Can cancer show you love? Absolutely it can. Cancer showed Justin and I exactly what was important and how so many things that keep us busy day-to-day were very insignificant. It was the little things. Spending time with each other, with our children…with family. Family does not mean blood or legally related but those people you care for and love. Our lives were very complicated to those looking into it but actually cancer made our lives very simple. We loved each other. Love does not even seem like a strong enough word as I type it. We adored and cherished each other…we were each others souls counter parts.
June 9th, 2011
Justin sent to me in a text “I love you because I want too, I need you because I love you!”
He would tell me that we just have to keep moving forward, there was a light at the end of the tunnel…that it was the sun bouncing off his bald head! I said as long as it is not a train coming to run me over! I feel run over by that train at times. A light was coming but it was the light to take to Justin from this earth and to Heaven.
The first time he ever said he loved me he took my breath away, he scared me. We were talking about our conversations were so meaningful and in many ways intimate. By accident I said you can’t have intimacy without love. As soon as those words were out of my mouth immediately I wanted to stuff them back in. Once something is said like that you can’t just take it back. I say it was by accident I said that to him that evening but there are no accidents. It was meant to be said. He look the leap and asked me several times what I said… I wouldn’t repeat it. Justin looked at me and said he knew how he felt…that he was falling love with me. He took my breath away. He was willing to take such a huge leap…for me, for us! I couldn’t say it back…I was just took scared. He said it again to me…He loved me. I needed time to be sure of how I felt. The next day I told him that I had fallen in love with him too…that I loved him. Our worlds changed forever that day.
This was the day we had been dreading, look forward too, scared off but most of all hopeful that this day would be the beginning of the healing process for Justin and his body. The surgeries were done, now he had to just make it through chemo…which he would and did. I got to the house to find him dressed in his “quits” and Ironman shirt (quite a contradiction wouldn’t ya say) but still in bed. On the way home from work I was thinking he would be pumping himself up…motivating himself like he does with anything else in life but I was wrong. This was the beginning of the scary part. I remember sitting on the side of our bed and asking him what he was thinking. He said to me that his body was still hurting from the surgeries and tumors but he knew it was about to get worse before it got better. All I could think of to myself is it doesn’t matter how bad it gets we will walk together in this…he is not alone. Little did I know how bad it would actually get…worse then I ever allowed myself to imagine. He looked at me and said to me “you know this is going to get worse, right?” I could only shake my head. If I spoke I would cry. This day was also the first day he said to me that I did not deserve to have to be going through all of this. Nobody deserves to go through this. He did not deserve to get cancer but I would be damned if he was going to say that to me! I love him…everything about him, unconditionally. Yes, right now was not the happiest of circumstances but I wouldnt be with anywhere else but beside him.
We arrived at the oncology doctors office…the office where most of his treatments would be at. First we had to talk to the financial department…one word, EXPENSIVE! Even with insurance the amount of money it take to even be able to fight cancer is huge. Sitting beside him while they went over all the costs he kept looking at me. He asked me how am I going to afford this? I said…how can you not? Besides, he wasnt alone in this part either. Whatever the cost it wasnt too high for his life. He asked me what do people do that do not have insurance or cannot afford the thousands of dollars that insurance does not pay for? I shrugged, I didn’t know. Justin said I guess they go home and die. Sadly, I am sure in some cases that is true. So we get what we think will be the total for all of his treatments only to find out that what they gave us to only for the current calendar year…another couple of weeks. So it will be thousands of more dollars on top of what they just gave us. ONE shot alone that he got each cycle was $9,000 each time times for four cycles!
Next we go back to the chemo room. It is a smallish room with various chairs and recliners around it in a rectangle fashion. There is a TV on the wall and dozens of IV poles around the room. We were the only people there that morning. That is when we met Pam, the oncology nurse. She sat down with us and went down a huge list of side effects Justin could expect. Some where things we had known about..hair loss for one but we didn’t realize your fingernails fell off, that you would devolope taste in your mouth (lemon drops help this) or that your balance could be altered at times. Again he looked at me…it was all just overwhelming.
My Mom text messaged me and asked how things were going…I replied, expense and depressing. There was no other way to explain it.
That first day Pam explained to us that they were going to run his medication very slowly to watch for any reactions. His normal chemo schedule would be 5,2,1 which means in a cycle he would have 5 treatments one week, 2 the next and then 1 the last week. The cycles were 21 days long. The 5 consecutive days were long days…at least 8 hours each day. The first day he was there until 8 pm that night. I stayed until time to go to work, came home took care of kids and then went back to get him. Driving home he was talking to different family members telling them about the day and how he felt good. He was almost excited at how well it went…I was so proud of him. One treatment down…31 more to go.
While we were there during his first treatment there was a man getting his chemo too. He got beet red in the face, vomited and could not breathe. He was having a reaction. Justin and I just kept looking at each other. It was scary. You hate to think it but I was thankful it was not Justin who had the reaction. Further into his treatments he did have one though during another cycle.
Most of the other people around us had their hair. At the end of the day he asked Pam about it…everyone else was gone. She told us that most of the people who come in are just there for maintence…which means they are just trying to prolong their lives for as long as they can. We were again thankful for the type of cancer Justin had. It is times that I think back to those days now I feel so damn foolish. It didn’t matter that Justin completed all his treatments, allowed all that poison to flow into his body he would still die a little over 3 months later. We were so full of hope, it feels like a punch in the gut now. I feel stupid for having that foolish hope.
This is the face of an extremely brave person. He is smiling not knowing what is about to happen, how he is going to feel. Around his eyes are a little red and puffy from lack of sleep, worry and some tears. He/we were flat out scared! I can’t remember how many times I ran my finger on that place where his chin makes the divit below his mouth…how the hair on his face was rough to the touch. How my palm felt on his face when he would embrace me. I miss his touch dearly.
On my way back to work I stopped and got him some lemon drops and sent him this picture. We needed to laugh. He asked me what in the world was in my mouth and how did I get my eyes that big! I explained that I bought him some lemon drops but the baby wanted one too. I was 3 days from my water breaking at this point….
This evening we spent at my friends house baking cookies for a party we would go to the next evening. Another friend has invited us to a “Cookie and Beer” exchange party the following evening. Sounds fun but one problem I don’t really bake! Justin was still sore from his first surgery and from the tumors. By now he was trying so hard to not take pain medication unless it was necessary…always trying to just push through it like with anything he did with life. He had unbelieveable strength!
While we were baking and eating dinner the four of us were talking about life and the challenges we all face. My friends husband affectionately said we don’t find out the reason for things until we die. I blurted out..you know Justin has cancer, right?!? The husbands eyes grew huge and he wanted to climb into the open refrigerator he was standing in front of. We all laughed. You have to laugh….Justin laughed. Laughter is good medicine. As the evening went on I could tell Justin was uncomfortable physically and suggested we go. He said we would stay until I was ready. Why do I remember this??? Him waiting for me…because it just how he was. Selfless at heart.
That evening at home together would be the worst night he ever had pain wise. We went to bed at 11ish. Or I should say we both collapsed in bed. I was 13 days from delivering our son and Justin was 2 days from starting chemo. Justin tossed and turned a lot in his sleep…he had for a while. He would moan sometimes. He felt horrible most of the time. This time I did not wake to him moaning or turning, he was yelling out because of the pain. I asked if he wanted more medication, yes he said. Normally the dosage was 4 pills every 6 hours or as needed. He had taken 12 pills and it was doing nothing. Helpless is how I felt for him. He got into a warm bath and tried to find a comfortable position…there wasn’t one. He tried laying down again only to yell out “holy fuck”. I asked if he wanted to go to the hospital, he said no. That there was nothing they could do. I am not sure if he finally found a comfortable position, the medication caught up with him, he passed out or a combination.
I felt helpless. I remember wishing he could just fall asleep so he wouldn’t be hurting. Seeing him hurt like that scared me. He was in such constant pain everyday but this was so much more! I remember he was sleeping with his back towards me, not how he usually slept. He was a all over the bed snuggly sleeper. I curled up next to him and held him. He smelled of sweat from the pain but was resting. His breathing was relaxed, thank goodness. I wanted to take it all away from him. He did not deserve to be going through this, he was already having to fight to have an equal right in seeing his children he should not being having to fight for his life too! He was amazingly strong through out everything.
We went to the party that next evening. It was so nice to be out and accepted as we were, how we were. Thank you for that.
This was the day the physical journey of the race of Justin’s life would begin. All our babies were gone this week for Thanksgiving with their other parent. Our thinking was it would give Justin a chance to have this be as stress free as possible and make it easier on him to recover from his first surgery. Up until this point he was untouched…never had any type of procedure before that required him to go under anesthesia. We left in the hospital early that morning with Justin wearing what he affectionately called his “quits” or the rest of us would call sweat pants. The night before I had went and bought them for him…he wanted something comfortable to wear and at that point ALL my pants were elastic so we would match! I was now about 34 weeks pregnant. Shopping for Justin something to wear was just odd that evening…what do you buy for someone when they are going in to have life changing surgery??? We were living in the twilight zone at times it felt.
We arrive at the hospital…Justin and I, his parents and my mom. I can remember what I was wearing that day and ironically it would be the same shirt that I was wearing when my water would break just a few short weeks later. A long-sleeved green shirt. Justin’s favorite color was green. He liked my hair short and not pulled back…just some random thoughts.
At the hospital they call us back and have him change clothes. They have laid out for him a lavender colored hospital gown that is meant to keep you warm. Where they kidding?? He was going to lose 20lbs sweating in that thing! He didn’t have a problem staying warm…he was a standing still sweater during the winter! He said to me that he had to take that thing off…I asked for a regular gown for him. He was sitting up right in the bed after they did all the intake and started his IV. I was sitting in the chair at the foot of his bed. I will say it once and a thousand times more…I was SO glad I was the one with him during all of this. I was SO proud to be the one with him, to be his advocate, to take care of him…to LOVE him. He asked me to come lay with him, I did. My mind was racing and I know his was too..how this was just the beginning but like with anything he/we would just push through this, get him healthy again. Laying with him we said nothing to each other. I remember stroking his arm which had some slight stubble to it. He normally shaved them during his triathlon training so feeling hair on his arm was different. I thought to myself is this one of the last times I will feel hair on his arms for a few months….the was one of the last times I ever would. The coolness of the hospital air, the heat coming off his body because of the hot gown he had taken off, the stubble of his arm hair, his chest rising and falling with each breath he took…they seem like brief moments ago, they were a lifetime ago though. Justin’s lifetime…
The nurse came to get Justin to take him up to the 2nd floor for his surgery. The second floor was also the same floor as ICU. They were removing the mass and also placing the splint in his kidney… thank goodness they could do both things at once! We arrive on the second floor and are told to say our goodbyes and to check in at the desk for updates on Justin. I leaned over, hugged and kissed him…said I loved him and would see him soon. Walking to the waiting room I saw for the first time the door for ICU and remember thinking to myself thank goodness we are NOT going through those doors! We are not that ill…we are here to fight to get him healthy, he would get healthy again!
Once the procedure started we all went down to get something to eat…had to feed the baby! It is an odd feeling eating or doing anything perceived as normal while someone you love is being operated on. It is a very odd feeling to be doing anything normal when that same person is laying incubated in a coma as I would find out just a few short months later sadly.
The surgeon came out and said everything went well and that he would be in recovery for a few hours and then would be transferred back to the first floor. Riding back down in the elevator with Justin after the procedure he was very quiet. I worried how all of this was effecting him mentally. Justin was very mentally with everything he encountered…almost as if he would take things in and evaluate it from every angle. He would do this almost to the point of making you a bit batty at times. Physically he would never be the same and I knew to him that was huge…it was scary. Would he be the same mentally?
While back down in recovery he asked for something to drink…coffee. He wanted coffee now! He did not have any that day and usually would have drunk at least a pot by now. Coffee and a sandwich is what he had. The stint they had placed in gave him the urge to use the restroom almost constantly and when the urge hit it had to happen right THEN! I remember him looking at me with urgent eyes saying I have to PEE. He barely made it to the restroom across the hall. When he came out he told me first he was “pissing blood” and that he had peed on the wall. I said don’t worry about it…we will tell the nurse when she comes in. When she came in he told her what had happened in the restroom, she didn’t give it a second thought just asked him which wall so they could clean it up. He and I quote said “all of them.” The kidney splint they had placed in made him pee temporarily like a sprinkler! We both have laughed at that SO many times….”all of them.”
I helped him dress in his “quits” and waddled out to get our car pulled up for him….we went home for him to recover. The next few days were spent on the couch together. Thanksgiving was approaching and we had planned to have both sets of parents over to celebrate together with us. He had these grand plans of the things he was going to cook…he made everything he had planned. His mom and I cooked everything else. It was a mixed of a holiday with combined dishes and traditions…just as it should always be. I remember him setting the table, it was beautiful and almost formal. He served dinner in courses…all in his “quits.” Good grief how I love him. The next day I went to a couple of stores and bought some Christmas gifts for our children. He did not want me to leave! He had those please do not leave me eyes…stay take care of me. Always my love…always will I take care of you. He would do the same for me.
The surgeon said to wait 3 weeks until going under to place the port…his oncologist said to wait 2 weeks. They wanted to get things going and not give things any chance of progressing any further. December 5th he went back into the hospital to have his port cath placed in his chest. “Walking” back into the hospital again that day in December there was such mixed emotions. I saying walking with parenthesis because neither of us were walking…Justin was limping a little from his surgery and I was 11 days from delivering our son. I remember going through the first set of sliding doors and Justin saying to me I cannot do this! I am still hurting from the first surgery how can I already be having another one? I told him you can my love, you CAN! It was the same drill as before…wait downstairs, go up to the 2nd floor, say good-bye and wait for him. Again I saw the ICU doors and again I was thankful we were not going through those doors. I wish we never had too!
His procedure was quick this time and I called his mom and mine to tell him he was out and everything went well. Back down in recovery he wanted to take a picture of his scar…he said he now looked like Tupac the rapper. Sure he did….you are a white male in your 30s but of course you look like a African american rapper!
He was more worried about this port than his other surgery…what would be kids think if they saw it? Always his children were at the forefront of his thoughts. Our children did not know about the cancer. We did not want to worry them because his was treatable. He would be cured. They are all young…9,8,7,6,,4 and 3. We did not want to worry them was one reason for not talking to them about it. When he was being discharged we were told he could start using the port for chemo treatments the following week. The following week?!? Something felt like they look forever to happen and others were moving along fast. They gave Justin a card with the information about his port and he told me to keep it for him. I still have it in my wallet from that day, it now has the memorial cards from both of his services with it.
“If you have never failed…you have never lived.”
Those words are so true! Justin wrote he was ready to risk failing. He failed at NOTHING! If he wanted to do something he did…period! If he wanted something he told me almost arrogantly one day he got it, I believed him. The only way you fail is if you do not start. I know he posted this link on his blog for motivation to complete his Ironman race but the meaning holds true now also. Justin lived…
A simple phrase but with profound meaning for Justin and I….first and last. We have shared that phrase and the meaning for a long time. For us it meant what is the first thing you think of when you wake and the last thing you think of before you fall asleep? No matter where we were or what time it was we never went to bed without saying goodnight and telling each other “first and last my love.” The last time he ever messaged me those precious words is when he was in the hospital March 21st 2011 and the last time he spoke them to me was the following evening when I slept with him at the hospital. I have so many memories of us sharing those words between us….as I laid safely in his arms with my head on his chest and he would whisper it in my ear as we drifted off to sleep together. I wish I could hear him say it one more time…I still say it to him. At night I tell our baby boy…”sweet dreams, first and last my littlest love.” Anyway I can keep Justin’s memory alive I will do. Brock will know his daddy and what a compassionate gentle loving man he was. I can only hope I make Justin proud of me.
For a brief time Justin blogged too…daily ramblings, kids and his training. In his blog he referenced our phrase. Reading his words has so much meaning now. I can hear what he wrote in my heart. He was amazing in so many ways. He writes that your first and last should be simple…we forget that. So many things that have no significant meaning take up a lot of our time. That time “wasted” will be regretted. If we just put our first and last ahead of anything else then everything else falls into place. Justin and I made each other a priority …simply said, I have no regrets. Our time was far too brief but meaningful.
Pictures have always been SO important to me but it wasnt until Justin passed I know exactly just how important it is to take pictures. When I first asked him about having pictures taken of the two of us he thought I was a bit nutty. Why did I want pictures taken he asked me? Why not…I love him! I wanted pictures that reflected our love, that showed us happy together! Pictures of my pregnant belly for the last time. Pictures of him before any surgeries or treatments. Just pictures of us to treasure. These pictures and all of our pictures are priceless to me now. Some day they will be Brock’s. It will show the love his father and I had for each other. My heart aches from Justin everyday. It breaks everyday because he is not here. These pictures are a huge part of telling Brock about his father. Always take pictures…you may not get the chance to do them again.
Once again Justin joking about the situation asked me if the only reason I wanted pictures is because he was going to die…not funny I told him and asked him not to say that. He just had to joke about everything!
In this picture the name on the store was so fitting for us since our families were coming together…yours mine and ours. The numbers on the address to the building add up to 7…the amount of children we have together!
Our sweet baby boy’s name and our hands. Brock is my maiden name and Donahue is Justin’s mothers maiden name. Two families coming together.I LOVE this picture for several reasons…one is we are looking at each other and smiling not because we were told too but because we are laughing at each other. He could always make me smile. I can still feel his touch, his hand on my legs in this picture helps me remember. My tattoo is showing, it is ladybug I got for Justin…he was my love bug or that is what I called him!I can still feel his presence this way if I close my eyes. Him leaning over me, kissing my head, his hand on my arm. I miss him dearly….Look at my belly! Good grief!!! I still had about 6 weeks to go. I love his expression here, his smile.
He gave me such a hard time about the shirt in this picture! He said it was a cowboy shirt??? Not sure what he meant by that really. I think he looks nice in it and I love the contrast in the black and white pictures. This shirt is still hanging in my closet and always will be…maybe Brock can wear it one day? What most people do not or cannot see is he had a hospital bracelet on under his right sleeve. It was the bracelet he had to keep on until his surgery the following Tuesday…the 22nd.