It’s never a good thing when the emergency room staff knows you by name. Diane has had gastrointestinal problems for some time, and has visited the ER 27 times in the past year with nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Over a nine-month period, her gastroenterologist performed two colonoscopies and an endoscopy. Finally, he was diagnosed with arteriovenous disorders. “Don’t worry, there are no signs of cancer. Most people with this disease can lead normal lives. In Diane’s case, he was wrong — dead.
March 1, 2022 was the day our lives changed forever. We thought it was another visit to the ER. I was expecting the usual test protocol: an injection of promethazine or zofran for nausea, followed by fluids. This time was different. An imaging test showed two spots on Diane’s liver – possibly cancerous, he said. I was shocked. Surely further investigation will provide another explanation. Less than a month has passed since the gastroenterologist performed an endoscopy and found no malignancies.
Radiology confirmed the diagnosis of cancer. To make matters worse, it was inoperable colon cancer that had spread to the liver and the GI doctor had somehow never seen it. My wife, my husband of 52 years, my high school sweetheart was dying, and there was nothing I or anyone else could do about it.
The hardest thing I’ve ever done in my 73 years on earth was to support someone I love. The hardest part for me was when Diane stopped living with him and started dying for him. The visual evidence of her decline and relentless approach to death was terrifying.
She tried her best. We were referred to a local cancer center. The medical team there assured Diane that the liver tumors were relatively small. She was an excellent candidate for chemotherapy. Another two years of life was a reasonable expectation. Three or four were not out of the question. I felt a surge of hope. Chemotherapy was giving Diane the precious gift of time. Meanwhile, new drugs, new discoveries, maybe a cure. But the light was dim, flickering at the end of the tunnel.
A few days later we confirmed that the chemo port procedure was scheduled. When Diane canceled at the last minute, I was shocked. The hour was running short, the swelling was growing; We had to do this now. At the same time, I didn’t want to push her. It wasn’t my body, my illness, or my decision. I breathed a sigh of relief when she rescheduled me.
During this time, I began researching and making inquiries at a few prominent cancer institutions, particularly the Mayo Clinic. I even asked our cancer office to send Diane’s records to one of the hospitals I contacted. Nothing came; I haven’t heard back from any of them. In the end, it went wrong, because Diane said she had no desire to travel for treatment.
That glimmer of hope I felt didn’t last long. The chemo port was uncomfortable, and Diane was aware of that. She eventually stopped breastfeeding. This helped with the port problem, but did nothing to reduce the nausea from the treatment session. The discomfort worsened when they were sent to her home with a mobile unit that slowly dispensed the drug around her.
Diane’s next appointment was postponed because her iron level was too low for treatment. They gave her an injection to increase the iron and postponed the session. That’s when Diane told me she was done with chemo for good.
“It took me a while to realize that certain months of life are a gift you want to give to both of us.”
At the time, her decision was like a death wish – I was rejecting our life together. Would she rather hasten the timeline of her death than spend more time with me and our son? I accepted and supported Diane’s decision, but I couldn’t understand it. It took me a while to realize that a few quality months of life was the gift she wanted to give us both. Two or three years of constant misery from the drugs and the side effects, with no chance of a different outcome, was not what Diane wanted for any of us.
Although the cancer center tried to convince her to continue treatment, I think they realized the weakness of their argument given the situation. They gave us a referral to hospice and wished us well. Hospice accepts patients who are thought to have less than six months to live. Time was running out. We lived together one last summer.
I look back on the magic of those ordinary days that encompass a lifetime. I helped Diane bathe, dress and use the toilet. We went out for breakfast every morning at a restaurant that people loved. Shopping, shopping, going to the park filled our days. I tried to be strong for her, but I feel like time is running out.
July gave way to August and Diane began to decline. One of the hardest things for a caregiver is to watch a loved one slowly fade away physically and mentally. The world darkens, the light at the end of the tunnel dims, until all that remains is the tunnel itself.
Diane couldn’t leave the house anymore. I couldn’t manage it. Even if I was small and strong, I’m not sure I could keep her safe.
I got the hospital bed around mid-August after she fell out of bed the second time. We set it up in the living room, where she watches TV and is part of the day’s activities. The hospice was excellent, providing counselling, support, nursing services and bed baths. I could not have managed without their help.
The end of August was difficult. I tried to eat her. On a good day, Diane would eat half a honey bun and drink some ginger ale. I waited to see if she would stay until our anniversary on August 24th. I wish her a happy birthday. Maybe she understood me; Maybe she didn’t. Diane’s ability to speak is now mostly gone.
I chose a funeral home and started sleeping in a room in front of the house to meet her at night. Diane stopped eating at the end of August. Her time was short. My daughter and son-in-law were driving from Virginia.
I am writing this on Monday, September 12th. Diane died last Wednesday afternoon, September 7th, at 2:00 pm My daughter and I held her hand at her bedside this morning to show our love. A hospice nurse was there to help us when she passed.
“I believe life is measured by the footprints one leaves behind. Diane’s writings are imprinted on my heart and the hearts of many others.”
They say you never forget your first love. In my case, Diane was the only girl I ever loved. In 1966, I took our first ice skating. Finding my soul mate at such a young age was indescribable. She felt the same way. Life was perfect.
And now she’s gone. I take some comfort in knowing that her life was full. Diane was a wonderful wife and mother; She was a brilliant and compassionate nurse. I believe life is measured by the footprints it leaves. Hers is imprinted on my heart and many other hearts.
What did I learn from this experience? I can tell you that dealing with Diane’s death was the hardest thing I have ever done. I wear my sadness like a heavy blanket. My mind is dull; In search of something, I travel for days to someone who isn’t there. He is confident. Maybe time will help. Probably not.
Sometimes I feel a sense of peace knowing that I did what I could to comfort her. Her binder is placed on the memory table, with a picture of both of us and some personal items that are important to her. I visit with Diane every day. She will be with me as long as I am.
The house is quiet now. I’m trying to move forward, but it’s hard. I thought we would grow old together. We did, but we didn’t come of age. Diane’s death taught me that no matter how much we love someone, we all have our own lives to live. The best way to celebrate the life Diane and I spent together is to live the rest of my life the way I know how.
late. I should try to sleep, but I think I’ll turn on the TV. I need something to cover the sound of crying.
Ronald Paxton was born in Richmond, Virginia and currently resides in Conway, South Carolina. In the year He sold his first short story in 2008 and has since published eight novels, over 50 short stories, children’s books and poetry. Mr. Paxton’s short fiction has received nominations for a Pushcart Prize and a Best of Net Award. His novel “Tears at Sunrise” is a Virginia State Library Novel Selection.
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