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.