Surely throughout life everyone has thought this…”why me?” Whether it be a happy event or not so happy one. Saturday I took all three of my babies to the zoo. While we were there I felt surrounded by happy families. The ones that stood out to me where of course the ones that had a Mother, Father and baby. It made me sad because Brock will never know that feeling of having both his parents with him. It was his first trip to the zoo, first carousal and train ride. There are SO many firsts coming up…a lifetime of firsts that I will be the only parent for him. It breaks my heart for him, it is just unfair and I do not know the reason why this is the hand he was dealt.
While we were there, looking at the happy families and expectant moms that seemed to be everywhere I thought to myself they look like there are living in a world of complete bliss. They are so unaware of the heartache that lives within me now daily. I hope they never know how loosing their child’s father, their love feels. Of course I know that everyone is fighting some battle in their lives right now. Just as they have no idea what I have been through neither do I know what they are going through. I remember thinking while looking at a pregnant woman…what would she think if she knew the father of her baby would die 3 months after their baby was born? It made me think…why me? Why did this happen to Brock? To Justin? To me???
Today while thinking about this again…why me? It occurred to me…why not me? None of us can see the whole plan for our life. Justin came into my life exactly when he was suppose too. He saved me in many ways…ways he only knows. He showed me exactly what true unconditional love and happiness are. He was sent to show me those things. Like I said at his memorial he changed my life…he made me a better person. We changed each other. We were brought together for our short time because we needed each other. We were given Brock, our sweet son. In my heart he left too soon…selfishly I still want him here with me and his children.
So this brings me back to the why me and the why not me? Justin was brought into my life and taken from it because I would not be given more than I can handle. Daily I miss and mourn him but know that one day I will see him again. I wake up trying to have an open heart and make the decisions that will one day let me be with him in a place that we can never be separated again for all eternity. His body gave out on him but his soul continues to live! He is my soul’s counterpart and one day we will meet again not in the physical world.
When we left the zoo Liz and Garrett were talking to me about how many firsts Brock had with them today. We also talked about how his Daddy, Justin had watched all these firsts as they were happening. I asked them where is Brock’s Daddy? They both pointed up to the clouds in the sky and said one word…heaven.
Yes…why not me? Knowing everything I wouldn’t change anything. Even though Justin’s passing from his body and his soul going to heaven is incredibly hard everyday and just breathing at times seems impossible he came into my life exactly when he was supposed to. I am forever grateful and glad it WAS me. FLML
This picture was Brock’s first real bath…taken with his Daddy. This photo is so special for many reasons one being it is one of the few pictures of Brock and his Daddy. They look the same with their bald heads. I love that Brock is cradled in Justin’s arms…he loved his children so much.
The weekend before Justin went into the hospital we all took a bath together. Brock was between us resting on our legs looking at us both. Justin’s breathing was so shallow by now and he was beyond exhausted. Sitting in the bath the three of us is a moment I won’t ever forget. I feel robbed of being able to have more moments like these. I can only hope that Justin still cradles Brock like he is in this picture. This is just a glimpse of what should have been hundreds of moments with Justin…
So after the birth of our baby boy Brock life went on as it always does. Sometimes I wish it would stop even for just a moment to let me catch my breath. Justin’s chemo continued and the next week he had 2 short treatments and 1 short treatment the third week. Each cycle was 21 days long and he would have 3 of them.
New Years eve was low-key to say the least….we had a 2 week old. I remember us laying on the couch together barely making it to midnight. I was exhausted from round the clock feedings and Justin was exhausted from recovering from his first round of chemo treatments. He had bought us some champagne and ice cream to share that evening. At midnight we toasted to our future. How things were going to be different come summer time. How once again we would spend endless hours at the beach with all our children. We were looking forward with so much hope. Hope is good thing but right now it is gut wrenching at times. I feel like now I miss and mourn him but also mourn what our lives should have been. I wish I could have had our future…I don’t know where to go from here.
His next cycle started on January 3rd. He had five 8 hour treatments that week. Brock and I would bring him lunch and sit with him until time to go pick up the kids from school. Brock is such a good baby…incrediable happy! Even sitting for hours at the oncology office he was good. Justin would sit in his recliner hooked up to the IV and I would sit next to him nursing our son. Those moments were definitely moments where I thought to myself…how did we get here??? How am I nursing a newborn at chemo? How could I not…if Justin was there so was I.
Justin went for a cat scan after the second cycle of treatment was over….they wanted to see what, if any effect on the tumors had been made. This was on Wednesday January 18th, my birthday. I remember him walking up to me that day and embracing me…taking my breath away. When we parted I looked at him kind of puzzled, what was going on??? He just smiled and said “Happy Birthday.” I could tell by the look on his face he was anxious for the results of the scan that would come in a couple of days. Please let the poison they were putting in his body be working…please!
The following Monday we went in to see Dr. Mahmood for the results…there was good news and bad news. The good news was there was significant shrinkage in the tumors in his chest and abdomnen…much more then they had expected! Bad news was they were recommending a 4th cycle of chemo but by doing that 4th cycle it would significantly cut down on the possibility that he would have to have lymph nodes surgically removed. It is such a balancing act. He opted for the 4th cycle. It felt like such a victory that day…he was beating the cancer! After the second 21 day cycle was over was the only weekend Justin really felt good again. Let me just say he did not lay in bed on the days he felt like compete garbage. He fed, bathed and loved on his children. He continued to function on every level…everyday! He was RISING everyday even though most would have given in to the self-pity of the cancer. He had a valid reason but continued….he did not give an excuse.
That weekend he was SO aggravating because he felt SO good! I remember jokingly saying to him if this is the new you…feeling so good I am not sure I can handle it! 😉 Again, it was a glimpse of the future…a future that never came.
After this cycle the 2nd one he started coughing…intially we thought he had a cold. Maybe he did or was the beginning signs of how the chemo had effected his lungs? We will never know for sure. Every time he went in for a treatment he had to fill out a “How I feel Today” sheet. He put the usual stuff…fatigued, no appetite, metallic taste in his mouth and now a cough. He would go through bags of cough drops everyday. He would leave the wrappers everywhere! I still find cough drops and wrappers places…the car, my purse, the diaper bag, beside the bed. I love the reminders of him even if I feel the effects of them to my core. They make me ache for him. Talking at times became difficult for him and he would cough until he was drenched in sweat and at times vomiting. The way Justin approached anything was you just push through it and that is what he was doing…pushing through all of this.
At the beginning of his 3rd cycle he woke up with a sore neck which having aches and pains was nothing new anymore but he said his neck felt puffy also. As the evening went on the stiffness kept increasing. The next morning his neck was extremely swollen…he called his oncologist. He had developed a blood clot around his port cath in his chest. Over the weekend he gave himself blood thinner shots that he called horse needles. I remember watching his give himself these injections in his abdomen and thinking how just a few short months ago he had never even had surgery. No matter what he faced he took in on fulling and so bravely. The blood thinners did not work and the port had to be removed. The remainder of his treatments for this cycle were done by IV and they said he would have a PIC line put in his arm for the final cycle.
Justin sent me this picture of him “relaxing” at one of his final treatments. Quite a view wouldn’t you say?!?
When he told me about the blood clots, port removal, PIC line while still trying to not cough I jokingly told him why can’t you just be a “normal” cancer patient without colds and clots?!? Of course I was joking…you have to laugh, remember! What else could we do at this point???
Brock looks thrilled to be flying for the first time!
Between his 3rd and 4th cycle we went to his visit his family in New Jersey. He talked about all this food we would eat, people and places we would visit. To say he was excited when the airplane touched down was an understatement. Seeing him in his element surrounded by the people who loved his unconditionally was such a blessing. All his brothers and sisters were able to come in and be together. everything happens for a reason and we were all meant to get together that last time in Feburary…little did we all know that most of us would be gathered again soon to celebrate his life.
This was his Final Treatment…this shirt is also the shirt he wore the last time he held Brock outside of the hospital in. I have it saved in a ziplock baggie..it smells like him still. It is the little things that mean so much now.
His final round of chemo was so exciting…who is excited to feel like garbage again? Justin was…it was the last time he would have to go through this. We were so thankful and optimistic. This cycle was like the past 3 except now he had the PIC line in his upper left arm for treatment. His final treatment on March 8th 2011 at 10am. I remember sitting next to him so proud of him and what he had accomplished….waiting for his IV bag to be done. His FINAL IV bag! They were going to remove his PIC line and he wanted me to record it for him. It is the only recording I have of him…his voice. This was a day of celebration!
Today is a gift and tomorrow is not guarantee. We were looking forward to our future with such hope and excitement. Justin had done everything he had to do heal his body but we did not know his body was only getting ready to make him have to fight once again. When is enough, enough?? The future…our plans were out of our hands. We would be praying for a miracle…
This weekend last year was a weekend I will remember forever…it was the weekend I saw an amazing man perform an amazing feat. This was the weekend Justin complete the Ironman Woodlands 2011. How the official website describes the race is like this….
Athletes will begin with a 2.4-mile swim in Lake Woodlands. Next is a 112-mile bike course that will take participants west through the scenic, rolling farmland of east Texas. The day ends with a 26.2-mile run course entirely within The Woodlands that concludes with a spectacular finish on Waterway Ave.
What is it really like??? As a spectator I can tell you the last thing anyone is thinking about is the scenic rolling farmland of east Texas. Standing next to the water I feel like I am about to vomit just thinking about all Justin has to do that day, for fun?!? This is what he thinks is fun??? Many times while exercising in spin class together he would tell me to “embrace the suck.” What he meant was for a period of time things were going to be uncomfortable but when you get to the end and it is over you will be glad you finished and did you best….embraced the suck per say.
This is the beginning of his race…we are walking to where he enters the water.
Under normal circumstances this race is almost unfathomable to just the sheer length of it…each of the three portions of the race is HUGE but they do give you 17 hours to complete it in. Standing on the sidelines for the time 16:29 was exhausting to me and my newly pregnant self last May but swimming, biking and running for that long, for “fun” is just plain crazy!!! These were not normal circumstances for Justin though. A few weeks before the race he found out he had a stress fracture in his left tibia. Most people would have withdrawn from the race, Justin was not most people. He was so strong physically but with was even more so strong in mind. Also, we know now he had end stage cancer. Point being he should not have been able to complete the race that day but he did. With a fractured leg and cancer he completed the end all of triathlon races…so what is your excuse in what challenges you each day?
Justin used motivation to get himself ready for whatever the challenge was in front of him and the Ironman race was no different. He would watch YouTube video constantly! Laying in bed he would wake me up to watch a video I had seen a hundred times already. One particular video is one with the song “Until I Collapse.” I played that song at the hospital for him in ICU almost daily for him. I know he was fighting SO hard to live and in all actuality running the race of his life in that hospital bed. Last May Justin gave the Ironman race everything he had physically and mentally…until he collapsed when he crossed that finish line. On April 2nd when he left this earth he, again had given everything he had physically and mentally…until he collapsed into the open waiting arms of our Heavenly Father. So what is your excuse? Are you going until you collapse and giving your all?
On January 21,2011 Justin wrote…It is about mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter. On his blog the countdown clock is still going for the Ironman race…he also talks about the beginning of his training here.
Can you see him?!? He is out there, one of the green caps in the mix of thousands of green caps.
I remember when we rode up on his during his biking portion he was yelling at us that he was cramping terribly in his legs. He was worried he wouldn’t he able to finish. He also said he could not lean completely over into what he called “arrow” position because of the cramps. After the race on the way home he told me at one of the aid stations during the bike portion of the race he go off his bike and into a tub of ice water…that he felt overheated and delirious. An official had been pacing with him while he was “running” his marathon watching him and Justin told him to leave. If they are watching you, they are about to medically pull you from the race. He wasn’t going to let himself get pulled. What we found out in October is that one of his kidneys was not functioning at all…that is why he was cramping so badly. Not only does he have a fractured leg, cancer but only one kidney functioning but finished…what is your excuse?
On January 23, 2012 Justin wrote down the following quote… “The only one who can tell you ‘you can’t’ is you and you don’t have to listen. He was not writing about a triathlon race here but the race he was running for his life…against cancer.
The day of the race was much like link above shows…there were people from all walks of life. Every shape and size. People were crying by the last 8 mile loop of the marathon. There were people being carried off in stretchers and hooked up to IVs in a triage area with ambulances waiting by. People were taken to the hospital that day…people have died during this race. It was dark and closing in on the 17 hour time limit when Justin appeared and was closing in on the finish line. He yelled out “can I make it?” Meaning…did he have enough time…we didn’t know for sure. We told him yes…he HAD to run. He did not come that day to not complete the race. With a fractured leg, cancer and only one kidney functioning Justin ran across that finish line. No excuses…he had given his all. He gave everything that day. To witness determination like that is indescribable. He was amazing to say the least. Many times I would tell him that…he was amazing. Sheepishly he would reply to me that he was not but just a normal man but he was far more than that. He was an amazing man who I love so very much.
This is what Justin was awarded when he crossed the line…it cannot be bought, only earned!
The shirt Brock is “wearing” and will have to grown into is the same shirt Justin was given at the end of his Ironman race, the same shirt worn for his first day of Chemo along with his “quits” and also the same shirt worn when he entered the hospital on March 16, 2012 for the race of his life.
One other video he watched was this one….entitled, The Race. He watched this after he learned about his fractured leg but the message holds true for life. We all fall but life is not about the race but the RISE. If I have learned anything, life has “falling” points but you have to rise. You cannot wallow in self-pity, it will get you know where. Justin would want me to rise in my race of life. We were given Brock to rise with.
The Tuesday after he completed the Ironman he got this tattoo. His feet were bruised and all torn up still from what his body had been through that day. He was so proud to of completed the race and wanted something permanent to wear showing his accomplishment. To wear the Ironman brand is an honor. Justin was an Ironman before last May and he died an Ironman…embracing the suck and RISING until he was called home. Such an amazing man.
That first week of Chemo was a busy one. He was in treatment everyday for at least 8 hours a day and I had two doctors appointments…one with our high risk doctor on Tuesday and another with my regular OB on Friday. Overall we had a normal pregnancy except for me having gestational diabetes which is why I saw someone other than my OB. At my doctor’s appointment that Tuesday Brock had decided to decrease his movements and pretty much not move AT ALL! It felt like that appointment went on forever! It was either he needed to move or I was going to the hospital to have him that day. While I was laying in one recliner connected to a fetal movement machine Justin was across the street in a recliner connect to an IV, that we hoped was saving his life. I was scared…what if they say I have to deliver right now??? I cannot do that alone, I need Justin. Not a day goes by that thought still goes through my head…I need him here!
Again, calmly Justin said to relax…everything would be ok. The past week they had pushed my c-section back another week because of availability at the hospital. I cried…I was ready to have this baby! I felt HUGE and I was SO swollen! He calmed me then too…
Thank goodness Brock decided to move and they let me leave the office but Dr. Rowe said I would be having a baby by Christmas not on the date they had me scheduled…December 30th. I drove over to chemo to sit with Justin and bring him lunch. When I walked in Pam, the oncology nurse said I guess you all will be having a baby anytime now. I nodded to her. How is this my life…sitting with the man I love at chemo pregnant. Who envisions this happening in their life??? We talked for a few minutes, then we both fell asleep in the chemo recliners.
Wednesday I finished my Christmas shopping…not sure of how much time I had left to get the last-minute things done. I took Justin, my love his lunch and stayed for a bit then went to work. I was exhausted.
Thursday was the usual work, sit with Justin, eat lunch…a normal day at chemo. He seemed to be tolerating it well for the most part we felt. He wasnt sick…yet. The only side effect he had been experiencing was the metallic taste in his mouth which the lemon heads and sour patch kids I brought him helped with. We ate Jason’s deli everyday that week…tomato basil soup and turkey sandwiches. That evening our families were going out to eat together with his sister…should be a nice evening and a reason to celebrate. Justin was almost done with week one of his treatments!
We went to eat at nice restaurant. I felt like an Easter egg in a dress with my huge round belly. He said I looked beautiful. While sitting at dinner I was getting so uncomfortable…by this time of the day I was usually stretched out. Brock was pressing his behind into my ribs SO hard and I was having a ton of Braxton hicks…or so I thought they were Braxton hicks. Justing leaned over and asked if I was getting ready to go that he was getting uncomfortable in his jeans from his incision. We were the walking wounded the two of us. I said yes and that when we get into the car I have to take my tights off…they are just too “tight!” He said he needed to unbutton his pants. Again, we had to of looked ridiculous! So as we rode with my parents I took my tights off and he unbuttoned his pants. I began to feel sick and immediately needed to vomit. No where to pull over it happened in the car…all I could think of what a nice expensive dinner I just threw up!
Back at home resting on the couch together now in our monkey pajamas I felt a weird “thump” and sat up. I looked at him and said that I had a weird feeling from inside my stomach. Justin suggested it was just the baby and he was probably moving around now that he could. I wasnt so sure, it didn’t feel like movement. I went downstairs to the restroom…I peed and peed and peed. It wouldn’t stop! I walked to the kitchen and then there was a puddle at my feet. I yelled for Justing to come downstairs…I motioned to my feet and asked him what was going on, what was all of this water! He looked at me confused too. You would think with this being our 7th baby we would have known! Neither of us had experienced this though!
I called my doctor, fixed my hair and makeup and off the hospital we went. Justin was driving like a crazy person…flashers and all. He made the car fly into the emergency room bay…the same bay we had gone too back in October for his swollen leg. He ran inside to get a wheelchair. I could walk for goodness sake! I walked around the car closing the door he left open…silly man! While he parked the car I made a puddle in the ER waiting room, embarrassing! On our way up to labor and delivery I began to think maybe I just peed all over myself…this cannot be really happening! When we arrived at the front desk I told them just that…I thought I had just wet my pants apologetically. They suggested since we were already there they wanted to check. Okay, I agreed. As we started to the room a huge GUSH of fluid began to flow from me…it went EVERYWHERE! My clothes were soaked…shirt, pants, shoes…everything! It was then I realized I had not just used the restroom…we were having this baby I tonight!
After I was all hooked up to monitors and an IV they wanted to wait a few hours since I had just ate. Brock’s heart rate was dipping every time I had a contraction…it was time to have him. I remember them wheeling me back to the operating room. Justin came in and was sitting beside my head…stroking my hair. He knew I was scared. I wanted this part over with.
The whole time I was pregnant Justin and I had debated on where our baby would have hair. My two kids had a ton of hair at birth and his 4 were completely bald. The debate was about to be settled!
At 12:29am Brock Donahue Phillips came screaming into this world. He weighed 6lbs 12ozs and was 20inchs long.
I remember hearing Brock cry and then Justin cry out loudly…He is BALD! He is BALD Stacey…he is beautiful. We looked at each other and both just cried. In the middle of all the hard, bad times we had experienced over the past months here was this miracle born to us. He was perfect and such a sign of blessing to come. I will never forget how Justin sounded that night. I love my bald baby…he looked just like his daddy!
Back in the labor and delivery room we both laid down to sleep until we could have Brock with us a short time later. The nurse brought me a very angry little man when she wheeled Brock in…he was hungry. I remember her taking his clothes off and putting his under my gown…skin to skin. He latched on and nursed and stole my heart. I looked up to see Justin watching us with tears running down his face..he said we looked beautiful.
The sun came up and it was time for Justin to go…he had to go chemo. It was so unfair but I knew he had to go. He held Brock and he started to cry, he said he did not want to go. He walked across the street to his chemo treatment.
Brock could not have timed it better for us. He made sure his daddy was there when he was born. Any other time of the day and it might not have been possible. It all happened so quickly if Justin had been at treatment there might not have been time for him to make it. He also was here for Christmas this year, his only Christmas with his Daddy. This is one of those times where I do not cry because it is over but smile because it happened. Justin was there for Brock’s birth…he got to see our bald little baby come into this world. I am so thankful that I had Justin with me that day, we carried each other through the hardest times of our lives. I feel him carrying me now, still…there is just no other explination.
Finding out I was pregnant with Brock was a complete shock to say the least. I had not planned to have any more children and between Justin and I we had 6 babies already. When the test came back positive I began to panic to say the least, Justin was the calm one. He said he loved me and that I was carrying his child. That our love was growing inside of me. Besides…once you have 6 kids what is one more really, right?!? We had talked a few times about if we would want a child of our own. We did. I guess our wish had been granted. If we would have waited until the time was “right” we never would have been able to get pregnant…the chemo would have taken that option away and “someday” would have never came. Every baby is a miracle but Brock is the next step above that. There were so many obstacles and reasons he should not be here there is just no other explanation. Justin had end stage testicular cancer and I had fertility issues. Brock is miracle sent to us for a very special reason. He is a living miracle and my saving grace. I would be lost without him.
Being pregnant during all of this was mind-blowing scary. Life is a gift not a given…yes, we all say that but it really is! During the past 5 months I have witnessed a our precious son enter this world and his amazing father leave it. Both have changed my life obviously. To watch our son..screaming and taking his first breaths and a short time later feeling the warmth leave Justin body and his breaths stop were both unbelievable moments in my life I will never forget.
When we talked about names and if we would be having a boy or a girl I thought we were having a girl, after all Justin had 3 beautiful girls already and one sweet son. Either way it did not matter to us…we just wanted healthy. He joked that he only made boys in Texas…his son was conceived in Texas and the girls in New Jersey. I guess he was right!
I felt many times like we looked like a walking lifetime story…him with cancer and me pregnant. I was so proud to be carrying our child. Driving in the car, sitting together…anywhere really he would touch my pregnant stomach. I loved that. He made me feel safe, protected, taken care of. In some ways he still does.
Everyday I am thankful we were chosen to be the parents of Brock. Last fall while laying together Justin said to me that maybe we were given Brock because he wasn’t going to be here with me. He was right…why did he have to be so smart. Why could he have not been wrong this one time? I cried tears of joy when Brock came into this world at 12:29am and cried tears of complete heartache when Justin left it at 7:31pm.
This picture was taken March 16th…Brock was 3 months old. He and I were upstairs alone letting Justin rest and get some sleep.
Do you know what you were doing this evening two months ago…March 15th? I do. I was at our house making dinner for Justin and I. Brock was sleeping on the couch upstairs, Justin was upstairs with him. I was downstairs in the kitchen. This would be the last night we would spend alone together not in a hospital. I brought us dinner upstairs but he did not eat anything…he hadnt had an appetite in a while, we assumed it was due to the chemo still. He couldn’t really talk because talking made him cough. That evening I asked if he would please call his oncologist in the morning. He did not think there was really anything they could do because it was just a cold that had to run its course. His suppressed immune system was making that a challenge. That night he coughed and coughed and coughed some more. He coughed until he vomitted…he had done that several times over the past month.
The following morning when I heard him downstairs moving around and coughing Brock and I went down. I gave Justin his phone and asked him to please call his oncologist. He finally agreed too and called. We dressed and left the house together for the doctors office…it would be the last time we would leave the house together.
I can still feel him laying beside me, spooning me and recall his shallow breathing and what his stomach felt like right before he would start coughing. When I felt his coughing about to start I would reach for the glass of water we know kept next to the bed and hand it to him, then open a cough drop for him. Nothing had to be said…I knew what he needed. We knew what each other needed…
Tonight I sit here missing him and cannot believe that was 2 months ago already. Tomorrow our sweet baby Brock will turn 5 months old and it will also be the day 2 months ago Justin entered the hospital. We fully intended him to be walking out with us one day…how I wish that day would have come. I physically ache for him daily. Our son smiles and brings such joy to my heart. Every milestone is so bittersweet. I never imagined doing this on my own…raising Brock. Being his only parent. It is just so unfair and gives me such anxiety. What if something happens to me? Bad things happen, that has been proven. His father was an amazing man he will have no memories of his own of. It makes me so angry. How does this happen? WHY does this happen. I want answers but there aren’t any.