06/30/1946 — 08/25/1999
THE JOURNEY – A TRIP INTO MELANOMA
by Susan (Schmidt) Tafini
Our journey began on a hot August day in 1996. Not able to make an appointment to see our regular doctor, Ron found another who could see him that day. He was concerned over the lump in his side and why it was hurting him. Her office wasn’t far and we made the trip to the office without speaking much. After we arrived we were appointed an exam room and instructed that the doctor would see us soon. As we were sitting in the exam room, we chatted about happenings of the day. Ron was worried about his back but he tried not to show it. He was always trying to be the brave one. As we chatted, the doctor entered the room. After the introductions, the exam began. She did the routine things, checking him out. She suggested that he had an EKG so she would know what his normal heartbeat was in case she ever had to see him in an emergency case. Then Ron asked her about the spot on his arm. He was always being cautious about such things. Dr. X said, “I’m more concerned about the spot under your nose.” “But don’t worry about it.” were her next words. She finished the exam and we left her office not concerned about the spot. Thirteen months later, the little brown spot under Ron’s nose had a lesion on it. At first, Ron thought it was a pimple so he started pinching it. It didn’t go away. The more I thought about it the more I thought maybe he should have a doctor look at it. I made an appointment with our family doctor the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, 1997.
With one look, he exclaimed, “that’s basal cell cancer, you’ll need a plastic surgeon to remove it.” He had his nurse make us an appointment for the next day. After leaving the doctor’s office, and we got into the car, Ron looked over at me and stated, ” I am not suppose to have cancer, you are.” I told him, I was sorry. We drove home in silence. Ron and I were nervous when we arrived at Dr. B.’s office, the next day. He was the plastic surgeon, we had been sent to. He was a jolly man with a pleasing deposition. He looked at Ron’s face and confirmed our family doctor’s diagnoses. He took his pen and drew exactly how he would do the surgery on Ron’s face. He informed us that Ron should not wait long to have it done. I can still hear him tell us, ” I will tell you one thing, basal cell cancer will not kill you. But the fact it likes to barrow into your skin makes it desirable to have it removed quickly.” So it was decided on December 30, 1997 to have the operation. Ron was to be on vacation during that time. It was to be just a simple procedure.
Thanksgiving came and went. So our lives were normal but not for long. Christmas was a week away then Ron noticed a lump under his chin. That evening when he returned from work, I met him at the door with an attempted kiss. He looked firmly at me and stated, “We’ve got to talk.” I was scared and asked, “What was wrong?” I thought I had done something. “Privately,” he stammered. We went down to the basement in our daughter’s bedroom. He started crying, “I am sorry I don’t have enough life insurance.” “Why?” I quizzed him. “You are not going anywhere.” He proceeded to show me the lump. I tried to comfort him. “Maybe it is a swollen gland caused by your sinus?” I suggested.
We talked awhile as I tried to lighten the mood. We finished putting our daughter’s waterbed back together. It had sprung a leak in the mattress.
The next morning, I made him a doctor’s appointment for Christmas Eve. The doctor told Ron he thought it was just a salvia gland but if it didn’t go away to have Dr. B. check when he did the surgery. Christmas came and we had our traditional celebration. Everyone enjoyed the season. No one mentioned the upcoming surgery.
On December 30, we woke early to go to the hospital out patient surgery. Our daughter, Terra and her fiancé, Greg came with us. Ron was nervous but things were right on schedule. Surgery began and I watched the clock. When the allotted time expired, I began to fret. I kept walking to the bathroom, and starring at the clock on the wall. It seems like forever before the doctor summons me. At last, the Dr. emerged to talk to me. He was frank and said the surgery went well, but (that but was a big word.) It was malignant. We would know more after the lab work, perhaps Friday. I sat back down. I was nervous. I think I visited the restroom ten times in twenty minutes. Finally, the nurse came to get me. We could take Ron home. I went back with the nurse to the recovery room. Ron had a large bandage across his cheek to his nose. I tried to lighten the mood in the room and we made jokes. He thought he might look like the Hunch Back of Notre Dame. At least he was laughing about things. The ride home was busy with normal chatting. We stopped in Papillion for a quick oil change. It seemed to make things seem not so bad, chatting to Greg’s cousin, Brent, about the car. Brent was the manager of the lube place.
The days that followed were hard for Ron. He thought he looked awful. New Year’s Eve was a quiet celebration. Friday, we watched the Nebraska football game. We won.
January 5, 1998, we went to see Dr. B.s thinking everything would be back to normal. No, it would never be the same. The bottom dropped out from our world, as we had known it. Ron had melanoma. He needed more surgery. We would have to go to Rochester, Minnesota to the Mayo Clinic. How could we digest all of this? It wasn’t easy to understand why this was happening to us. Ron started to cry; I didn’t know what to say to him, I tried to remain upbeat. We just held on to each other, waiting for the doctor to return. Why was this happening to us? The Dr. grilled us about our insurance coverage, he arranged for us to meet with a Dr. at the clinic. We had to go to Rochester tomorrow. It was all arranged, the Dr. would call us the next morning to tell us when we needed to be there and where to go.
We drove to my parents to get our grandson, Lowgaen. When I saw my Mother, tears started rolling down my face. I tried to tell her our bad news. It was so hard to share what we had just learned. I asked her for her help in the coming days. I composed myself and the three of us left with many thoughts racing thru our heads. We went home and tried to remain calm. That evening, we told Stacee, our oldest daughter and then I called Terra, our other daughter to let her know what we had to do. She had gone down to her fiancé to take pre-wedding lessons. She immediately decided to come home and be with her father. We had the children all around us. It was good for Ron. It seemed to ease the pain of what laid ahead of us. We hugged each other and tried to remain strong. I said lots of prayers that night before I went to bed. Only God knew what lay ahead of us in the coming months. Scared of the unknown and trying to comfort each other, Ron and I fell asleep in each other’s arms.
Tuesday morning, we waited for Dr. B’s call. Finally the phone and he gave us instructions on where and when we had to be there. We had an appointment on Wednesday at 10 a.m. We had to first go to Methodist Hospital to get Ron’s slides and lab work.
It was about one that afternoon when we left for Minnesota. Our first stop was Des Moines, Iowa. Ron wanted to go to the casino there. It was good not to have to think about all the bad stuff we had just learned. For a while we didn’t think about the melanoma. Although we lost our money, we had fun just being together. We had dinner at the McDonald’s there and continued our trek to Rochester, arriving about nine that evening.
After exploring the city, seeing where the clinic was located, we found a place to stay. It wasn’t far from where we needed to be the next morning, within walking distance. The room was vintage; it had the look of the forties. There was a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling and had steam heat. We had our dinner and said a prayer for God to be with us the next day.
Morning came and we prepared for the day ahead. Eating breakfast in the room before we left for our appointment. We had brought food with us. Then we walked to the clinic, checked in and waited for Ron’s name to be called. What a massive place this clinic was, a great hall. It seems huge and had many people mulling around. I think it supports the city with all its employees. We had arrived early, as we had to see many different people before our ten o’clock appointment. We talked to the insurance people after waiting an hour and a half. We were then sent to the fifth floor west. There was another desk to check in with. The room has very large with two groups of chairs half facing west and the rest facing east toward another desk. We checked in and waited for Ron’s name to be called. After hearing Ron’s name, we followed a nurse into an exam room. We were both very nervous waiting for the doctor to appear. There was a couch on the westside of the small room. A chair that looked like a dentist chair, a built in desk and cabinets with supplies. Ron sat in the exam chair while I sat on the couch. I continued to fill out the papers that the nurse had given us. The doctor entered the room, introduced himself as Dr. Mac. He started questioning Ron. Ron explained the problem that faced us. Dr. Mac looked at Ron’s face, and then explained the surgery he wanted to perform. It was overwhelming, to say the least. When the doctor left the room, Ron and I just stared at each other. It seemed that Dr. Mac did surgery every other day. The next day for surgery was Thursday, which was tomorrow. He would not operate again until next Monday. It was decided to have it done this Thursday. When the Dr. returned we expressed our intentions. We now had to have tests run before we could proceed. The rest of the day was spent having x-rays, blood work, ultra sounds, and back to the Dr.’s office. The entire time, we hadn’t had any food so the nurse sent us to eat.
We went exploring, below the clinic there was another world. A variety of shops and eating establishments. We finally decided to have tacos. When we were finished, back to the fifth floor. The nurse met us and escorted us to the 11th floor to have Ron’s heart tested. Unfortunately, there was no time right now for Ron. So we went back down to the fifth floor. We were sent to an exam room and meet Patrick. A young man that supported a great smile. He explained he would be helping Dr. Mac with the surgery. ‘We would be going to St. Mary’s Hospital in the morning. The operation would take about five hours. The dr. had one surgery scheduled in the morning; Ron’s would be at one. Our nerves were in pieces but we gathered them up and finish the pre op tests. A doctor on the 11 floor checked Ron’s heart and we had blood drawn at the Methodist Hospital. The hospital, which was connected to the clinic thru a series of under ground mages. We were like mice scurrying thru the tunnels trying to find the hospital but we did eventually make it to the correct place. I sat in yet another waiting room. After the blood had been drawn, we were free to leave. What an exhausting day!
We walked to our car it was now after six p.m. We drove to St. Mary’s Hospital. It was about two miles from the clinic and found a motel closer. This was so I could walk to the hospital. It was a nicer room; it felt good to have a place. After phoning home, we went to find Ron a robe and some slippers for his hospital stay. We got some food and took it back to the room. That evening was very long, Ron cried a lot and thro I tried to be strong, it was very hard. My heart was breaking. The bottom had dropped out of our world.
As morning approached, we readied ourselves for a long day. We were to be at the hospital at nine. We walked half a block to the entrance of the hospital. The sun was shining but it was a cold January day. We checked in and waited once again. A friendly face showed us where we needed to be. We were taken to pre op, where Ron was to change his clothes and pre operation processors began. We waited and waited what seemed like an eternity. Finally, a Sister came in and talked to us. She had had breast cancer so she could relate with Ron’s feelings. We all prayed together. It was very settling, that moment of peace. Asking Ron’s angels to be with him that day in the operating room. As the Sister finished her prayers, a nurse came for Ron. I was directed to a waiting room. An hour or so passed when a nurse came and told me Ron had been taken down to surgery. I could wait in his room upstairs. She gave me directions and I found the room. Upon reaching my destination, I found another women sitting in a corner of a large room. I found a chair and began to settle in. I conversed with her. I discovered her name was Joan and her boyfriend was having cancer surgery on his tonsils. She was an attractive lady, dark hair and a wonderful smile. Talking to her seemed to calm my nerves. The clock on the wall seemed to be in slow motion. Around two thirty p.m., a nurse came in and told me Ron had just been taken into surgery. All this time I thought he was already in there. The operation was to take four to five hours. I decided it would be a long haul. Joan was informed her boyfriend was out of surgery so she left. I was along again. I began to pray constantly. “Please God send your angels to watch over the doctors and see Ron out safely.” Tears flowed down my cheek as I starred at the wall ahead of me. I tried to read or write but my mind was not concentrating. The room seemed so massive, like I was a speck of dust sitting there. I watched as the clock slowly, every so slowly ticked. Then a nurse came in and told me, Ron was finally in the operating room. I thought the procedure had already begun hours ago. Paul, Joan’s boyfriend, was brought into the room. The nurses were constantly working with him. The only place I ventured to was the restroom. Tick, tick, tock at last a doctor came and talked to me. Ron was about out of the OR. The doctors had cut more tissue around his nose and removed 32 lymph nodes. Thirty-one negative and one positive. I was relieved it was over. I was not prepared for how Ron would look when I saw him next. He had massive stitches and staples down his neck. It scared me but I had to act like everything was fine. I cried when I heard the news; this was not over for Ron. Joan, the lady I met earlier was present with her friend in the room. She tried to comfort me. She suggested we go down to the coffee shop. It would be awhile until Ron was brought up. We talked and it seemed to help. After she left, I called home and gave a report. Then I called Darlene, Ron’s cousin who lived in the state. I told her of Ron’s condition and asked her if they could come visit us on the weekend. She didn’t know, I cried and then after composing myself, I went back up to see if Ron was back. Not long, they wheeled him into the room, I was so happy to see him, I gave him a kiss and waited for the nurses to put him bed. I stayed with him till ten. I walked back to the motel room after stopping at McDonald’s for some food. It had been a very long, trying day. I unlocked the door to the room and sat on the bed. I hated to leave Ron but I needed an escape place where I could understand all that had occurred that day. I sat there and cried, very hard as I dialed the number to my parents phone. Crying was the order of the day, I cried as I talked to my parents, our daughters, Ron’s family, and our friends. It was probably around one a.m. before I tried to lie down and get some sleep. I had the weather channel on for some background noise.
I woke up early, showered, dressed and made my way to the hospital. It was a brisk day and the sun shone brightly. The air stung my cheeks and nose. The walk was only a block and a half but it seemed much like a mile. I didn’t know what to expect as I reached the steps of the hospital. I found Ron in pain but happy to see me. The next couple of days were long ones. I would get to the hospital early and would not leave until ten p.m. Every night I would check in with the family giving any news I had to share. I would end up crying as I talked to our loved ones, wishing someone was here with me. I didn’t like going thru this alone. I found I had to do things I never really had done alone before. I had always had Ron to guide me. This was something I didn’t particularly like doing. A strange city, not knowing anyone and here I was alone.
Ron and I would play cards, watch TV and look forward to the nurses coming in. It gave us some one new to talk to. We got only bad news when the cancer doctors came to talk to us. Ron had a 50/50 chance of beating the cancer. He cried, I tried to reassure him that things would all work out. In my heart I didn’t feel that sure.
On Saturday, Ron’s cousin, Darlene, did come to visit. It was like a bright ray of sunshine entered our room. I cried I was so happy to see her and her family. Ron and I were so homesick. We made friends with all the nurses, learning about their families. We waited of our special nurses to visit. It helped us get thru the long days there. Ron had three drain tubes coming out of his neck and chest. I watched, as the nurses would drain the plastic bulb attached to the tubes. We had to have less drainage if Ron was to go home. He had to walk so we did a lot of trips around the hospital. We learned every nook and cranny of the second floor. Ron was almost running it seemed, pushing his IV pole.
At last, we got the okay to leave the hospital on Tuesday. It had seemed we had been at the hospital for an eternity but it had only been only six days. I went and checked out of my safe haven motel room and got the car started. It had snowed while we were there, so I had to scrape the windows and hope the car started in such cold temperatures. I drove to the entrance of the hospital waiting for Ron to appear. He was waiting on his take home medications. The nurse had wrapped his face up so it wouldn’t get cold. He looked like something out of the movies. I finally had to go in and get the medication so we could leave. The drive back to Nebraska wasn’t hard. What was hard was listening to Ron bare his soul to me. He cried from the hospital to the Iowa state line. He told me he was sorry for everything he thought he had ever done wrong during our marriage. I reassured him, that I did love him.
Arriving home was wonderful. The family was there to greet us. Ron’s mother had ordered dinner for us. Spaghetti and meatballs, what a feast! I hadn’t really eaten too well while we were in Minnesota. Ron just couldn’t seem to get enough. It was so nice being home again. I thought life would be getting back to normal, whatever that is.
I made an appointment with Dr. B.s to have the stitches removed as we were instructed. I had to keep them clean. Ron was still draining. Dr. B. gave us a name of an oncologist at the UNMC. I made an appointment with Dr., A. for the end of January. We made several visits to Dr. B.’s office with the stitches. He always made Ron feel better with his joking. He would scold Ron about not taking me out for dinner. Ron has so embarrassed about how he looked, he didn’t want to go out. Dr.B., told him to look anyone who stared in the eye and ask them what they were looking at. I grew to love this man and his gentleness with my husband. I looked forward to going to his office. We felt like family with them.
We found ourselves in another waiting room at the Med Center, when we went to see Dr. A. Rose met us after calling Ron’s name. She was a very friendly person with a great smile. Ron liked her immediately. She was going to be our special oncology nurse. In the following months, she would be more than that. She would be our friend. At last the doctor appeared, he was all business, a medium built man with a gold stethoscope. He told us when to come back for treatment. Ron was going to get interferon five times a week for one month. This would be done intravenously. I drove Ron to the treatments everyday, Monday thru Friday. He would have to give blood on Mondays to make sure he could go ahead with the treatment. We got to meet other patients and made friends with the nurses. What a great job they do. I have learned to appreciate their job and how hard it is to do this day after day.
The whole month of February, we would do treatments, seeing the doctor, giving blood. This wore Ron down where he would sleep 18 to 20 hours out of each day. I worried about him. Finally he became adjusted to the medication and it was time for me to learn to give him shots. This I was to do, every other day. I had to put two vials in one syringe. I was so nervous about sticking him with a needle. I was given a video to watch and a nurse showed me exactly what to do. Ron was a pretty good sport about letting me stick him. I think it hurt me worse then him. I had to time the shot. It had to take two minutes to absorb. I learned to do this as a way of life. Once a month I made a trip to pick up his supply of interferon.
In May, Ron had gotten his strength back enough he would return to work. The first week back to work was hard on him. He got tired easily but he was determined to make it. It was good to have life returning to normal. I was beginning to wonder if we would ever see normal again. Ron was so happy to be back at work. He loved his job. He drove truck for ABF, delivering and picking up freight in and around Lincoln. His customers were happy to have him back. During his illness, several had called to check on him. This was good, Ron felt like living again.
That summer went well. We watched our youngest daughter get married. It was a joyous celebration. She looked beautiful as Ron walked her down the aisle. We traveled every three months to Mayo for a lung x-ray. If the cancer were to return, Ron’s lungs would be the next place it would hit. We were very upbeat during this time as no new cells appeared. Then in October, something appeared on the x-ray. The 23rd of October, Ron had to have a cat scan. He was so scared, he cried as he held me. I prayed he’s okay- the x-ray had a shadow on it. I have a wreck worrying about him. This journey has had many ups and downs. I pray this proves to be a definite up. We need a little peace. Time for just Ron and I. We’ve planned trip next summer, I want to take it with him. Good health is such a premium; we need to not take it for granite. After the test was over, we were camping on the doctor’s doorstep till we get the news. Good or bad I am would be there for him. Please let it be good. I wrote these words as I waited for Ron to finish the test. The doctor wanted Ron to have a lung biopsy done. Finally we agreed to have it done the first of December 1998.
I had Terra and her husband Greg, a couple friends, and the minister, Rev C. sitting with me that day. I had met Ron in pre op. He was questioning the doctors, wanting to know if he was dying. The young doctors, who were preparing him, had no answers. It was another long day, waiting for word. Then the doctor did appear, no good news. The melanoma had spread to his lungs. Ron had three spots on his left lung. He has a marble size node on his right lung. We would have to have chemo. Chances were not in our flavor. The surgeon was a man with no compassion, he was very blunt. The facts were Ron was in trouble. I didn’t know how I was going to tell him this terrible news. Ron was so down the way it was, how was he going to except this new finding? I asked the doctors to be gentle with him. I cried as Terra, Greg and I traveled up the elevator to Ron’s room. I didn’t know how I was going to face him. I knew he would want to know what the doctors found. I tried to put on a cheery face.
Seeing Ron lying there so uncomfortable, I put a smile on my face and told him how much I loved him. We tried to talk about unimportant things of the day. When Ron asked I told him, we didn’t know much. I just couldn’t tell him the truth, not yet. He needed to rest and not worry. Terra and I spend the rest of the day with him until visiting hours were over.
The next day, the doctors did tell him the truth. The fact that the melanoma had spread to his lungs. He would have to have chemo. But first he must heal from the surgery. This would not be easy. Ron had three incisions in his back and side. They all got infected. So when we went home, I had to clean them regularly and stuff gauge into them. It was a twice a day ordeal. The wounds needed to heal from the inside out. This seemed to take forever. It did take in actuality the entire month of January before he healed completely.
Christmas was coming and we came together as a family for a last time. We didn’t know this at the time but it seemed we all put extra effort into our holiday celebration. Ron and I went to Wilber, Nebraska to purchase our Christmas bread. We spend the entire day looking around and being together. As we walked the streets of Wilbur holding hands listening to the piped Christmas music, it seemed I had just met Ron. I could feel his love. We went to Beatrice that day and then down to Topeka, Kansas to look at the Christmas lights, stopping at Kansas City to check out a casino. It was a wonderful day.
Christmas came and we enjoyed the season and each other. Now we must think about the New Year and getting Ron back on his feet. He went back to work the middle of January. It was good for him to work. He felt like he was doing his share. We still were doctoring his incidences. Ron’s dad went to the hospital emergency room. He had had a heart attack. Something new had been thrown our way. Millie, Ron’s mother, came to stay with us. I would take her to the hospital to be with Art. One night, Ron came home from work with something in his overalls. He pulled out a little angel bear and announced, “Here is an angel for my angel!” I began to cry. It was so beautiful. He was thinking of me, it seemed with everything he did was with me in mind. We found a new type of love. One that was wonderful just holding on to each other, an inner love of greatness.
Since the biopsy, Ron had a full body scan and bone scan, no cancer but in his lungs. No treatment at this time. We are waiting or Feb 9th. We are living day by day. Ron was sick for a week. Sinus and terrible headaches. Some days are so hard to keep a smile. I love him so much, can’t this just go away? I feel so much pain. Ron aid I would be better off without him, I should divorce him. How can I do that, I love him and what would that prove?
During this time, there were so many feeling going thru my mind. Terra brought a movie over for us to watch. How Stella got her groove Back. In the movie, her best friend dies of cancer. I pray Ron doesn’t die. The questions kept popping up in my mind, how I go on without my best friend? He is the love of my life, my everything. Please Lord don’t let him die, I know we all must go sometime but not now, not yet. Next week when we go to the doctor, let things be okay, for both of us. I wrote the words in my journal hopping that they would come true. That this awful cancer would just disappear and we could enjoy living again.
On Feb 12, Ron started a new chemo; He took two pills on Wednesday, two Thurs, two Fri, two Sat, two Sun. and then IV chemo. It was a long process. The first round of chemo didn’t do anything to stop the growth of the cancer and new spots began to appear. We found out that going to chemo treatments meant sitting for six to eight hours while the medication slowly dripped thru the IV machine.
The middle of Feb, Ron began very depressed and told me, he had thought of killing himself. I don’t want him to give up on himself. I have to keep trying to be his cheerleader. Ron kept telling me to find someone new to hold on too. It is so hard to stay upbeat when he is feeling so down.
Ron developed a lump on his right shoulder. He thought it was from hurting his shoulder at work. He was a trucker and had to hook and unhook trailers on a regular basis. He also slipped on the ice and so he thought had pulled a groin muscle. This was something he had done before while playing softball so nothing to worry about. Until the area started growing a huge lump.
One morning, Ron called me from work, very frightened. His eyesight seemed to be playing tricks on him. His vision was as if he was looking thru a pop bottle or had fish eye. I tried to comfort him and read what the chemo reactions were. He made it thru the day. We scheduled an appointment with the doctor to inquire about the new developments. The doctor didn’t seem too concerned about the lumps. We scheduled an appointment for some tests on his heart and head. Everything seems to check out, but the new doctor suggested that Ron quit working for a period of three months. Ron begged him; he didn’t want to stop working. We needed his income. He wanted to get his time in so I could get the higher amount of his pension. The doctor said Ron would do what he wanted but not to hold the doctor at fault if anything bad occurred while Ron was working. Ron made me swear I would say nothing to anyone about what the doctor had told him. I promised and we went home.
Chemo continued and in April, we had new hope. The new series of treatments seemed to be working. No new spots and the old ones were dying. Yeah! A time for celebration. We went out to dinner and tried to enjoy an evening together without thinking of cancer. At one of the treatments, we met two wonderful people. Ray and Robin Fermin. Ray was in his thirties, a Filipino, very nice and his wife Robin had a pleasant appearance. We visited all evening and went it was time for them to leave, Ray did a remarkable thing. He gave Ron a pouch of black velvet. He told Ron that it had also brought him good luck and he wanted Ron to have it. Ron refused but Ray insisted so Ron took the pouch. Inside was a rosary. How wonderful God had sent them to us that day. It was a wonderful gift of hope.
May 7 was Ron’s last day of work. His condition was getting worse. The lumps on his shoulder and groin were growing and he wasn’t feeling well. We went to the doctor and had scans done on his body. I waited for Ron to finish the tests, Rose, our nurse saw me sitting there. She stopped and told me, Ron was in trouble. I had tears in my eyes as Ron reappeared from the testing room. He wanted to know what was going on. I told him, nothing. We went back up to the doctor’s exam room, where we were told Ron needed to have radiation treatments. Another step in the journey of cancer.
We made an appointment with Dr. I. to start radiation. We would go five days a week at eight in the morning. Ron was to have three spots radiated. His shoulder, his groin and his head. We made the journey to the hospital every day for a month or so. He seemed to be better. His appetite improved and he didn’t have as many bad days. Ron got very bad radiation burns on his groin; we had to apply cream daily to try to lessen the pain.
Memorial Day, Ron’s hair started to fall out from the radiation. It was coming out in hunks. I suggested we cut it short so it would be easier to handle. I sat him down and cut his hair for the last time. He looked old, older than his father. Ron asked me, how I could love him when he looked so bad? I told him, I loved what was inside. His lumps seemed to disappear, which made us very happy. So one day, I thought I would ask the big question. When could he go back to work? Now I wish I would have keep my mouth shut. ” Realistically, never” was the words that came from the doctor’s lips. How I sank into my chair and tears flowed from Ron’s eyes. He asked the doctor about his life and how long he had. ” 6 months to a year” was the answer. I was so upset with myself for asking that question but then Ron had always bounced back. Why not now?
We left the office feeling very down. We went to my parent’s house and asked if we could go on a camping trip with them. It was agreed that we would go to Gavin’s Point Dam in South Dakota for a few days. It was something we needed, a different place to just enjoy each other. My folks had a fifth wheel trailer and I thought Ron would enjoy going fishing. He used to love to fish but it was something he hadn’t done much of in the last few years.
We left the June morning, all excited about our adventure. We traveled to the northeastern Nebraska around Spencer. We found a Federal Camp Ground and spent the night there. We went to the casino at FT. Randall. No one was a big winner but we did have a good breakfast. The day was spent exploring the area before we moved on to Gavin’s Point. After making camp, we found a supply store that fishing licenses could be purchased. I bought my father and Ron a license. With that fishing did commence. I took my chair and sat beside Ron while he fished. It is pleasant to be next to him and enjoy the bright sunlight. I felt at peace. It was a good trip, one that seemed to make life make sense again.
When we arrived back at home, it was decided to take Ron’s parents to George, Iowa to visit family. Ron’s father was from that area. It was to be the last trip Ron or his father would take. Everyone had a great time visiting. It was good to his Dad smile while he visited with his older sister, Tillie.
July came and Ron’s condition seemed to deteriorate. He didn’t have the strength. He was worried about blood in his stool. I tried to play light of it but he made me make him an appointment to take a sample to the doctor. It was determined that he should have another MIR done. He was also given his first blood. After getting the blood he seemed much stronger but this was not to last. His blood count would drop to 6. As the month slipped away so did Ron. He was too weak to do anything but watch TV or sleep.
August 1, I took Ron’s Dad, Art to the hospital. He was running a fever and hadn’t felt good for a few days now. Millie, Ron’s mother and I sat in emergency with Art for what seemed like most of the day. This day was to be one of celebration as Terra and Greg were celebrating their first wedding anniversary. It turned out to be a very long one. After Art was admitted to the hospital and there seemed to nothing we could do, we did join Terra, Greg and my parents for dinner. The diversion seemed to lighten the day.
Upon returning home, Ron seemed to be upset and needed to talk. He told me, he was very worried about his condition. He wanted to go to the doctor. The next day, I made him an appointment for the following week.
All this week, I was trying to help Millie get to the hospital. Art had to have gall bladder surgery. It was to be hard as he was diabetic. Art’s hospital stay dragged into two weeks. The Monday, Ron was to go to the doctor; Art had another procedures for his gall bladder. He was transferred to another hospital. I woke up early and went to get Millie; we stopped, picked up Ron and drove into Omaha. We left Ron at my parents while Millie and I went to Bergen Mercy where the surgery was to be done. I was so nervous that day. Time ticked off the clock and it was getting closer to Ron’s appointment time, I didn’t want to leave Millie alone but I knew I had to get Ron to the doctor. I called my daughter and son in law; they came to sit with Millie. I hurried to pick up Ron and take him to his appointment. I dropped Ron off at the entrance to the medical center. I had to help him into a wheel chair. He was just too weak at this point for anything. That day turned out to be a very long one as Ron was admitted to the hospital. The doctor wanted to run a series of tests on Ron to see where he was losing his blood.
After we were taken to Ron’s new home for the week, a trio of young residents came marching in. They wanted to look at Ron’s throat via a scope. Ron was to swallow a tube that the doctor had inserted in his nose. Ron had a difficult time doing this. It was hard for me to be in the room. I felt so badly for him. He finally got the job done and the doctor pulled some blood up. I was happy to see them leave. We settled into the room. Blood was ordered and they began to give it to Ron. He was not to eat anything but liquids because of the tests that were to be run the following day.
All week, the doctors ran tests on Ron. Nothing showed up. They looked at his stomach, his large intestines, making him drink a gallon of drink. It was to clear him out. It was all Ron could do to drink it. He measured it out and had cups lined up on his bedside table when the young doctors came in on morning calls. Ron joked with them, telling them to belly up to the bar. He would share his drinks with them. Only one doctor took him up on his offer. I will always remember that day. More tests were run but nothing showed why Ron was losing blood. One last test to do, it showed Ron had cancer in his small intestine. A new doctor was called in, he wanted to remove Ron’s intestines and cut out the bad spots, then sew the intestines back together. I called the girls in to have a family pow wow. It was a difficult decision. The operation would not cure the cancer only stop it for a little while, maybe. We decided that no surgery was to be done. Ron said he was tired of lining doctor’s pockets and he didn’t want any more operations. So when the girls and I left that night, we hugged. I think we knew Ron’s life was about over. On Friday, I came to take Ron home. This was August 13.
The next day, Terra and Greg were to move into their new home. I wanted to help them as much as I could. Stacee, Mike and grandsons were with Ron. I worked all morning, helping with the move. At noon, I went home. Ron said he had to talk to me. He told me, he was not afraid to die. He knew he had only two weeks left to live. I thought he was full of it. He would still be here in October, etc. I told him, he must tell God he was ready. I didn’t know what else to say to him, I left the room crying. I sent the girls that day into to tell their father it was okay to leave us. I think it had to be the hardest thing; they had ever had to do. They both came out crying, we all hugged.
The day finished with everyone gathering at Terra and Greg’s for pizza. I wanted Ron to go. He wasn’t happy about it but after me insisting. He made his way to the car. It was all he could do to get into their house. It is a split-level home. He did make it to the couch where he spent the evening. It was good for him, being with family. He laughed and sat there holding hands with Terra and Greg. He was happy. It was nice to see him smile.
The months previous, I had seen him go down hill. He would sit on the toilet stool, sticking his chin out for me to shave his face. He depended on me for everything. I nursed him thru so many crises. Now, it seemed the journey was just about over for him. He had been a hard fighter. Going to work while on chemo. Getting ill to his stomach between stops and then going on with the day. I admire his grit.
Sunday morning, Ron wanted to talk about arrangements for his funeral. He wanted to make sure I do what to do around the house. How to care for everything that would be thrown into my lap. We discussed his parents’ well being, his wishes and just anything that came into his head. He had me write everything down. He was looking out for me in my life without him.
The next week was to be a very hard one for all of us. Early Tuesday morning, August 17th, the phone rang. Ron was in the bathroom being ill. I answered the phone to hear Millie’s frantic voice, telling me Art had died. What? I thought, he was getting well and coming home this week. I called for Ron. After talking to her, we tried to get hold of our girls. We were going to get his Mother and take her to the hospital. Ron called work to talk to his friend, Ron Murphy. He cried his heart out. What were we going to do now?
We picked Terra up and with Stacee, Ron and I traveled to Weeping Water. Ron had to crawl down the stairs to the couch. He decided to stay there with Stacee as the rest of us made plans for a funeral. It was to be the best day of Stacee’s life. Having time with her father alone. We knew he was dying and now we had yet another funeral to think of.
Tuesday went as planned. I helped Millie with arrangements. Ron and I spend the night with her.
We were waiting for Gary, Ron’s brother to come home. He lived in Colorado so traveling time was allowed for the funeral. All night I was hot, I woke up crying. I didn’t know how I was going to manage all of this. How could I bury Ron’s dad and then plan his funeral. Ron held me close and told me, I was a strong woman, was I doubting his judgment? No, but it was just too much to digest. It was raining; I went out and stood in the cooling rain, trying to compose myself. It seemed to be a very long night.
Morning came and Ron was in the bathroom. He was throwing up green bile. I didn’t know what to do. Ron was so angry with me for not giving him pain pills like he though he should have them. I didn’t want to over dose him; I finally gave in and let him have another pain pill. I called the medical center and paged Rose. Mille and Gary went to the funeral home for the last minute arrangements for Art’s funeral. I was alone with Ron. He began to sound like a parrot. Over and over again, he would say,” The deal is over, the deal is over. I didn’t know what to do. I cried and begged him to not say that. He wouldn’t stop, more and more; the same words came from his mouth. I was so worried that I had hurt him by giving him too many pain pills. Rose called me back after much waiting. I explained the reason for the call. She said she could send out some medicine for the trouble of throwing up. I explained I didn’t think Ron could keep it down. It was determined we must bring him into the hospital. I called Terra and Greg to help me. I knew there was no way I could manage this alone.
Greg and Gary had to carry Ron out to the car. It was difficult getting him into the front seat. We were off for the hospital. Ron was still not himself. For one moment he turned to me and asked if I had helped his mother with her life insurance. I assured him I had and then we lost him again. The ride was long and it was even longer trying to get Ron out of the car. The young man at the hospital emergency room was very patient with him. At last, we wheeled him into the hospital. We were assigned a room and a doctor came in. I told him the problem. We were sent upstairs to oncology treatment room. Ron was out of his head and I was afraid we were losing him that night. The nurse gave him morine. I called the family in. We didn’t know what we were going to do. The nurse informed us, he couldn’t stay there and since we weren’t trying to treat the cancer, he couldn’t be admitted to the hospital. I wasn’t ready for hospice. I had inquired about it but no arrangements had been made. What to do? Patti, my sister in law, tried to help us. She knew people but finally it was decided we should rent a room at the hospital for the night until we could take Ron home. I prayed a lot as we found our room upstairs from the treatment area. It was a nice home with two rooms. They were used for out of town quests that had loved ones admitted to the hospital. The nurse gave me medication for Ron’s pain. It was a very long night. Ron became hostile with me. He said I lied to him. I couldn’t ‘t wait until morning, I wanted everything settled. At last, the hospice people came and we began the arrangements. The hospice nurse examed Ron, He didn’t like her. He told her to get away from him. I felt bad for her. She was nice and was patient with him.
That afternoon, we left the hospital. Ron still not being friendly toward me. The nurse told me not to take it personally. I had already lost my husband. I cried silently. Greg promised Ron, he would never had to go to that hospital again. Once home, Ron had to wait in the car as the bed was not ready for him. We were putting a hospital bed up in the living room. Greg and Ron spent some time in the bathroom. I didn’t want Ron falling off as he waited for the bed. Greg was a saint that day. I don’t know what I would do without him.
When Ron settled into his bed, calmness came over him and he once again loved me. We were instructed on what to do for him. The nurse attached a morphine pump to his leg. We decided on shifts to be with him. I was going to take the first night. I made a bed on the couch. I woke up in the middle of the night with a great pressure on my legs. It was Ron, his weak head lying on my legs. I began to shout for help. My children came running. Mike, our son in law, said,” Ron is using the urinal” Ron lifted his weak head and exclaimed, ” that would have been quite a memory, a rainbow shower.” Mike helped him back to be. Here was a man dying and still cracking jokes.
The following days were exhausting; the family took time to be with Ron. Ron told me, that there was a man waiting for him. He was telling us, that there were many people going up, he was flying. I tried to tell him, that there had been an earthquake that week. He said he saw a car wrecked by the road. There had been a young man killed that day before. The girls and I went to the funeral home and planned his funeral. It was the second funeral I had planned in a week’s time. Nothing I really wanted to do at all. We buried Ron’s dad on Friday, Ron went into hospice care the Thursday before. On Saturday, Ron ‘s voice was very low and we had to bend over to hear him. He grabbed Greg’s shirt and insisted on a Pepsi. It was just like the Pepsi commercial with the little girl saying Compeche. It surprised Greg. But it left him with quite a memory. Ron loved joking with Greg. Everyday, we would watch and try to make Ron comfortable. It was so hard watching him die. There wasn’t much of his strong body left. He had lost so much weight and all of his hair. It was so hard to stay strong for him.
Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday came. Wednesday, a nurse came to help me bath Ron. He was in so much pain; it hurt to even touch his skin. He lost control of his bladder. I felt so bad for him. I knew he would be embarrassed at this occurrence. I cried while I was changing the diapers the hospice people had provided. I knew Ron would be so indigent knowing I had to do this for him. It made me very sad to see him in this state. I kept telling him I was so sorry and that I didn’t want to hurt him but I had to clean him up. Ron started running a temperature. It was a sign, his body functions were stopping. That evening, I needed a break from the heaviness of the house. I went with Terra to the store. I found an angel bear like the one, Ron had given me. I brought it home and laid it next to his head. I told him, it would help him find his way to Heaven. I walked away after kissing him on the forehead. About fifteen minutes later, Ron was gone. Greg was trying to count his breaths. He alerted us. I tried to listen for a breathe, nothing!!! I started to cry and knew we must call the hospice nurse. She said she would be right there. Tears, tears and more tears. We called everyone who needed to know and then we waited. It seemed like forever until the nurse arrived. She proceeded to pronounce Ron dead. We all knew he was but the final statement seemed to make it hard. It was good that he wouldn’t be suffering anymore but it was bad for all of us who loved him so much. The nurse had to called the sheriff’s office to have someone come to the house. She also called the funeral home. We spend the next few hours, hugging each other and remembering how much we loved Ron.
In the following days, we planned for the funeral day. Ron had requested a party after the funeral. He didn’t want us to mourn his death but rather to re joyous in his life. It was a beautiful August day when we buried him. It was two weeks to the date that Ron told us, he had only two weeks to live. How could he have known? I believe God was preparing him and all of us for Ron’s final days on earth.
If there is one thing I have learned from Ron’s death, it is how much he loved his family, how awful melanoma is and how he so much wanted to save others from this terrible disease. I hope by writing this story about our journey thru melanoma, we can help someone else. This is 100 per cent curable if caught early. Please take the time to be checked and live a happy life.