More Time

hourglass

 

Back up to Perth. We had to fly. I started to get really bad with flying. I would come undone. My blood would run cold. Like ice in my veins. Fear and Panic gripped me. I didn’t like any of it. I didn’t like where we were going. I didn’t like what we were having to do. I hated leaving my kids behind. I hated what was happening to Dean. And I had no control. I had no control over any of it.

We got to Perth and they started Dean on chemo. Ginny flew over to be with me. I was beyond grateful for her help and presence. Someone to vent to. Talk to. About nothing and everything. Cry to. Have fun with. She kept me sane when I was on the verge of going over.

My whole body came out of rhythm. I couldn’t sleep. Couldn’t eat. My appetite was gone. My body hurt all over. Aches. Pains. Crying spells. Bursts of laughter. Loud sighing. Extremes. Lots of extremes. And swearing. I hadn’t been a big swearer, pretty much ever. But those swear words started to fly. Loud and clear. I wasn’t holding back either. It was the only language I could find that described how I felt. And what I thought.

The docs came in the mornings. They had Dean on their “light” chemo. They gave it over the course of a few days. The side effects came but weren’t extreme. I felt like they were giving us rhetoric. I know this disease. I’ve read about it. I’ve seen it. I’ve smelled it. I’ve lived with it. I’ve watched it come. I’ve watched it go. I’ve been through two relapses and a bone marrow transplant. I know that this disease gets harder to cure every time. Now, at relapse number three, they are giving him some light chemo? For what? Who are they kidding? Are they trying to buy him time? Are they trying to give us false hope? I went along with it to start with. A day after the chemo finished his collar bone became hugely inflamed. It’s already back. I knew it. I knew this was going to accomplish nothing.

I caught the doctors before they came into Dean’s room and spoke to them in the hallway.

“Please don’t give us false hope. I need you guys to be real with me. I know that once you’ve hit three relapses chemo isn’t going to help. I’d like the truth. Tell me if I’m wrong, but I feel like I’m going to have to say goodbye to my husband.”

Unable to look at me, they just nodded with knowing eyes and hung their heads slightly.

They found that the leukemia had spread through Dean’s entire body. It was in his organs, his bones. It had actually broken his ankle. Disbelief. They thought Dean must have had an accident or an injury. No. The cancer was literally eating away his bones.

I knew I had to try to talk to Dean. About him actually dying. It was so hard. Because it wasn’t hypothetical. This is real life. In real time. This was happening now. But how? How do I open my mouth and say everything that I’m thinking and feeling to him? How do I be that honest? I had a muzzle of manners and sweetness. I didn’t want to hurt Dean. Or upset him. But the pressure was mounting, and my words like a geyser were demanding release.

I could see my life like a beautiful doll house. Hanging by a thread. And I held my breath. Because any moment now that thread would break. And my beautiful doll house. My life. My family. Everything. Was going to shatter. Into a million pieces.

I sat in Dean’s hospital room. I hate this place. I hate the smell. I can’t wait till I never have to come back here again. My disdain for the hospital grew exponentially each day. I stared numbly out the window. Dean was sitting up in bed watching TV.

My husband, oh my love. Things between us were getting tense. I felt that I was being prepared for him to go. I think he knew it too. He just couldn’t accept it. And even if you do know that you’re going to die, your will to live doesn’t disappear. I didn’t know if he felt like I was giving up on him. I couldn’t change what I felt I knew. It’s the only thing I knew. I hardly knew a thing except that Dean was going. And God would help me to carry on afterwards.

I walked over to Dean and sat down on the bed beside him. I leaned over and lay my head across his chest. My head resting on his heart. I was surviving. Pushing through. Battling on. Keeping it together as much as I could. I spent so much energy just trying to hold it together. So, I let it out. My heart was bursting at the seams with unshed tears. I cried over him. My tears pouring onto his chest and running down his ribs onto the sheets. He placed his hand on my head and gently stroked my hair. My love, my love. How am I going to live without you? Oh my love, my darling. My heart. How can a heart break this many times and still beat? The tears poured.

I sat up and tried to dry my face. I looked into those blue eyes. Suddenly, sitting there in the bed. Bald and frail and sickly. He was transformed before my eyes. And I was looking at the Dean I married. On our wedding day. In his tux. With his long hair and dark olive skin. Radiant with joy and life. Youth and love. So handsome and carefree. Unaffected by the sands of time, by the dark shadow of pale death. He sat before me, as if not one day had passed since we said our vows.

Tears in his eyes, “You brought me so much joy, Cassi”

I smiled,“You changed my whole life.” My heart swelled and squeezed as more tears fell.

We held our breath and our gaze. With tears full of love running down our cheeks. We completely understood each other. And we felt it. Hearts that didn’t want to say goodbye. Hearts that wanted more laughs. More adventures. More memories.

More time.

 

 

The Precipice

rope

 

We saw Dr. Howarth. He was trying to surmise the reason behind Dean’s worsening ailments and pain. He was thinking it was the GVH. We were all hoping it was GVH. Better that than the filthy demonic other. I listened to them talk. I knew it wasn’t the GVH. I knew. But I couldn’t say anything. I didn’t have the heart. I didn’t want to be the one to say it. It was too horrible. Too awful. And so they upped his immuno suppressants. Increased them dramatically. Unfortunately, there was nothing left of Dean’s immune system to fight the cancer now. And so it spread like wildfire.

Daily I witnessed the slow, torturous, violent murder of my husband. His collar bone. His knee. His ankle. He was in excruciating pain. Dr. Howarth started doing cortisone injections. Two a day. Morning and evening. The injections left black bruises. He was covered in them. On top of that, he was on over 110mg of oxycontin a day. That’s enough to kill a normal person. Still, that savage rabid dog called pain would not be subdued.

Dean’s belligerent shouting boomed regularly. Anything would set him off. The boys and I would cower to other areas of the house. Nausea ate a hole in me while Anxiety seized my heart and throat. The stress. If a toy were left on the floor as he crossed the room he would kick it against the wall as hard as he could. And shout. If I made the slightest mistake he would ream me. I bought the wrong food. Or put things in the wrong place. Or didn’t do this right or that. He would shout into my face. It was more than I could bear. Crushed. I couldn’t do anything right. My strength depleted. We were careening toward an apex. I could feel it. Tremors. Quakes. The thunder of an approaching avalanche. The vice grip cranked tighter. Little by little. Anguish. Oppressive pain. Uncertainty.

The doctors wanted to run tests to see what was going on with Dean. I knew. I knew it was the cancer. Get him to Perth, dammit. 

Dean was so brave. When people would ring to see how he was going he’d say, “Oh yeah, not doing too bad thanks mate. You know, I’m alive and well so I’m grateful for that.”

I wanted to grab that phone from him and yell to that person,

“WE’RE IN FUCKING MISERABLE HELL!”

He’d have a laugh and a chat. And then it was back to our reality. A reality where Dean was ferocious. And mean. And unkind. Brash and hurtful. And no one knew what we were going through. No one understood. There was no fixing this. There was no changing it. It wasn’t his fault. He didn’t mean to act that way. He couldn’t help it. We were reaching a precipice. A ledge. A cliff. A fall. Destruction. And the reality was that Dean and I were going through such different things. He was dealing with pain and the idea of death and leaving his family. And I was watching him suffer. And it was killing me. God I can’t watch it anymore. Heal him or take him home. I can’t live like this anymore. This isn’t life. It’s not life for Dean. Or me. Or the boys. We can’t go on like this. God have mercy. Mercy!

I went for my daily walk to my ocean refuge with God. God, my heart isn’t even here. I don’t know where it is. It’s not with the boys. It’s not with Dean. It’s somewhere adrift at sea perhaps. In search of a better life.

What are you going to choose?  You have a choice. Like Esau had a choice. Esau chose to forfeit his inheritance. He chose the bowl of soup. You can forfeit your inheritance for relief in this moment. Or you can persevere through it and receive what’s in store.

I collapsed in heaving sobs. I don’t want to be like Esau. I don’t want the bowl of soup. I don’t want to lose my inheritance. I want what you have for me. God help me. Change my heart. Put my heart with my family. Make me want to stay. Change me, Lord. Change me.

I went to church that week. Burdened. Heavy. Broken. During worship I fell to my knees. All I could do was weep. I travailed with writhing sobs. Face in the carpet. Sobs violently squeezed my rib cage. Agony clutched my stomach as pain strangled me. My nose was running over my face and the carpet which was drenched in my tears and slobber. I didn’t care. The claw of anguish had it’s jagged claws deeply clenched in my heart. I can’t imagine not being broken. I can’t imagine that I could ever be whole again. God, I know that you can do anything, but I can’t fathom that this anguish could ever end. My chest heaved as my insides shook like a bag full of broken glass.

God, if you don’t want me to be a broken, shell of a woman the rest of my life, you better do something about it.

Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.

The darkness closed in.

Broken. Pain. Torturing pain. Unrelenting. Death. Death is coming. Death is here. There’s no escape. There’s nothing I can do. Pain. Anguish. Broken.

I called my parents.

“Daddy, it’s too much. I can’t do it anymore. I can’t take it.” I didn’t bother trying to fight back the tears. They knew I was at breaking point. My dad said that he would fly Ginny out to come help whenever I needed her. I knew it would be soon.

Doc ordered some tests. They were doing a blood count to see if Dean had relapsed. I was at our friends house for dinner. Dean was going to catch up with me after he met up with the doc. Answers. We will finally get some answers. 

I was at the kitchen bench chatting when he walked upstairs. He looked at me. We locked eyes and he walked over to me. He pulled me into a strong embrace. And whispered into my ear “It’s the cancer. It’s back.” He was shaking. I was shaking. We held onto each other desperately. As though an F5 tornado threatened to tear us apart.

The avalanche.

It began.

We stood and cried into each others shoulders. Oh my love. My precious love. My beautiful sweet husband.  I knew it. Oh God I knew it. Oh my Lord. Oh Lord. Oh honey. My poor sweetie. This is it. I know this is it. I know this can’t go on. 

“I feel like I’m in a sinking boat and I’m all alone.” He whispered to me. He knew. He knew this was it. This is the end of the road.

Oh darling! I know I know I know. Oh honey, I know. It’s not fair. I’m so sorry! I wish I could do something! I’m here sweetie, I’m here. Lord! Why! 

 

To the Place I Once Called Home

plane

It was going on five years since I’d been home. Maddox was 4 1/2 now. My mom had never even met him. It’s something that I struggled to comprehend when I took the time to think about it. I’ve missed both my siblings weddings. My mother hasn’t met my son. Nor has my brother. Or my grandparents. I never could have imagined it.

I told Dean that I couldn’t go any longer without seeing them. I had to go. The pull was too intense to bear any longer. The time was now.

The decision was made. We bought tickets. We were to spend Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s with them. It was something to look forward to.

Even still, the dark cloud that had hovered over us for so long seemed to descend upon us now. The days were darker. Gloomier. It felt as though the presence of death itself was amongst us.

A few days before we were due to fly out, Dean and I sat in our living room drinking in the sunshine and our cups of tea. He pulled his shirt down at the neck, revealing his swollen collar bone. “I have this pain here, sweetie. I don’t know what it is, but it’s really sore.”

I know what that is. I could see it in his ashen complexion. I could smell it. I had been in the midst of the invisible beast long enough to recognize it.

It was back. That evil, faceless plague. I knew it was back. But there was no way I could tell Dean. It would break his heart. I couldn’t tell anyone. So I endured my knowing alone. This time it took hold. And this time I couldn’t see it letting him go. The nightmare. It went on. Third time relapse. A death sentence -short of something completely miraculous. I could feel a tremor. Like the beginnings of an avalanche. My insides quaked as I felt the shift.

The flight over wasn’t much fun. Dean was always pretty uncomfortable on airplanes, mostly because his legs were so long. It was worse now. With his body in the condition that it was, he was in agony. We landed in LA. We prepared ourselves mentally to go through immigration and customs. Hoping for the best. This is it. It’s in God’s hands now. 

The boys and I went through the American citizens line and Dean went separately through the tourists and foreigners line. The boys and I went through and waited in chairs outside. Tick, tock. My eyes were swollen and heavy from the long traveling hours and lack of sleep. Feeling pretty rough. The boys were playing on all the empty seats around us. They were restless from the flight. Time dragged. Everyone else from our flight had come and gone.

We waited.

And waited.

Eventually, someone came up to me, “Ma’am, I’m sorry we have to hold your husband for questioning.”

You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. Here we go again. 

“Alright boys, come on. Daddy’s going to come a bit later.” What could I do? There’s nothing I could do. Frustrated and in a haze of jet lag, I left resigned.

My dad met us at the airport and we had our joyous reunion, dampened by Dean’s absence. I was elated to be on the ground. On the drive to their house I drank in the sights. The hills. The palm trees. The blue sky. The chaos. The traffic. The Surge of a million memories. Seeing my home with new eyes. The eyes of a foreigner. A country girl. So much life had passed since the last time I was in this place. And then I remembered that I always knew that I would leave. And I had. I had left. And now I returned. And I was different.

We got to my dads house. Jubilance. Oh my gosh, I’m actually here. I’m in southern California. Wow. It feels like a lifetime. Things had changed. My little brother who was only 15 when I left, was now 20, married, and heading into the Airforce. My little sister, Naomi, was now pregnant with her second child. I was meeting her husband, Mark, for the first time. My siblings were grown up. That was surreal.

Immigration held Dean for 12 hours. They didn’t let him take his meds. Eventually, he was able to take a taxi home. He arrived irate and exhausted.

“I got so frustrated that I was ready to charge at one of the security guards and take a bullet.” Thoughts like that would have come from not having his meds.

After hours of looking into it, they found that Dean had actually been granted his American visa. The one that I had applied for four and a half years earlier. It had been approved six months after I applied for it. Apparently it had been lost in the mail.

All these years… We could have come back…All these years I haven’t even come to visit my family…

It was time we would never get back.

Thanksgiving was a perfect reunion. Overjoyed. For them to see us and us them. For them to see Dean and hug him after so many years of our emails and updates. Oh to be home! Among my family again. My grandparents and parents and sisters and brothers celebrating and feasting together. It was an exciting time of celebration for all of us. The California weather lived up to its reputation. We had plenty of sun. I hugged and kissed my siblings over and over. I clung to them. Sat on them. Kissed them more. I got to hold my grandma’s hand. I got to look into their eyes. Blessed in bliss.

Dean was so happy to be there. He had always loved the States. He couldn’t do much, he was bound in wonderment. That darkness though. That dark power was still working it’s way through his body. Causing him pain. He was on the couch a lot of the time we were there. His ankle was very sore. The pain worsened. Daily.

A couple of weeks after Thanksgiving, Dean and I were crawling into bed. My parents had done up a lovely guest room for us. He was taking another lot of pain pills. We were way beyond following instructions on a bottle.

“I’m just going to keep taking ‘em sweetie. It’s just too much.” I looked over at him in the dim light and I watched as he filled his palm with pills and threw them into the back of his throat. We got settled into bed. The silence punctuating the uncertainty hanging in the air.

“You’re just going to have to keep going with the boys…and I’ll fit in where I can.”

I could hear it raining outside. Like the sky was crying the tears that I couldn’t at that moment. And then I knew. Then I knew for sure. I don’t know how I knew. I can’t explain it. I just knew. The way you know winter is coming. There’s no stopping it. No slowing it. The cold will steadily approach. The trees will be barren. The darkness will encompass. He’s going. I’m going to have to go on without him. Oh my Lord. My God. The anxiety in my chest tightened like a vice grip. The avalanche was getting closer. The tremors, stronger.

Later in the week, I went to Doug’s house. I had to drop something off. He lived just next door. Doug is one of the most kind, jubilant, and generous of men I’ve known and one of my father’s closest friends. We got to talking. He loved talking about the things of God. As though he were aware of the uncertainty that swelled and swarmed my heart, he smiled at me with radiant confidence and said, “Yeah, because we can trust Him.”

The words pierced through the doubt clouds in my heart, letting in the light. Tears welled. Jesus. I can trust you. But if feels like my whole world is falling apart.

January.

Time to go home. The journey was horrendous. Dean was no longer able to put on a brave face with the pain. His temper was explosive.

The next six months of my life were a living hell.