One year ago today (and I know because I marked the date on my calendar), John came home from work and called a family meeting with my two boys and me in the living room. He was more serious than usual, but that wasn’t unexpected considering we were still reeling from the news, received just a few days earlier, that his Melanoma had returned, metastasized, and was now Stage IV.
He got straight to the point.
“I talked to my Oncologist this morning and asked the million dollar question…’How long do I have?’ He told me, if I do nothing, odds are about a year.”
My heart stopped and I took deep breaths, determined not to break down in front of my kids.
“When I hung up with him I called Tony (his twin brother) and asked him how in the hell I was supposed to go home and tell my wife and kids that I might only have a year to live? I just want you to know, I don’t plan to do nothing. We’re going to do whatever we can to beat those odds.”
In the year since that day, he’s been through the ringer. A clinical trial that initially worked to shrink his tumors and then almost killed him with crippling side effects and ongoing side effect issues with his pancreas that essentially made him a Type I diabetic for a while last winter. Plus, he’s aged (his hair is almost completely white) and has lost much of his stamina (but not his sense of humor).
Getting a different perspective on your life is about the only positive by-product of a terminal cancer diagnosis. And I’ve got perspective to spare now. To say the past year has been life changing is a huge understatement. I am a different person than I was that day, in just about every way.
I don’t take much too seriously anymore and I really don’t sweat the small stuff. Those little things that used to be able to send me off the rails barely phase me anymore. In the grand scheme of things, they just don’t matter.
I savor most of my moments with John. To say “every moment” would mean we’re not living a normal life, but I’m much more eager to stop working and hang out with him (and the rest of the people in my life, for that matter) than I ever was before this happened. I’m aware of the value of time spent with the people I love now.
I trust myself and the power of possibility more than I ever have before. I know that I’m not necessarily in control of my circumstances, but I’m absolutely in control of how I react to them. I’ve taught this stuff for years, but I think only REALLY embraced it since John’s diagnosis.
Today, as I reflect back on the past year, my overwhelming feeling is that of gratitude. I’m grateful for all of this learning, for the people who have supported us and who’ve come into my life because of this experience. I’m grateful for St. Mary’s and our local cancer center and oncologist, and for Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and all that they’ve done to support us.
I’m grateful for my home, my business, and my lifestyle, which gives me the ability to be wherever John needs me to be at a moment’s notice. Plus, I’m making a living by sharing my blessings with the world, so that’s always a great thing.
Mostly, I’m grateful that I still have the love of my life, and that, for the most part, he’s hanging in there and doing fine.
John’s been on the wonder drug Keytruda for about 9 weeks and has one more treatment before they do a scan to see what’s gong on inside. The tumor on his leg has not shrunk, but it also hasn’t grown, which is progress. We’ll know a lot more in a few weeks. For now, we still have hope, and that is the greatest gift there is.
Last year, on that night when the meaning of “a year” completely changed for me, once I had a good cry and gathered my emotions back in, I looked at John and said, “I’m just gonna tell you right now, this is bullshit. When I married you, I did not sign up for just a few years, I signed on for at least 30. So, if you come to me when you’re 80 and tell me you have a year to live, so be it. But I’m rejecting this. Period.”
He wholeheartedly agreed with me.