been able to hold any food or water down. Not even a sip. This led to symptoms of dehydration. A diagnostic appointment held at the hospital led to an extended overnight stay in March, on our oldest daughter’s 15th birthday. In tandem, social distancing became the Covid-19 response.

This was going on at the height of Covid pandemonium.

This meant no patient visitation. We weren’t permitted to see her.

The hospital stays began in late March and lasted through most of April. In a matter of days following Melissa’s most recent discharge, she was back in the hospital again. As a result, we got better at communicating, via text and over FaceTime.

Meanwhile, all of us were engulfed by mixed public reactions and guidance to the coronavirus pandemic.

Melissa’s absence was felt immediately. We all missed her being home. As the days passed, our calls and updates became more frequent.

I had more questions to the answers she was getting, so we agreed it helpful to have me present via FaceTime whenever her treating physicians visited. Having me in on those calls was helpful, although no one could tell us when we could have her back home.

Sure, she felt better while there and in their care. Granted she was given an IV and under constant watch with good care. The staff enjoyed her as a patient, but we wanted her home. Decent rest was an issue. You know, you quickly miss your own bed and family. And being on a liquid diet wasn’t fun.

Have you ever witnessed someone struggle and suffer at some point in their lives?

I lost my grandfather while he was in the hospital. He passed July 23, 2017, at 89 years old . While Melissa’s experience wasn’t anything like that, his time in the hospital remained fresh in my mind. And I’ve had enough personal experiences to use to relate to hers.

Back to Melissa. They ran tests which, thankfully, came back negative. Doctors couldn’t figure out why her stomach wasn’t emptying. It was disappointing to us. We expected this to be fixed with surgery. We were hoping a procedure and recovery time would return her life to normal.

Naturally, the calls with doctors became more frustrating. Elective procedures were put on hold due to the coronavirus, making diagnosis more time-consuming. This made for a more stressful experience. So onto more testing. 

One particular call from Melissa came unexpected. It was early in the day and we had just spoken not all that long ago. 

Turns out one of the doctors came to Melissa’s room with news, so she called me right away. He had news of Melissa’s diagnosis: 

stomach cancer

We think we know what to do in times of crisis.

We don’t. It’s crisis…

It personally felt like a moment of crisis.

Admittedly, I was shocked and tried to ask some questions, but emotions swelled up inside me. I needed a minute. I said something like, “Can you give me a minute? I wasn’t expecting this and I need a moment to gather my thoughts.”

Honestly, I felt my eyes sweat while I questioned internally the reality of what was happening.

Is this really happening?

Life, again, flashed before my eyes.

Melissa and I first met almost 30 years ago and have been married nearly 15 of them. She is my life partner and mother to our two beautiful girls, Brooklyn (10) and Destiny (15). 

It’s hard to put into few words how much Missy means to us, to our family and to our friends. Melissa, or Missy as I usually call her, is the centerpiece to our family.

Throughout our marriage we’ve experienced challenges, setbacks and have endured difficult circumstances; including those personal trials that test the strongest relationships.

A cancer diagnosis is hard. I can tell.

To be on the other side of such news while alone in the hospital; while alone with your thoughts and feelings and away from family. My thoughts drawn, I imagined it and was angry. How dare he give such news to my wife under the circumstances? Do people stop to think???

I wanted to be there physically for her. To hold her. To hug her.

Time slowed down to a point where a minute felt like five.

I thought about the experience and my feelings. I was overcome with emotions.

I got back on FaceTime and we asked some questions. He didn’t stay in her hospital room very long. When he left, we quickly fought back tears and talked while the girls were downstairs.

We quickly agreed: this is fire, not fuel

Feelings associated with having to endure a cancer diagnosis alone, without presence of family or friends… I wished I was there for her. I was gone long enough to hear him say I was overwhelmed. I pushed my feelings aside, although my heart ached — for Missy, for myself and for our family. The last few years have already been tough on us.

During times like these, people can freeze. Missy did not freeze.

Missy is different. She’s an open book. 

We confirmed the cancer diagnosis and sought a second opinion. We’re meeting with treatment teams and completed an endoscopic ultrasound (a recommended part of treatment). We’re moving forward mindfully with the soonest dates possible.

Missy is strong, resilient and diligent about treating the condition.

She had a stent put in her stomach to allow food and drink to pass. The procedure went well and she was able to come home a day or two later. 

Thankfully, Missy is home now and is doing much better compared to then. We are now at the early stages of cancer treatment.

We’re evaluating the best paths forward. We’re going through this together; we are getting through this together. 

We’re asking questions to better understand treatment options. We’re taking a mildly aggressive approach, evaluating recommendations that promote success. We pray in our own ways. We talk treatment options through and rely on our intuition and trust, with the guidance of experienced and well-regarded healthcare providers.

I’m blessed in that my wife, children, family, friends are all loving and resilient.

Keeping my family happy and safe has always been most important to me. 2020 has been a rough start for everyone and my family and I have been going through some difficult times over the last few years. 

Fortunately, when my world stopped, I learned about mental health, self-help and about different ways to think things through, something I recognize now as a silver lining.

Our journey has changed, but our expectations haven’t. 

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Thanks for reading…