Thomas J. Christiansen
There is something on the scan. Six little words that hold so much meaning. These six words were followed by the very young, very non-emotional emergency room doctor who asked if we wanted to know what they saw. That old saying, “ignorance is bliss” could not have been any more true than at that moment. I wanted to beg the doctor not to say anything more, and allow us to hang on to those last moments of “not knowing.” However, my very practical husband said he wanted to know. “There are three lesions on your brain,” said the doctor. My husband turned to me and voiced his gratitude that he had not had a stroke, which is what he feared. My heart broke twice in that small, cold, sterile room …once at what the doctor had told us and again that my love did not yet understand this was a diagnosis worse than a stroke. It was a diagnosis that would relentlessly fight against every treatment we tried. It was a diagnosis that would be career-ending and, ultimately, life-ending for my dear husband.
The cognitive challenges that took us to the emergency room that day had been easily hidden for a few weeks. When it got to the point that he could not hide the symptoms any longer, the fear of a stroke led my husband to finally agree to seek medical attention. As much as I had encouraged (he would say nagged) him to go to the doctor, I was terrified. I remember the day of December 28, 2019, so very clearly. As we walked through the parking lot toward the hospital, my brave husband silently grasped my hand. Holding his hand tightly, I said to myself that our lives would never be the same again. Having survived cancer twice, I always went straight to the worst-case scenario. As much as I knew medical attention was needed, part of me wanted us to turn around and run back home. Walking into the hospital that day took every ounce of strength I had. That is until I had to walk out alone without my beloved husband just a short 10 months later.
Brain surgery took place a couple of days after the diagnosis. My husband did so well with the surgery, and we were incredibly hopeful. His hospital room was filled with our family and friends, and we all felt such a sense of relief that he came through the surgery so well. We were still in the hospital for New Year’s 2020, and my beloved joked that he always took me to the best places to celebrate. I was so grateful for a successful operation that the hospital room seemed like the finest place on earth. It was a new year, and we had a good plan to combat the melanoma that had metastasized to the brain.
Although my husband was armed for battle, there were roadblocks everywhere we turned. Every scan showed more progression of the disease, but we remained hopeful. We spoke of a retirement home in Wyoming and even started looking for property. We planned trips and talked of the day he would get his pilot’s license back and return to work. We finally agreed on upgrades to do to the house. So many plans that would never come to be. The one thing we never discussed was what would happen if he didn’t beat this terrible disease. What would I do, and how would I go on without the love of my life?
The months after my dear, sweet husband passed away were filled with shock, disbelief, and a sense of tremendous sadness. There were many tasks to complete, and that gave me something on which to focus for a while. There were the “firsts” of everything. Thanksgiving, Chanukah, and Christmas were just a few short weeks after he passed, and I honestly remember nothing from those holidays. There was our first anniversary that I never imagined spending without my husband. The first Valentine’s Day and birthday alone. The list goes on and on. Everyone says the firsts are the toughest, and they were incredibly hard. However, I think the seconds are just as tough if not more. The shock has lessened a bit, but it has been replaced with the heartbreaking realization that my husband is not coming back. He is not just flying a trip or hunting at the lease. He is truly gone, and nothing will ever bring him back.
My sadness is not just for myself but for my love as well. He had so much more life to live; so many more things to do. He had just started thinking about retirement after an illustrious flying career that spanned more than 30 years. How unfair that he is missing out on so much that life should still be offering him. His absence is compounded when life events happen, and I cannot share the joy with him. When our children accomplish a goal, and he cannot congratulate them. My husband was a genuinely good man. He did so much for others and never asked for anything in return. He never complained during his cancer battle or asked why. I, on the other hand, asked enough for both of us. He simply didn’t deserve what happened to him. The unfairness of death is difficult to describe but felt on a daily basis.
For the one left behind, life is never the same. Our future was so intertwined that it is hard to know where to go without my husband. What does my future look like? What am I supposed to do? Simply getting through each day takes so much energy. I try to be grateful for all the gifts in my life, but it is impossible not to focus on what is missing. My heart hurts, and there are times I still cannot believe the melanoma won. If I was a betting woman, I would have put everything on my strong, determined, vibrant husband beating this illness. He fought so very hard, even when the odds started stacking up against him. My husband was incredibly strong, and we never let ourselves think of him not surviving. The past year has been the hardest of my life, by far. There are times I think he would be proud of me for the things I have been able to do. There are other times I think he would scold me for being so sad. Regardless, my husband knew how big my heart is and how strongly I love, so he would expect nothing less.
I remember all the thoughts and feelings just like it was yesterday. There is something on the scan. It all started with those six little words on December 28, 2019. The day life indeed changed forever.