Not an Earthquake After All, Just a Nightmare: A Cancer Journey

This is Part II of my story. To read Part I, click here.

 

Lou, my husband, not only had an inoperable tumor on his lung, he also had a brain tumor that had metastasized to the cerebellum.  It was all through his blood stream and would continue to settle where it wished.

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Roob

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Roob

“How long do I have?”  Lou asked.  “8 to 12 weeks” she said gently.  2 to 3 months??  This could not be real.  We walked to the car, and I said, “We take longer than that to plan our trips to Michigan every year!”

Lou said, “Babe, if she would have said we had longer, I was going to tell you to book us for a trip to New Zealand and Australia immediately,”  (Lou didn’t like to fly any more,  but knew these were my dream trips). “The problem is, I am getting weaker by the day and would be afraid to be so far from home, not knowing what is next.”

It was nice to hear, but it was also a dream down the drain. A dream that suddenly meant less than nothing in light of what we were experiencing.

Before we knew it, we were spending the next few weeks riding to full-brain radiation treatments and, compliments of my compassionate boss, escorted in the mortuary limousine to Ontario every afternoon.  The radiation didn’t hurt beyond a bad sunburn effect, but wore Lou out even more.

I was emotionally drained, but was still trying to put in several hours of work each day once April, our daughter got there to relieve me at home.  She became my rock.  We both were Lou’s. Lou could no longer be left alone.  The anxiety levels were huge and only diminished when I was in his eyesight.  We struggled like this for about a month when I finally just went on family leave.  April continued to be there a part of every day.

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/ragsac

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/ragsac

The more I learned about Lou’s cancer the more discouraged I became, so I purposely stuck my head in the sand as much as possible.  After all, it was my job to keep all of our spirits up. I started looking for our miracle.

I spent evenings and late nights researching and buying everything that sounded like it could help or heal Lou. We would beat this thing by doing every healthy thing that made sense and praying hard for God to make it work.  We would start right after radiation.

When radiation was complete, the doctor said Lou needed to start chemotherapy of the chest the following day.  “What will that buy me in time?” he asked.  “No more than 2-3 months,” she said.  “Not a good trade, is it?” said Lou.  “We won’t be doing that.”

“Then I will start you on Hospice tomorrow,” she said.

Hospice.  I knew what that meant: this was it.  I began to realize every time my head was resting on Lou’s shoulder it was a time bomb and it was probably going to go off sooner than later. We had so much to talk about, yet Lou was getting less and less verbal.  He was internalizing a lot of what he was thinking and feeling and the increased medications were making him less sharp.

This was becoming a nightmare of epic proportions.

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Nico_Campo

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Nico_Campo

Lou sat down with me when we got home. “There will be no protocols to follow, no zapper, no cleanses.  If you want to juice or have me do other natural things to keep up my strength as long as possible, I will drink whatever you put in a glass.  But send the rest back if they will take it.  Otherwise, dump it.”  With tears welling up I said, “Why won’t you let me try?” He said, “If I die anyway, you will always blame yourself. This way, I am just in God’s Hands, not yours.”

Always, to the end, thinking of me first, looking ahead 8 moves and moving the pieces in his mind and foreseeing the outcome. I had always trusted Lou to study the moves of our life and give me his logic. Now, in spite of all I wished for and had bought to help him, his answer was “no.”  And once again, though this time it broke my heart, I trusted him.

Have you been in a similar situation?

Did you insist on trying what you thought would help, or did you let your loved one decide?

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Have you been faced with the news your loved one is now on hospice?

Did it make you feel like giving up?

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Do you know someone who is walking this walk right now?

How can you show extra support during this holiday season?

Anne

About Anne

The youngest of 8, I was born in a tiny town in the Keeweenaw Peninsula of Upper Michigan in the late 40’s. My minister parents died 6 months apart around the time of my 5th birthday. My older siblings raised us in the family home until all were graduated except me. Gradually only the boys remained, so at the age of 10 I moved to other homes. My childhood was rich with experiences that sparked my young imagination. When I finally read the Anne of Green Gables series, I totally identified with Anne.
I have just celebrated my 46th anniversary with my dear husband, Lou. Our daughter, April, 4 grandchildren and one great granddaughter bring our family a lot of joy and reasons to be thankful.
I have worked at O’Connor Mortuary since 1996 where I handle the accounting. The Mortuary has become extended family and it is a source of satisfaction as a job I thoroughly enjoy.
We attend the Village Church and that is another wonderful extended family, one who not only worships and learns together, but loves and prays for one another at the drop of a hat.

We live in a retirement community and enjoy taking our two dogs, a Bernese Mountain Dog and little Cocker Spaniel, to Dana Point Harbor for Sunday jaunts.

I absolutely love participating in the Mortuary Blog. I have found my voice! Thanks for following me.

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  • Lori

    Annie,
    Thank you for sharing each detail of your experience with us. I know you continue to have your tough days. I am certain this will be the case for years to come. You will never get over the loss of Lou, you will get through it. You are so strong and I am so proud of you for that. I know it is your faith and the fact that you KNOW you will reunite with Lou one day and rejoice in his healed body. You will resume the amazing life you shared together.
    Because I have very little to offer with regards to losing a spouse, all I can offer are prayers and hugs. I have an endless supply of both for you and will care for you in whatever ways I am able.
    I know this season is especially difficult. I am comforted in the fact you have your wonderful family around you to share stories of Lou during the holidays.
    You are such a blessing to me. Always there for a smile, wise advice or a hug.
    My life has been enriched in many ways by your friendship.
    Hugs and Love,
    Lori

    • Anne

      Lori,
      Your hugs, and everyone else’s sustain me more than you know. Lou and I hugged, kissed, held hands, danced and replayed enjoyable memories all the time. The hugs from others mean a ton now.
      There are reasons for everything. I just don’t know what they are yet. I do know that God gave me many gifts and intends for me to use them every day to help others. I purpose to do that.
      If sharing parts of this journey help even one other suffering person, it will be worth the vulnerability it took to expose this.
      Keep us in your prayers through the holidays.
      Love
      Annie

  • Becky Finch Lomaka

    Anne,
    What a brave woman you are to share such deeply emotional and personal experiences with us. How I wish I would have had a chance to know Lou when he was alive. I feel like you have given me a chance to know him through your eulogy at his funeral and in writing your blogs.

    I am amazed at how you continue to be there for each of us with words of wisdom, a prayer, a hug, as you, yourself, are in the active throes of grief. I am certain that your words are helping others who have a loved one on hospice.

    Although I do not share your grief journey of losing a spouse, please know you are loved and prayer for. I am blessed to have you in my life.

    Becky

    • Anne

      Oh Becky, thank you. I wish you had known him too. One thing for sure that you would have known is how much he loved me. He made no excuses for his strong feelings for me. He might criticize me privately for being late or something, but when talking about me to others, you’d have thought I walked on water. Who couldn’t succeed at life with that kind of assumptive support of my abilities behind me.
      I believe each of us has amazing talents and abilities and they can blossom if someone just believes in us. That’s what I still try to give away when I see the need, no matter what I am feeling inside.
      Love
      Anne

  • Cheryl Lanterna

    Dear Anne, What a beautifully written expression of your journey at the end of your wonderful husbands life. As a Hospice employee ( I work for Hospice of Saddleback Valley) I am reminded of the struggles of our patients and families and the decisions they are making, similar to what you and Lou did. It takes so much courage to support our loved ones when they make choices for their end of life care that may not lengthen life. It takes so much courage to choose to just live comfortably and to reach the time of acceptance with the journey you are taking. Hospice is so much about the quality of life being as important as the length of life even though we do not want the lives of those we love to end. But, with that being said, it is so easy to “talk the talk” when it is not your own cherished loved one. You “walked” it with such courage and dignity. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that you shared your story. It touched my heart.

    • Anne

      Cheryl,
      Thank you for your comments. I had such a difficult time with the Hospice part. I wanted so much to have it “my way”, which I guess would have kept him here and in good health about a minute longer than the length of my own life, whatever that ends up being.
      You do a fulfilling task. You have seen it all, I am sure. I feel honored that you took time to read and comment.
      All the best,
      Anne

  • Mitch

    I can’t begin to know what you went through or what you have for the future. You do have a “family” here and any one of us will be more than willing to help in any way. I will continue to pray for you. Remember that it is not goodbye, but I’ll see you later and one day you will see each other again in glorified bodies without disease. But until then, we get to enjoy and appreciate you here. You are wonderful.
    Mitch

    • Anne

      Mitch,
      Thanks. I used to sing about Heaven when I was a young person. It seems so many of the popular church solos in those days were about Heaven. Losing Lou has made me so homesick for it and I think about it a lot. In a video Lou made for me, he promised to hang around from the spirit world and to remember he wouldn’t have any pain or anxiety. I think about that, too. I think they can see us, even though we can’t see them.
      I know if I run into anything mechanical I can ask your opinion. Believe me, I am sure I will. I am thankful for each and every one of you here still in my world.
      Love
      Anne

  • Sharon Watkins

    Dear Anne

    Thank you once again for sharing more of your grief journey with us. Yours is such a hard story to read but helps me to understand the experiences you were having when we were here at work thinking of you both and praying for you. As we all know – we are in God’s hands even though we would like to think we control things.

    You are proving to all of us that there is life after tragedy – what an inspiration you are to all of us. Like we have heard many times and and you are experiencing – when a loved one dies – our life is never the same! This grief journey will teach us many lessons if we remain open to learning them.

    I hope you take comfort in the fact that you were just trying to do your best to care for the love of your life and prolong his life if possible and make him more comfortable for sure. He knows this better than ever now….. I’m grateful that this experience has brought the two us us much closer.

    I love you for sharing dear friend.
    Sharon

    • Anne

      Sharon,
      You bring up a good point. Every day we deal with people who are actively, freshly living something similar to what I experienced over the past year. We care for them as possible and try to provide flawless service in order to impact positively the memory and service they are trying to create. We walk with them for a few days and then they are back in their circumstances as this particular death has placed them. I don’t know what more we could do than what we do, but I sure understand better how they must feel.
      And we all must go on. We who are still living have things yet to accomplish, and while the desire to do so does not return right away, it needs to eventually. Others need us, and we need them.
      A cowboy friend wisely said to me: “Get yourself a worthwhile goal, focus on making it happen, and you will get through this.” I think he is right.
      Love
      Anne

  • Anne

    Chuck,
    Thank you. I like to be called Annie. Even more now that I don’t hear it from my Lou. And like you, I am hoping and praying someone out there needs to read what I have written. So much is left out in a blog but it is a snippet of what went on in that next step of events and emotions.
    We want so much to fix things, don’t we? Not everything can be fixed, but love and hugs are amazing healers, like a powerful balm on an open wound that blocks out the air until it wears off.
    Love you
    Annie

  • Jeff Turner

    Anne,
    What you share are very sacred and intimate glimpses into what the end of things for Lou looked like. It is gripping and heart wrenching and revealing as to the depth of love he has for you. What a wise perspective knowing you so well that he directed you on the path that put the responsibility on God. Your desire and prayer for physical healing was answered with Lou’s ultimate healing. I look forward to that day of reunion when we will play in the Kingdom prepared for us. I long for that day and I know it brings some measure of comfort for us even in the midst of heartbreak and the “momentary light afflictions” we endure in this life, as stated by the Apostle Paul. I love that perspective that the “nightmares of epic proportions” in this life are compared to what is ahead and the contrast is stark. Thank you for all you continue to reveal to us in your journey of preparing for great loss.

    Blessings,

    Jeff

    • Anne

      Jeff
      Lou always said I had more guilt than a Catholic and loved to manipulate my thoughts until everything under the sun was somehow my fault, since I probably had the power to influence or change it for the better if I had applied myself with more effort. That was silly, of course. And knowing me so well, he knew I would make every aspect of his suffering and death somehow my fault or lack of doing something I should have. It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so tragic.
      My former pastor’s wife gave me a bit of wisdom on all of that one time when I was ruminating something out of my control. She said. “In light of eternity, what does it really matter??” The answer of course, in 99% of the situations is NOT AT ALL!
      Love,
      Anne

  • Shayna Mallik

    Anne,
    Thank you for sharing your journey with Lou. You are such a brave women and have so much love and compassion! I can not even begin to imagine what it is like to loose a spouse. You are someone I look up to hugely. You are always their for everybody no matter what. You are so right when you say you and will be be reunited one day! I know he is looking down on you everyday and so proud of you!

    I love you so much
    Shayna

    • Anne

      Shayna,
      I wish I didn’t know what it was like, either. Dumb comment, but that is how I feel. We never know who is watching us or when, but you don’t see me sobbing my heart out sometimes when I am alone, but thank you for your kind words.
      Love you too
      Anne

  • Fitz

    Anne,
    What courage you have to share your experience with us. Thank you for being so brave and allowing us to understand what Lou was going through and what you were going through then as well as now. My hope is that you continue to share your journey. It matters and it honors Lou and the man he was. I hope someday you can take your dream trip. Thank you for your words of wisdom.
    Love,
    Fitz

    • Anne

      Fitz,
      I have to share it because I feel I am supposed to. It is meant to help others know that they are not alone in their suffering. We too, know what some of it feels like. Every decision Lou made was thought out as to how it would affect me. It took losing him and thinking about things in retrospect to realize to what extent he did that.
      As far as that dream trip, I think I will some day, somehow. Lou mentioned it and said he hoped I would find a way and be able to do it some day anyway.
      Love,
      Anne

  • Anne

    Shasta,
    Thank you for sharing about your grandmother. I didn’t know you worked at Mother’s before. They get a lot of my grocery dollars. 🙂 The Gerson Therapy for treating cancer uses a lot of juices. I sort of did that anyway, since Lou said he would drink whatever I put in a glass. Everything was too little, too late. Also, as you and he both said he was in God’s Hands. At one point he said to me, if this is what God wants, so be it. I just wish I wasn’t leaving you in a lurch. I wished he wasn’t either, but I am learning to handle whatever I have to.
    Love
    Anne

  • Carrie Bayer

    Sweet Anne, thank you for telling the rest of your story. As I read it, I was remembering the way I saw it play out & I’m so grateful that I was a small part of it. Lou has always been a special guy to me & you allowing me to help in the ways I could was priceless. Thank you so much, I love you dearly…. XOXOX Carrie

    • Anne

      Dear Carrie
      You were right there with us in so many precious and caring ways. Lou and I were blown away. He always cared a lot for you and even more so once he got so sick. I will always remember you for your generosity and willingness to help us. You are really an amazing woman.
      Love
      Anne

  • Mark

    Anne….Thank you once again for opening up to share your very personal struggle that you and Lou had with cancer….your love, devotion, caring, and determination serve as a great example to many…thank you, Mark

    • Anne

      Mark
      This whole year was so challenging, not only for me, but for you. We serve better because of our personal struggles, I do believe. I know how much you care for your families and I am thankful we have each other to lean on here at work.
      You are a blessing to me.
      Anne

  • Tom

    My dad made the decision to stop chemo and and went on hospice care. His children understood want he wanted for himself. In my opinion, death reveals dignity to each of us.

    • Anne

      Tom,
      I totally understand your dad’s decision. It is a brave one… I know. When you realize it doesn’t heal anything, just prolongs life, it doesn’t seem like too much of a trade, as Lou said.

  • Greg Forster

    Anne,

    Your words are powerful, visual, compelling. I can see you being with Lou. I can see you two walking back to your car the first time enclosed in a bubble of shock. I can feel the quiet of your house. Holding back with all your strength but wishing to explode and be given the permission to do so…but then again…ever so rational…never daring to do so for fear of what painful additional memories that this might have caused.

    While you were still able to attend to your duties at work, I saw a lady, yes, affected, but also demonstrating quiet, intelligent grace and the determination to move forward to face a future that was neither wanted nor deserved, but expected, and way, way too soon….but it was there…it was not your call to change it…but it was your call, the two of you, together, to face it…and face it you did…totally head on with not a sideways glance.

    All of us here at O’Connor desperately wished that we could have given you more than our warm hugs…for you gave us something more….a window into a life full of value, determination and Love.

    Thank you for that,

    Greg

    • Anne

      Greg,
      Well, you made me cry. I guess because you really did nail it on the head what you felt you were “seeing”. We did what we had to do, but God, I miss him. I tell God and Lou that every day. I thought it would be easier by now, but it sure isn’t this month.
      Love,
      Anne

  • Michael Thomas

    Hi there Annie
    Thank you once again for letting us dive in. I know this holiday season is going to be tough without your prince, but this O’connor family is ready to fight some dragons for you too 🙂 Merry Christmas Annie

    Love, Mike

    • Anne

      Thanks, my friend. I wish you could go into the afterlife and just get him back, mr dragon slayer.
      Love,
      Annie

  • Neil

    Hi Anne –
    I have not walked the path you and Lou have gone down. I am grateful that you have allowed us to be in you life during the good times and the bad times. I cannot even imagine the pain you have experienced during this last year. I have been with friends and family during illness and death, this has been my life.

    • Anne

      Yes, Neil,
      Being at the Remembrance Service with everyone and sharing with all the families helps me know I am not alone. It just feels like it at times. I am sure every one of them can relate to that feeling.
      love
      Annie

  • Jenn

    Anne, again your words draw such a clear picture of pain, love and an amazing insight for those who may be experiencing the same pain. I feel so in the moment when I read it and heartbroken at your loss and in awe of the love you two shared. I thank you again for opening up and sharing your story.

    • Anne

      Jenn
      I am thankful for all of our good years. The last one sucked but we had to get through that too. Lou’s desire was that I would be happy again. I am naturally a positive person, so I am waiting for that to kick in.

  • Christopher Iverson

    In God’s hands…Lou’s genius! I love that he took care of both you and April even unto death. Your grace to Lou was trusting him and his decision. I love seeing you smile and I know Lou played the greatest role in keeping your smile alive.

    • Anne

      Chris
      He sure did. Still does. His greatest desire at the end is that I would once again find my happy place in life. Maybe I need to go hang out at Disneyland or something. 🙂

  • Patricia Kolstad

    Annie . . thank you for sharing this very sad time with all of us. Though I have not had that experience with watching a loved one actively die, you have shown us how this is done with love, grace and compassion. I watched from afar how you never gave up hope, how you trusted in the Lord to provide answers, whether they be good or not so good. We are all better for having you in our midst. Watching you honor Lou with devotion and love unending. Thank you for your story. It has touched many lives.
    Lovingly,
    Pat

    • Anne

      Pat,
      Just found this comment. Not sure why I didn’t get notified. Can’t believe it has been almost a year. A hugely difficult one, but I must say, God has been faithful. Doesn’t take away an ounce of the pain, but there IS comfort.
      Love
      Annie

  • Kari Lyn Leslie

    Annie,
    I love you more that words can adequately describe here. I can’t imagine going through this. Thank you for sharing your intimate experience with us. You are blessing so many with your journey.

    oxoxo
    kari

    • Anne

      Thank you, Kari.
      I know that God does what He does for a reason. We don’t know why. We can’t live forever here, but I am, as you are, sure of an eternity where we will. I know that is where Lou is and that assurance means so much. It is wonderful to know that even though he cannot come back to me, I will, in God’s perfect time, go to be with him.
      Love
      Annie

  • Anne

    Coleen,
    I didn’t see this post until today. Appreciate your love and prayer support from the Ukraine. It has been almost a year now. Can’t believe it. Be safe, my friend.