How One Word Changed My Life

Well, here I am, all alone at home. Jonathan isn’t here tonight. I had to take him to the ER. It’s a situation that could be the difference between life and death if left unattended.

It’s been a crazy whirlwind these last six months.

I remember the day that started it all. It was a Saturday afternoon in late July. I sat with Jonathan in the waiting area of the Vancouver General Hospital ER while we waited for hours, changing sitting positions what must have been hundreds of times in a vain effort to make those vinyl waiting chairs with the hard wooden armrests the slightest bit more comfortable. Leaving the hospital with more questions than answers only to come back the following weekend to do more of the same except the second time it was during the night and into the following morning. I think we spent a total of 24 hours in ER that week. And yet after all the poking, prodding, samples, scans, questions, referrals to different doctors, examinations, and endless waiting, we still had no idea what was going on. Perhaps a few hints, but nothing conclusive. The next few weeks were a blur of more tests and retests and a lot of questioning and “what if’s” on our part.

Finally, just before the end of the summer, we received the verdict: Jonathan has cancer.

Cancer. The one word I never wanted to hear. The one word that changed everything.

This has been very hard for me to openly admit, and up until now I have only told a handful of people outside of my immediate family and closest friends.

We had considered the possibility of cancer throughout the weeks leading up to this point, but actually hearing the words confirming my worst fear rocked my world. I had just recently lost my grandma to cancer and cancer has touched Jonathan’s family in a big way. How do you deal with this? Where do you begin to comprehend this kind of news?

Earlier last year Jonathan celebrated his thirtieth birthday. This was supposed to be a great time in his life. The start of a new decade, a new chapter in the adventure that is life. Instead we were hit right in the middle of the face with a big life-changer and lots of questions. What was going to happen next? How do we face this? What does our future look like? What does Jonathan’s future look like? Why is this happening to us, to Jonathan, and why now? It was as if a switch was flipped and everything that had happened up until that moment disappeared. All that we could see was a very foggy, unknown future. It was scary.

Once the diagnosis was in further tests were ordered and within a couple of weeks Jonathan underwent surgery to remove the tumour. The surgery left him bedridden for almost three weeks, the first of which I was luckily off work so I could be with him at home to take care of him and keep him company. After surgery, it was back to the waiting game. Study of the tumour would determine what type of cancer it was and what needed to happen next. Two weeks later we received some good news and some bad news. The good news, under the circumstances, was that the surgery was a success and the type of cancer that Jonathan has responds very well to treatment should treatment be necessary. The bad news was that there were some signs the cancer had spread but at that stage further monitoring was necessary to determine if treatment was the way to go.

October, November, and December went by with appointments throughout where the doctors ran more tests to see if anything had changed since surgery. Nothing had. We thought maybe we were in the clear and treatment wouldn’t be necessary. After all, even though the waiting was making us crazy and impatient, inconclusive meant no change and aside from not knowing inconclusive is still slightly better than a firm answer pointing toward treatment. Of course inconclusive also meant further monitoring of the situation to see if anything would change. Finally, in the second week of January, we received our answer: the cancer had spread and treatment was the only option.

Now I don’t know about you, but we are very lucky to live in Canada and receive the health care we do. From the beginning up to this point the BC Cancer Agency and all the doctors and nurses working there have been excellent. They put priority on Jonathan’s situation and made things happen. Once it was one hundred percent confirmed that treatment was necessary they told Jonathan that he would begin the following Monday. Overall, they have treated his situation with respect and urgency, all while treating Jonathan himself with the care he needs in a very kind and compassionate manner.

So on February 2nd, 2015 I walked through the doors of the BC Cancer Agency with Jonathan to begin the first of three cycles of chemotherapy. Each cycle is three weeks long. The first week Jonathan goes there each day for about four hours. The second and third weeks are more manageable with only one day of treatment for one hour. This Monday will be the beginning of the second cycle so his treatment is one-third complete. Fortunately, Jonathan’s oncologist refers to the treatment as more of a cure than a treatment because, while cancer is an aggressive disease, given the kind of cancer he has combined with how far medicine has come since the eighties, this treatment is more aggressive than the cancer itself. So we are trying to remain as optimistic as possible with that in mind.

Still aggressive treatment is just that, aggressive. In addition to working on getting rid of the cancer cells the treatment has turned on Jonathan too. He has been left to endure the last few weeks and the coming weeks in a very unwell state. Exhaustion, nausea, sensory changes, and not to mention the huge emotional toll. Just last weekend I finally had to cave in and shave Jonathan’s head because his hair was coming out in handfuls. Everywhere he goes, everything he touches, has to be followed up with a hand-washing ritual only a germophobe would consider. And tonight, the big trip to the ER to get Jonathan pumped full of antibiotics because he was running a fever which indicates infection, but due to the chemo his body doesn’t have the means to fight off the infection on its own and if an infection is left alone Jonathan could get very sick even to the point of it being deadly. But through all of this we are managing, and Jonathan has been dealing with this much better than I expected he would and definitely much better than I know I would be if I was in his shoes.

Unfortunately, life often decides to deal you a difficult hand right in the middle of your big plans. We’ve had to put our plans for a tropical getaway wedding on hold until further notice. We’ve had to stop our house-hunting that was in progress until further notice. Instead we’ve been focusing more on the fulfilment we receive from our relationships with each other and the people close to us. It’s these relationships that have helped Jonathan get through this difficult time and have helped me stay strong so I can be strong for him.

Going to the chemo room each week with Jonathan has been interesting. I see people there who are at all stages of their treatment and from all stages of life. Middle-aged women, elderly men, some who’ve just come from work, some who are the kind of optimist that can’t be shaken by anything, some who are so beaten down by their situation, some patients who are just beginning their road to recovery, and some who have the sad understanding that the treatment is just to tide them over until the end and they’re not going to make it. And then in walks Jonathan. A young man who appears healthy on the outside and clearly looks as though he doesn’t belong there. Someone whose biggest concerns in life should be bills, career, and where to go out for dinner next weekend instead of steroid drips, medication schedules, whether or not he’s hydrated enough for them to find a vein successfully, and consciously keeping himself away from places where he could pick up an infection. Nevertheless Jonathan sits back good-naturedly as they insert yet another needle into his veins. He is so used to the procedures by now. The nurses fawn over him and he eagerly laps up all of the attention. At least he is able to find some small joy in this.

I don’t know why this happened. I don’t know why Jonathan got cancer and why our lives had to be turned upside down like this. I don’t know why life chose for us to have to all of a sudden navigate through this. The only thing I know is that we are getting through it together and I know we will both be stronger because of it. Jonathan is strong and he is going to fight this with all he has and kick it to the curb. I am determined to stick by his side the whole way, keeping him strong, so that once it’s all over we can go back and remove the pause we put on our adventure through life and make it an even more full, exciting, and meaningful experience. Believe me, there’s been a lot of time for thinking and talking and our list of awesome things we want to do has grown. Things can only go up from here.

Jonathan has started a journal detailing his day-to-day experience as he undergoes chemotherapy. You can follow it here.

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