aI have noticed that my heart continues to get heavier as the days go by. It’s a difficult thing to explain. I know that I’m not having a further realization that Brady is no longer with me because, believe me, I am aware of that. I am forced into knowing just how real it is. However, I have had more of those moments lately where I want to run to him and tell him what happened during my day or talk about the latest gossip I heard. There is usually about a millisecond of desire before the reality sinks back into my body. At that time I am crushed all over again. I usually have to take a moment to allow myself to break down and then somehow pull myself back together as if it never happened. Again, these are not things I am intentionally choosing to do, it’s just the things my body does naturally. I suppose you could say it’s my form of grief.
Oddly, during most of Brady’s short illness I did not have a large amount of grieving moments. To be honest there wasn’t much time for it. When becoming a caretaker there are too many other responsibilities to focus on. For example, the night before Brady’s last night with me was his most difficult one at home. Brady’s brother, Jake, and his girlfriend took a shift to come to stay with us that evening in case I needed help throughout the night. By this time Brady was unable to do much on his own, even if his stubborn self thought he could. I have never been more thankful for someone staying with me than I was that night. For whatever reason Brady was awake and in need of something almost every half hour. Between needing water, medicine, bathroom breaks, wanting to sit up, or just being uncomfortable he definitely kept me busy and Jake was right there by my sleep deprived self each time.
Even with all of Brady’s commotion I was still able to have a very treasured moment that night. Throughout most of his time in and out of the hospital Brady was pretty much forced to sleep on his back, which is not a way he would normally sleep. Due to his required oxygen and a few other factors, it was really his only choice. On a few occasions he would attempt to sleep on his side, but that was mainly when he was in a hospital bed. At one point during our busy night Brady rolled over to his side facing me. We typically fell asleep spooning before all of this occurred, so naturally I snuggled my back side up close to him the way I used to. My heart was beating quickly with butterflies as if this were the first moment we had ever stayed together. I laid there quietly and turned to prayer. Prayer is not always my first go-to. In fact I often go without thinking about it, not purposely, it’s just what happens. Regardless, in that moment prayed. I only had one request; for Brady to put his arm around and hold me tightly the way he always had before all the madness. I wanted it more than anything. Before I knew it I felt his arm lift up and embrace around me. In that moment, nothing else mattered. In that moment I could forget that I couldn’t come home to tell him my stories, that we couldn’t spend our evenings watching recorded versions of our favorite shows, and most of all that my husband was laying behind me, ill.
When morning finally came everything was calm; everything except my heavy heart that is. I’m not sure if it was because of Brady’s restless night or just because of everything going on in my changed world but that morning I woke up sad. It was a different kind of sad compared to usual. The kind where it feels like there is a sand bag sitting on your chest and your heart falls down to your stomach with each beat. Fortunately for me the day stayed fairly calm. There were not many visitors and the ones who did come by came quietly. It was nice to see Brady get some decent rest.
At one point during the morning one of my aunts contacted me about an alternative healing method she had gotten wind of. It was a lady named Susan based out of New York who healed people with energy. She was a friend of a friend. I’ve mentioned before that we were attempting anything and everything when it came to trying to heal my husband after the doctors told us we had no medical options. I was mostly nodding my head in agreement to everything we had been trying up to this point. When I heard about Susan I decided to do some research. According to her website she healed herself of a bad cancer diagnosis through energy alone (the explanation is actually more complicated than that, but for your reading sanitary that’s how it was done). Her entire website was also quite complicated. Reading it felt as though I was reading another language. Knowing that her entire operation could possibly be a scam, I took into consideration that she was not just anybody. I did not find her on a pop-up ad while browsing Facebook. Someone who actually knew her was referring her to me. So I decided to jump on the crazy train like many of my and Brady’s relatives and see what it was all about. When I spoke with my aunt she told me Susan was willing to have a phone consultation with me that evening. I knew that no matter what happened it was not going to hurt Brady or make him any worse.
Before the evening came hospice care sent over a counselor to speak with me. I didn’t really mind either way. I don’t particularly feel as though I compress my feelings or emotions so speaking with her didn’t bother me like it may for some people. We sat and spoke for a while. It felt nice to talk to someone who was completely unrelated to the entire situation. I told her my concerns, fears, worries, all of it. She reassured me that everything I was saying was “normal” (as I assumed it was) and went on giving me positive outlook advice. For the most part I sat there thinking how awful her job had to be. I mean, I could not imagine going from home to home speaking with families about their dying loved ones. I suppose it’s a good thing there are people like her out there that can do it though. When I felt like I was done talking I gave Brady’s mom a moment to speak with her. It was during that time I received a phone call from my aunt. She told me Susan was available for us to call and we could all stay on the line together for the consultation.
As the phone rang my head was filled up with optimistic thoughts. Susan kindly answered and began to explain in more detail what she does exactly. Her explanation helped, but the whole idea of it was still a bit confusing. She basically told me she views the body in crystals, when they are not illuminated that tells her there is an issue that has caused them to be unaligned. Her job is to find a way to realign them. It’s like putting together a complicated puzzle. She does all of this from her own home so there was no traveling involved from either party. Earlier that day when she was contacted in regards to Brady’s condition she went ahead and did an evaluation on her own. She explained to me that she had his higher self’s permission to tap in. It might be strange, but it was that information that gave her my trust. I found it somewhat honorable that she would dedicate time to do an entire evaluation on someone who might refuse her work. Not only that, but she let me know that even if we decided not to work with her she would continue to keep Brady in her prayers. As we wrapped up, Susan explained to me Brady’s higher self was allowing her to tap into his bodyfield. His energy needed to be restored in order for it to flow properly. She said it would help if I told Brady who she was and what she was going to be doing. Then she gave me three lines to recite to him (or with him if he were able) each night as I held his hand:
I am at peace.
I am healthy.
I am love.
Before ending our conversation I asked a difficult question, “What if Brady or his higher self does not want to be healed?” I’ve mentioned before that I could tell from day one that this battle was going to be different. I often asked questions similar to the one above to doctors, to surgeons, or even to an energy healer because of that knowledge. From my perspective, all of these medical and holistic attempts were Brady’s loved ones fighting on his behalf. He was just content enough to go along for the ride (he always was good at being a people pleaser). Susan responded by telling me she had only had two people who did not let her in and assured me she would not have any problems with my husband. She then went on to say she would be starting work right away by doing some reprogramming and balancing to Brady’s bodyfield that night. We were to expect another assessment evaluation in the morning. I hung up the phone filled with the warmth of hope; my heart was at peace and my body felt content. It was the first time in days, maybe weeks or months I had felt this way.
Later that evening one of Brady’s aunts came over to do a reflexology treatment for both Brady and myself. From what I can tell reflexology is fancy word for massage, but either way I didn’t mind. It was either going to heal him through the application of pressure or it was going to give him complete relaxation. It was a win-win in my book, plus I had the opportunity to get one too. Just as Brady was finishing up with his reflexology treatment he had a cousin arrive to perform another alternative medicine practice known as Reiki. Remember when I said we were trying everything? Yea… we were trying EVERYTHING. In basic explanation Reiki is a spiritual Japanese practice used for healing, relaxation, and stress reduction. It also uses energy to achieve these things. It was a big night for my babe, filled with tons of love and energy from those around him.
When I got to spend a moment with him I told him how much I loved him. Brady being his thoughtful self attempted to mumble the words “I love you too” back to me. It was then I asked him for a kiss. By this point he was not doing much at all. The night prior he was sitting up (with help), drinking from a straw, attempting to walk to and from the bathroom on his own, and could still at least respond with yes’s and no’s. But on this night there was none of that. Within only hours it was gone. Despite all of those things, I watched my husband as he slowly puckered his lips up in response to my question. Love truly astounds me. The fact that I could sit there with my nearly helpless husband and watch him try, so ambitiously, just for me is a feeling that I could never possibly put into words. The love I felt from him was so incredibly genuine and real it’s unbelievable. I knew in my heart everything he was holding onto was due to his devoted love to his friends, his family, and to me. With my hopeful soul all filled with affection I told him about Susan. I told him who she was and what she would be doing. I then grabbed his hands and recited the lines she asked me to recite.
“Brady, I’m going to tell you these lines now. You can say them with me if you want, ok? I am at peace. I am healthy. I am love…” I paused as I took a moment to adore his beautiful face, “but if you can’t do it anymore I understand. I’ll find a way to be okay. I don’t know how but I will. I know you’re in pain and I just don’t want to see you hurting anymore because I love you so much.” My eyes were filled with tears as the words fell out of my mouth. I couldn’t even believe I was saying it. There had been other times I told him things similar to this throughout this entire experience, but this time was unlike the others. This time did not contain a few keys words at the end. This time I did not finish by saying, “...but I’m just not ready yet.”
I never could of known how much I would grow to hate those words above. Why on earth would I ever say such a thing? Why would I ever tell my reason for living that I could find a way to live without him? I can honestly say that I don’t know the answer to those things just yet. Maybe one day on this journey I’ll come to find out, but for now I have to find comfort in knowing that I must have said what needed to be said in that moment of time. We both fell asleep peacefully that night. Unlike the evening before, Brady had no trouble sleeping. The only time he awoke was once in the middle of the night when his mother, who was staying with us, and I got him up to take some medicine. Before we went back to bed I gave him my routine kiss and reminded him I loved him.
I awoke a couple hours later to Brady yanking off his oxygen in the dark. He hated wearing that oxygen on his nose so this wasn’t anything new. However, his most recent oxygen levels had been fairly low so I immediately asked him to put it back on. He didn’t listen so I told him he could have a break but only for a second. His body was restless and his breathing was moving more rapidly. I quickly began asking him on repeat to please put the oxygen back on. I turned on the light so he could see my face as I asked him. His anxious body grabbed me and pulled me into his arms.
My darling held me tightly as he took his last breaths.
My panicking self had no idea how special that moment was to me at the time. In a frantic state of mind I went yelling for his mom, who was nowhere to be found. She had already left that morning to pick up her youngest to take to school. She must have only been gone for a matter of minutes before Brady passed. It was a very rare occasion for the two of us to be completely alone. Did Brady know that it was only he and I in the house that morning? This is a question I come back to often. While I’ll never know the answer I’ll always know what I feel and what I feel is that his love for me was the strongest thing I have ever known.
As much as Mondays are traditionally known for being awful, this Monday, December 1st, 2014 is particularly terrible. Aside from that fact that I have been horribly sick for the entire day, today marks the first day of the first month I have to approach life alone, the first month I have to relearn independence, and the first month I have the misfortune of being referred to as… a widow, and at only 26 years old. I cringe to even type the word. Now I know many of you reading this will be dear friends and family and will want to promise and assure me that I will never be alone. I understand that. I know you are here. I know Brady will always be with me. But, when it comes down to it, in this moment, that’s just the way I feel.
So, in light of my life’s recent series of unfortunate events and my disinterest in facing this next month without my husband, I want to tell you about the last month I spent with him. Brady had actually not been feeling well for several months, but it was all symptoms that could happen to anybody who doesn’t feel well. Things like abdominal pain, fatigue, and no appetite. In fact some of the symptoms I am having today correlate with the ones Brady was expressing at the time. The week leading up to his first hospital visit was the worst as far as him controlling his pain goes. He left work early several days, he had to leave social events early the weekend prior due to not feeling well, and he finally could not handle the pain anymore.
Judging by his symptoms Brady was diagnosing himself with a gallbladder infection. It was our “worst case scenario” self-diagnosis. On October 27th, 2014 he texted me that he was going to be coming home early from work. He said he was going to make a doctors appointment for that day and was going to sign up for insurance as well. You see, fate can be one of those vicious monsters that likes to reveal your past mistakes with cold, hard evidence; such as the fact neither of us had health insurance. We both knew we should, we both had looked into it, and yet watching our favorite television shows often took precedence.
For example, had we both had insurance Brady would have made a visit to a doctor or a hospital much sooner. He was actually in a car on his way to an emergency room about some relentless pain he had been having the week before our wedding. He thought he had pulled a shoulder muscle while playing golf the previous weekend. With the wedding only days away I convinced him to come home. The only thing I can tell myself now is that they would not have found anything that day. He didn’t go to the emergency room because it didn’t matter. His fate was approaching him in a different manner and at least in this version Brady and I got to spend some carefree time together as husband and wife.
Getting back on track, Brady arrived home from work early just as he said he would. He seemed to be in more pain than usual. After a short phone call with his doctor he was told to visit an emergency room. Brady quickly signed up for some last minute insurance that would kick in within 24 hours to get by. The following day I got up to go to work and he later went to the emergency room with his mom. I had been texting him back and forth all morning in between teaching classes to see how everything was going at the hospital. During my lunch break I was waiting for him to tell me how his CT scan went, but I never heard from him. In my mind no news was good news so I continued on with the day.
What happened next was one of those moments that, as much as you would rather not remember it, lives on in your memory in slow motion. As I was in my classroom gathering together art supplies for 1st graders the assistant principle, and friend of mine, walked into the room to tell me he would be taking over my classes for the rest of the day. He also informed me that my mom was waiting for me in his office. I quickly gathered my belongings and went to the office where I found my mom in tears. I asked her what was going on. She told me it wasn’t good. Then, as my reality began to fog up around me, I heard the word “cancer” come out of her mouth.
This was the third time in Brady’s short life to receive this news. He was sick as child at age 10, then again as a young adult at age 21. He was told he “beat” the cancer both times. After hearing the news the only thing on my mind was getting to Brady. I knew I needed him and he needed me. It felt like a three-hour trip as my mom drove from one side of town to the other. When I finally got to the hospital I found him sitting in a wheelchair outside of the emergency room doors with his parents. I wanted to run to him, I wanted to yell for him, to hold him, to kiss him, to love him… but I didn’t. As much as I wanted those things I wanted my first moments of expression to be with him and only him. So I pulled myself together in an instant. I am not sure how but that’s what happened. I can’t even remember speaking to him at that time. I think I may have asked why he wasn’t in his room then asking where it was. We quickly went inside. Again, walking down those hospital hallways may as well had been 10 miles long because it seemed like an eternity to me.
Finally we reached his room. Our families let us go in alone, just Brady and myself. My moment came. I held him tightly in my arms and told him these words, “Brady, you are so brave and so strong and I love you”. I never expected the words he said in response. He told me that he did not want to be strong. I asked him what he meant by that and his response was, “Because this is the type of thing that happens to strong people”. My heart fell apart. I knew in that moment this time was going to be different. My undefeated superman had fought this too many times before and was ready to be done. He never told me that he would not try or that he did not want to fight, but in all honesty he didn’t have to. I knew him better than I knew myself.
The days and weeks that came to follow were like freight trains of bad news one after the next. There were some glimmers of hope in there, but for the most part you get picture. On Thursday, October 30th 2014 we received our official diagnosis results. Brady’s cancer was known as Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma (AdCC). If you Google it or visit Cancer.net you will see that AdCC is a form of salivary gland cancer. However, Brady’s diagnosis was located in his liver with some in his right pelvic femur. Our concern was in his liver. We were told the tumor took up around 80% of it and he more than likely had it for over a year.
In case you are wondering what all of that means, I will attempt to explain it a little more clearly. Brady’s second cancer diagnosis was in one of his major salivary glands, the submandibular, which is located under the jawbone. I never remember hearing it referred to as AdCC back then, but I’m told now that’s what it was. What this first means is that Brady’s current cancer was metastatic, which is the fancy word for explaining it had moved from its primary location (the submandibular gland) to a new location (the liver). He did not have liver cancer; he had a salivary gland cancer located within the liver. If you couldn’t guess, this complicated things. Any time the word metastatic or metastases is involved its going to be more difficult. Aside from that fact, when you look up AdCC you will see several words that do not tend to represent hope in any way. Rare, can spread to other parts of the body (none that I saw mention the liver), and can behave aggressively causing the course to be unpredictable are some of the words that stick out.
This was going to be an uphill battle and I didn’t care if Brady was ready for it or not because I was. With his best intentions in mind, I became determined to learn and know everything humanly possible about my husband’s situation. Along with caring for him in and out of the hospital, I was learning facts, seeking options, making constant phone calls, looking for second opinions, meeting people, writing down all information I could think of, researching, and playing the part of the host to all the visitors in between. I suppose I didn’t have to do all of that. I very well could have spent my days sobbing by my husband’s side and walking around in a zombie state of depression. There is nothing wrong with those reactions, but those are just things that I personally did not do. I never even looked at it as choice or conscious decision. It just happened that way. Once it did I knew my knowledge, along with my love for Brady, was going to be the key element that helped me survive it all.
Only two weeks after Brady’s official diagnosis, on November 13th 2014, his parents, my parents, Brady, and I were back in a hospital room waiting for our meeting with an oncology team (aka cancer doctors). They walked in and told us there would be no treatment options available. Anything and everything they could attempt would immediately shut Brady’s liver down causing him to fall short of any time he had left with us. With tears in my eyes I laid down to hold my husband tightly as our parents continued to ask the doctors every question imaginable in search of any kind of solution for help. I closed my eyes and listened to the doctors explain that the tumor had no separation within the liver. It was weaving itself in and out of his good liver tissue the way that ivy does on a vine. Brady’s body had already been failing him physically up to that point, but that day and that information took his emotional and mental well being too.
We were able to leave the hospital that next evening to return home for a second time. Before we left I had to set up home hospice care, another word I cringe to type. In the days that followed I watched Brady change drastically. Each day there was a new thing he was no longer able to do that he was capable of doing the day before. His family and I were still determined to fight on his behalf and as long as I didn’t hear the word “no” come from Brady’s mouth I knew it was okay to continue. We quickly became his caregivers and his doctors as we looked to any and every holistic healing method possible. Aside from diet, due to Brady being unable to eat much of anything at that point, we attempted them all in hopes of any type of positive reaction.
While there were many unfortunate events that took place during my last month of time with Brady, we also were fortunate enough celebrate some things as well. All of which coincidentally happened in the warm embrace of our own home. Our first night home from our first hospital visit happened to be on Halloween night. Halloween has always been one of our favorite holidays. We spent the night with our family watching the trick-or-treaters come to our door. The following week, on November 10th, we were able to celebrate Brady’s 28th birthday (sorry babe, you will forever have to remain 28 instead of 27 years old). He wasn’t feeling well but managed to take on the pain and visitors before revisiting the hospital the next day. After returning home one more time we were able to celebrate our 6-month wedding anniversary on November 17th 2014. I would never be one to celebrate a “monthiversary” in any other circumstance, but I knew this occasion was special. We got out our wedding cake, had gifts brought to us, and my sweet cousins even set up a faux celebration with flowers and our first dance song as if Brady had done it himself. It was perfect.
I have to say, as terribly awful as my last month of time with him was, I am so humbled to have had it at all. Most people do not get the opportunities I got with my husband. Most people don’t get a chance to shower their loved ones with gifts, and affections, and family, and friends before their passing from this world. I got to have all of those things and I will forever be grateful for that.