In May of 1990, I heard the diagnosis of ‘cancer’ for the first time. The queerest feeling settled in my stomach. My heart rivaled the cadence of a racehorse’s hoof beats. At the age of thirty six, I had never dealt with this disease and to me, this was a death sentenced to my soulmate.
It had started quietly enough. Darrell was a hard working man, running his own theatre business. I worked at the hospital to supplement the income. So it was no surprise to me that after he got what we thought was the flu, that he would come home in the afternoon to take a nap.
You see the symptoms, but you attribute them to something else. Like maybe he just couldn’t shake the flu. Until one morning, due to an extreme pain in his left side,he couldn’t get out of bed.
“If you don’t go see the doctor today, I will call an ambulance right now,” I growled. I had been encouraging him to see a doctor, but like most men, he said he was fine.
“Okay,” he acquiesced with a grimace. I helped him get ready while calling into work.
Two hours later I was breaking the speed limit trying to get to Billings, MT. His hematocrit was 18, normal can be anywhere from 28 to 35. Somewhere he was losing blood. His doctor wondered how he had managed to walk in there, let alone be conscious.
I knew Darrell was sick because this was a man who never closed his eyes when I drove and he was passed out in the back seat. Normally I would have been gleeful that I was pushing the little K-car far beyond it’s limits at 80, but my mind was filled with fear.
I prayed. Please don’t let it be leukemia, please don’t let it be an internal bleed, please don’t let it be……on and on. I didn’t leave out much it actually could be.
Finally, with tears scalding my cheeks, the road blurry in front of me, I slowed down. I decided I would just trust the Creator I had prayed to for so long. This was in His hands. Whatever the outcome, I knew He would get me through. It wouldn’t be the last time I would take this test.
A calm filled my heart and mind. As we checked into the Deaconess Hospital, Darrell revived enough to joke around with the receptionist.
“Yes, my last name is Gabel. All my relatives live in the Billings area. If their last name is Gabel, I’m probably related.” Billings was his home town. They had a lot to talk about. But I was thinking If she called me Mrs. Gabel one more time, I would smack her.
It seemed foreign to me. The oddest things stand out when you are under stress. Mrs. Gabel was Darrell’s mom, not me. It seemed so impersonal. Yet Darrell and I rarely used warm little nicknames, like ‘honey’ or ‘sweety’. Having started our relationship off by working with each other professionally, we always used our first names.
That was about to change. A lot was about to change in our world. Unfortunately I would become intimately acquainted with cancer.
I felt that sinking feeling when my husband’s mother was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in the spring of 2006. We raced to fulfill her last few desires. The last two months were agonizing for all of us.
In 2008, I once again heard that detested word. I already had a foreshadowing of what was to come when I noticed my husband limping across the living room, then discovered the lump in his thigh. This time though, I was a little more battle scarred. I knew the routine and dug in.
And just as I finally thought we had won the battle, I heard the word that I detested in March, 2015. The feeling that washed over me this time was pure anger and determination.
I realize now I will never hear the word cancer and not feel that moment of panic. No matter how many times I face it. Like any disease, it insidiously and slowly saps our energy. It takes our loved ones in pieces. Yet, as dark as this might sound, it is a mixed bag of blessings as well.
You never look at a relationship the same. It becomes more precious. You can never appreciate truly someone or the time spent with them, until you are stripped of the expectation they will be with you forever on this earth.
All I can say is cancer simply sucks.