On or about this day 6 years ago, July 2015, Keith and I were standing in the front yard when the gastro doctor called. They found colon cancer in Keith after a routine colonoscopy, probably Stage 2, and it had to come out. It was hot outside. We were bewildered. Surgery was in order. A little over 2 weeks later, we were giggling in the holding room before surgery, because that’s what we do.
I’ll give you the long version of the story another time, but for now, suffice it to say that Keith’s health went South fast. Saving the details for later, the doctor cut a ureter by mistake in surgery, and it wasn’t discovered until many days, much suffering, a second “exploratory” surgery which yielded “nothing”, and lots of gnashing of teeth later. It took a lot of research, wrangling, lobbying, insisting, and yet a third surgery to get Keith fixed. Thirty-one days later we went home, ready or not. Then we were back in the hospital twice more, once with Keith suffering from DVT and enough pulmonary embolisms to kill a guy and again with CDIF and MRSA he probably contracted from any one of those sorties around the hospital.
We learned so much. I want to tell you all the things. I want to tell you about the unknowns, the fear, the failures, and the fights. I want to tell you about the 3 am conversations we had about what Keith wanted me to do with the business and what he wanted me to tell the children after he was gone.
Right now, though, let me tell you that the biggest take-away from that whole, horrible nightmare of an experience was that both Keith and I were given THE OPPORTUNITY to be who we are deep inside – strong, brave, persistent, determined, adamant, resolute, committed. Our patience was tested (understatement of the year!). Our love was tested (this makes for a whole book!). Our stamina was tested (beyond measure!). Keith survived, and I didn’t fall apart and worked to keep him alive, because we had to use those parts of ourselves, dig them out, sharpen them, and wield them. This OPPORTUNITY was thrust upon us, and this is what we CHOSE to do with it. Believe me…he and I both could have chosen differently many times throughout that whole experience.
Not gonna lie…we both have a little PTSD now. If Keith gets sick, my sword and shield come out instinctively, and I ready for battle. It’s exhausting. When we walk in the door of a doctor’s office, I swear sharp, little pins of emotion and fear and dread stick us all over. There is meaning to us attached to the smell of the hospital, and we pick it up right away when we enter. Just thinking about getting a shot or going in for a test makes Keith’s heart skip a beat. Thoughts of the surgeon who made the mistakes give us disdain in our hearts, and I’m not sure we’ve forgiven him for what he did to Keith or that we are capable of that yet.
Someone asked me the other day, though, how we feel now that it’s behind us. My immediate thought was LIKE VIKINGS! We marched in that damn door for surgery and were freaking giggling in the face of it with complete ignorance of the battle we would ultimately fight. We fought the battle, ragged and broken, loud and without letting fear get the best of us. I charged in day after day and took on the army of naysayers, discouragers, neglecters, and frankly, liars, we were surrounded by. Keith kept pushing, kept fighting, kept willing himself to make it, through incredible pain, needles, mind-altering drugs, and surgeries. I protected and demanded. I plotted and forced. Keith tried and struggled. He withstood and wrestled. Absolute VIKINGS. We did it. We made it. We beat it. And we could scream it right now, like the bearded, dirty, chiseled, painted, hellish, angry, disheveled Vikings you imagine in your head, fists raised and by God, triumphant.
Keith’s last every-6-months appointment was Wednesday. He is well, and there is no high probability that the same cancer will return. After a few years, one is 90% in the clear, so his being 6 years out makes for an optimistic future. He will get a colonoscopy soon, and depending on its outcome, probably annually. The cancer checks will also now happen yearly, and for all this we are grateful and hopeful.
The months of August and September will be hard for us. They are every year. We relive the experience, recall some of the horrors, and marvel at the posts I made back then when they come up in our social media memories. But we will also remember the victories, savor the thoughts of some cool moments we shared in wee hours, and appreciate the people who were so good to us, helped us, and saved us. Here’s to opportunities, PTSD, and the Viking mentality we would have never known without cancer. It took me a few years to be able to be thankful for it, but I am. I’m even more thankful that we still have Keith.