Colon cancer has absolutely nothing to do with my book. In fact, I don’t think the word “cancer” is even in the story…which is saying something since there are over 120,000 words. However, colon cancer has indeed taken over my novel, my book launch, my purpose, my life.
Back in mid-November, my husband started experiencing symptoms of what he believed to be a kidney stone. Since he has had nine of them before, his only health-related issue, he knows what they feel like. That one evening, when he said those words, unbeknown to us, we started down this path of a nightmare that will not end. Well, let me rephrase. The nightmare for him will end one day much too soon. But it won’t be pretty and it won’t be at all what anyone expected or planned for or even thought of as how we would spend our Empty Nest years together. And our family will never be the same again. I will be left behind all alone in middle age. My young college student daughters will be without their father during some of the most important times of their young lives. And the three of us will be scarred forever. Losing your husband and father is not something that ever goes away. You don’t get over that. You have to find a way to live with it.
On February 2nd, the day before his 47th birthday, we were told the C word. I wish it had been the other C word, believe me – call us all the disgusting names you want – but this C word? No.
That diagnosis, after further testing, turned into the worst diagnosis you can possibly have: Stage 4B terminal. BRAF genetic mutation. TERMINAL. Terminal. Ter-min-al. Terminal has always meant the airport to me. Now terminal is something else altogether.
Dealing with both the painfully slow not-quite-recovery from colon resection surgery (where they thought he had diverticulitis and instead found a tumor) and also the every-two-weeks of chemotherapy, my husband’s quality of life is not very good at all. He doesn’t have good days. He might have some good hours here and there. And “good” means “not bad and feeling like shit in bed.” He is still waiting for this so-far mythical pattern of good days so he can try to do something, like go on a trip or physically do something he’s always wanted to do. You know the song “Live Like You Were Dying” by Tim McGraw? Yeah, that. His life is a Tim McGraw song now, only without sky diving and Rocky Mountain climbing because he’s in too much pain and feels like shit all the time.
I could write a book on how unfair this is for him to have to live his days like this – pain, suffering, desperation, the mental torment of facing your early death when you have worked your ass off your entire life and will never be able to enjoy the fruits of it. I probably will write a book, actually. I know this story has been told before by many great people who have faced what my husband is facing and what our family is dealing with, but this time it is our family and our story.
In short, he doesn’t deserve this. At all. I know most people probably don’t. I suppose I don’t get too sad when I learn of a murderer or a child predator having a terminal cancer diagnosis. But a guy like my husband? Seriously? He has never done anything wrong to anyone. Ever. He always did the right thing. Always. And this is what he gets for it all? Yes, hard to believe in a merciful or just God in times like this.
The reason for this post is not to make anyone feel bad for us. I know so many people out there have not only faced this themselves but they have also watched a loved one face this. It is the most helpless feeling in the world, watching someone you love suffering needlessly. I know shit happens every day to good people all the time. But some shit is simply worse than others.
I’ve written a couple of essays on how the healthcare system – as it is – failed him. I’ve written another very personal essay that I may never share. The reason for this post is share with anyone who reads my work or is interested in my work: my new book, Scout’s Honor, which will be released on April 14th finally!, is not only dedicated to my husband’s cancer fight but some of the profits and royalties will be donated to Colon Cancer awareness efforts – particularly focused on the screenings of younger people – and any research related to Gastrointestinal Cancer at the UNC Lineberger Cancer Hospital.
Any book events that I am able to schedule will include information about colon cancer awareness and any talk I am invited to give with include my husband’s story. If just one person under 50 goes and gets a colonoscopy and has a precancerous polyp removed before it turns into something that sets them on a path toward their early death, then I will feel like writing my book maybe mattered.
My book is actually about another rarely addressed issue, and I hope that book clubs and discussion groups talk about those important life matters within the story. However, my purpose for Scout’s Honor is to spread the word about the fact that you are NEVER too young for a colon cancer diagnosis.