Dean was able to get the second round of treatment administered at home. The home care nurses would come bearing their bait and tackle boxes full of potions and receptacles. Our mornings would be spent answering a muriate of questions on the status of each main bodily function and part. But the nurses were kind. And strong. And weren’t shy in nagging Dean to be right by his body. Diet. And meds. Dean was fairly casual about most “rules.” A chemo diet was no exception. His lectures were lengthy and frequent.
“You’re not supposed to play football, Dean.”
You’re not supposed to lay in the grass, Dean.”
“Give yourself half a chance, Dean!”
Dean wore a smirk as they huffed and puffed at him.
Then the tidal wave of side effects came. Crashing over us with a vehement ferocity. Pummeling us on the shoreline with a power and a weight that was crushing and debilitating. No air. No relief. Mouth ulcers. Fatigue. Diarrhea. Pain. The awful pain. The light was gone from his eyes. He filled out less and less of his clothing. He had to cinch his belt. Then the fever came. Hospital.
It was a lung infection. His body fought. His body was tired. Tired from fighting the cancer. Tired from recovering from chemo. Tired from this lung infection. But still he fought. He coughed. He coughed and wheezed. He coughed until he threw up. I held the bag as the ceaseless coughing caused him to puke bile. I nearly lost my stomach as the pungent stench hit my nose. I felt the warm bile settle in the bag in my hands. Surreal. Since when is this our life?
Dean got up the next morning and got in the shower. He started moaning so I went to check on him. Was this my husband? This gaunt structure. Bones protruding. His hairless, naked frame. His usually tanned skin, pale and sickly. Slightly bent over, he was trying to wash his leg. He was on the verge of tears. He was in too much pain to bend down. Helpless. God help us. Jesus help us. I couldn’t process how I felt about what I was seeing.
I slowly walked over. I got on my knees. The tiles were wet. I took the sponge. And I started to wash his body. This aged. Spindly. Bald. Boney body. His legs. His feet. And then. Something unexpected. The most amazing feeling came over me. Dean and I had showered many times before as lovers. But this was different. This was…holy. Pure. Never had I felt this intimate. This vulnerable. My sweet husband. My darling. My knees were hurting. I was cold from the spattering water. But I didn’t care. Joy came. Starting in my chest and slowly flowing out to all my limbs. What a privilege. What a privilege this is. To be in this moment. With this precious man. The man who holds my heart. And in my heart the words whispered…love is patient…love is kind… This. Is. Love.
And it was painful and beautiful and awful and amazing.
A trip to Perth confirmed that the worst was true. leukemia. That filthy word. That filthy, awful being from the pit of hell, was upon my dear husband.
We moved to Perth for treatment.
After the initial shock of the diagnosis, Dean and I took on the sort of effervescent optimism of soldiers who are preparing for war. But have yet to experience its reality. We armed ourselves the best way we knew how. With hope and prayer and a positive attitude. Faith. That God would get us through. How could we know. How could we know how dark and desperate the days would soon become.
Dean was a champion. He had his first lot of chemo in the hospital. He flashed his beaming smile at the nurses. Teased them that they might be overcome with lust when he took his shirt off. They rolled their eyes. “We’ve seen it all before, really.” Unfazed but with a smirk. And Dean delighted in the stirring.
They explained to us that Dean would have alternating rounds of chemo. A lighter round and a more intense round with more severe side effects. The first round was mostly a breeze. The chemo itself looked so deceitfully harmless. So inconsequential. And one might think it so except that the nurses treated it as death itself. They put on an apron, gloves, a face mask, and eye protection before even handling the outside of a bag. It would get hung up and then pumped straight into Dean’s heart. And it’s such an odd thing to watch. As it’s death to the one and life to the other.
The boys were 10 months and 2 years old now. They were too young to know or understand the ever-present threat over head. They were delightful. They were a handful. lol. They forced me to get up every morning. They needed breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They needed walks. They needed stories and songs. Trips to the park. Learning to go up the steps to get to the slide. Building sand castles. Their smiles were unbidden by dark thoughts. They struggled not with worry or doubt. Their laughter was whole hearted. And they were my medicine. They kept me sane. They made my days sweet, even when they were sour. I had not the luxury of falling in an emotional heap. The boys needed me. They loved me. They were life to me.
After the first round of treatment, Dean and I were happily satisfied with ourselves. This wasn’t so bad. We had settled into our little Perth home. The boys were happy. And Dean was handling treatment so well. We were a family. The darkness was there, the uncertainty was there. But the sun shone on us. We felt blessed. We felt prepared. We felt good.
The second round of chemo proved to be much harder than either of us could have imagined. A battle storm would ravage Dean’s body. And one just as fierce, my mind.
And we would be forever changed.