In Honor of My Patient

by Gumpus 61

In Honor of My Patient

Ann Surprised

I have said that Cancer affords us the experience of seeing the very best of Human Nature. It is also true that most of us haven’t any understanding of this until Cancer touches someone we Love. Even then, Cancer patients keep their worst moments private. Pride and a sense of “not troubling others” has many patients doing a marvelous job of keeping Cancer away from the rest of us.

My Patient was like that. A Uniformly Fatal Cancer struck her in the prime of life and for 5 1/2 years the only people who saw it were her Doctors and I. The testimony to just how good patients are at the game of hiding their Cancer from others is that so many of us say “so soon” on hearing of their passing, only to find they had been fighting for years. My patient was like that.

My patient was a Proud woman, If it is possible for beauty to win against Cancer she did it. Not just in appearance. The beauty of Cancer Patients is often less obvious. I have no doubt that the Cancer Journey is part of developing a beautiful soul. You will not find many pictures of Cancer patients frowning. That smile has a bit of grimace in it, but it is a smile nonetheless. A smile for that moment, equal parts daring,denial, and defiance. My Patient smiled like that.

My Patient was my wife of 38 years, Ann Elizabeth Tucker. I have written many words about our lives before and after Cancer arrived. You can find them on the what next Blog page. For Ann that Journey is over. For myself, and the hundreds of thousands of Caregivers out there, it is not. Nobody told us that. When Cancer takes our partner one of us has to go on. It is not easy. Like our patients we tend to keep the worst part of that secret from the rest of you. A quiet often crappy burden of guilt, tears, pain, and every now and then some hope. The caregiver survivor does not wear a badge in the form of a bald head with a pretty scarf. There is no wig for your feelings, no pill to bring your partner back.

There is a lot written about the Grief Cycle for the Patient, a different version of that is unique to the surviving caregiver. Our Perception is that this cycle is relatively short for all concerned. Certain feelings happen in a certain order and then they are done. Some cancers blow that all to hell. Some Cancer takes a long time to overcome all the weapons we can throw at it. It is an Ironic thing that my wife never really suffered from her Cancer until the very end. All the Pain was from the battle, Chemo killing her less quickly than the Cancer, but killing her all the same. 

Ann Easter

Her Cancer was Primary Peritoneal Cancer, an insidious Bastard of disease that you can fight but cannot kill. I can assure you, Cancer sucks. The only thing worse than having it is watching it. 

So My Patient, My Ann, fought a death sentence to a draw, living with Cancer and all it means for 2000 days. Counting days is unique to Cancer patients and surviving care givers. Days are what matter, hours are what matter, happiness in whatever form you can find it matters. Months and years disappear one day at a time.

For Ann fighting so hard for so long in a roller coaster of sickness and recovery made a mess out of that Grief cycle. Every recovery bringing new hope and stopping the cycle for a while. I have likened the Cancer Experience to falling down a long flight of stairs. The first floor down it hurts and when you find yourself catching your breath on a landing, you realize there are more flights to fall. You learn to cover up and keep from breaking bones hoping to end up at the bottom bruised but un-broken. Sometimes somebody makes it out alive, so we accept the tumble as the price to pay for getting to the bottom of the stairs. We really don’t know what that holds, but we are resolved to get there.

Ann was amazing, she could tumble down a flight of stairs and come up with a smile and the resolve to do it again. 6 lines of the Chemo therapy in 5 and a half years. 6 flights of stairs to tumble down. 6 mini Grief cycles that were like a ground hog day of misery. Yet, each and every time she got up off the mat and went back to living. How did she do it? How did she look forward with hope when there was so little to be had? Any moment of selfish sorrow on my part was dashed as I watched my Patient live with Cancer, Living as a Partner, Wife, and Mother the whole time.

I can admit to having underestimated my Wife. She knew more, demonstrated more strength, carried herself with dignity, and got up every day with a smile, when she could.

Ann And Mitch

There is terrible math to Cancer. Patients deny it as only they can. What an amazing trait of the hopeful human. Uniformly fatal had no meaning for Ann. We learned a lesson about approaching this experience. With each cycle and recovery we could say. “Cancer will not kill me this year, this month or today” Where else in life can you get such an assurance to live by? Can you say a bus will not hit you today, tomorrow, or even this year? No you cannot. So each recovery became a promise of more. A bit more life. A bit more suffering. A bit more love. The math does not stop when the disease does. The caregiver looks back and measures many things. The wonderful moments of sacrifice tempered by the guilt of being less than we could be every moment. 

Ann was sick for 2,000 days. I look back and count the bad days on my part. The selfish moments. The resentment. The anger. At the end I found perhaps 20 bad days, they end up being the ones you remember more than you should. I struggle with feeling memories of our wondrous life before Cancer. She was sick for a long time. What sticks with me was her will, Her understanding of unspoken words, and most of all her honor.

That terrible math I speak of was mine for the longest time. The caregiver has to know when it is the last Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year. You know when it comes and you make sure they are special for reasons you dare not share.

Mitch And Ann In Phoenix

As with many Cancers the very end was a terrible spiral for us. Our last 6 months were the best ever in so many ways. A Trip to Tahoe, a beautiful and loving Christmas. New years eve with special friends. As Easter approached the chemo quit working. The Cancer spread. Malignant fluid in her lungs had to be drained. Hospice was called. Ann was not ready to quit. She sent Hospice home. I had to tell her she was dying. That it was time to be ready for help with the pain that was ahead. 

Easter Sunday we entertained our closest friends. A wonderful Easter Egg hunt, Ann laughing and giggling as we filled plastic eggs with mini liquor bottles or silly things like floss or paper clips. She was Cancer skinny but as beautiful as ever. Ann loved entertaining, her last party a dandy.

Hospice for us was not what it should have been. I guess that happens sometimes. So on a Tuesday morning when Ann got around to truly suffering we did not have the things we needed. A trip to emergency, a drain installed she did not need. Nurses keeping her alive with fluids. Knowing looks from doctors and care providers. The last drive home. To proud to be carried to her death bed we walked into the house, her hanging on to my belt making tiny steps.

We had agreed that truly private things would be found on the notes section of our phones. Sometime that day Ann wrote her testimony. In it she thanked me as only she could.There was something else too. She said she expected to be amazed at the Vision of Gods Kingdom. Even then she did not see the Angels quite so close. Even then she had no anger, no regret, no selfishness. Ann's loved ones were by her side on a beautiful Spring Sunday. 

As many do, she waited for everyone to be there. My son and I by her side, she took a soft breath. Then, she sat upright with a look of wonder from eyes that saw no earthly thing. Ann showed us that she was going to Gods Kingdom, that she was amazed and un-afraid. She lay back without another breath. An Angel flying home, she left us.

That was a year ago. There is so much more to say about her life and I will get around to it. This was the hardest part. My other blogs about being a caregiver seem a bit trite and selfish now. But they were as real then as this is now. 

I returned to Tahoe. On a strangely beautiful day I held her ashes in my hand, raised them up and let them flow into the water………….the image of an Angel in the light reflected. 9 months to the day of her passing she finally talked to me in a way only I could recognize and understand. She was OK. She was re-born and going to be fine. 

Mitch Ashes Into Lake Tahoe

What is honor? In my Ann it was goodness and easy Grace, it was a powerful will to live in the face of terror. I Honor her memory as I can and this must be part of that. A few days ago on Easter Sunday talking to my son I mentioned missing her. He said the most amazing thing. “But Dad, she doesn’t miss us any more”. 

There is comfort in that thought. That she is busy being that honorable woman I married so long ago, just at another place in the loving care of someone else. I will find myself there as well, but never without respecting the honor she brought to herself and everyone she touched. While she left this earth, she left my son and I knowing she was going to be OK. I could not have imagined her leaving us that sort of gift, that kind of understanding and Grace. I am sorry about the 20 bad days darling, It would not be your style to focus there. I am giving up some of that terrible math now, for I resolve to live simply in your honor.

Ann At American Airlines Headquarters

In Memory of Ann Tucker

Read Mitch's Other Articles Chronicling Their Life Fighting Cancer

For Husbands Only-What They Don't Tell You The Day Your Wife Is Diagnosed With Cancer

For Caregivers Only-When Cancer Lasts A Long Time

Guilt - The Hidden Side Effect of Cancer 

My Wife Has Cancer - A Husband and Caregiver's Story

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