So My Husband Has Cancer. Again.
Not the same husband. The other husband I had who had cancer died in 2001, four months after we got married. It sucked. A lot.
Now, 22 years later, my husband has cancer. If I hadn’t already been to one “husband with cancer” rodeo in my lifetime, or if it weren’t the same type of cancer my father died from last year, I might be processing the situation differently.
But for the past 3 months, I have been deeply entrenched in a state that mental health professionals commonly refer to as “freaking right the fuck out over pretty much everything”.
Because for the past 3 months, a lot of eerie parallels and downright bizarre shit have seemed hellbent on convincing my brain these situations are all inextricably linked and there isn’t a damn thing I can do except freak the fuck out and try to make some sort of plan for the rest of my life without my husband in it.
There are a lot of open tabs in this story. I will try to keep them organized as best I can.
In late 1999, my then-boyfriend started having what he thought were some kind of muscle spasms in his left arm. They started shortly after he thought moving a standing freezer without help was a great idea, so we all just assumed he’d pulled or strained something.
In late 2000, he had a full-blown seizure and was shortly thereafter diagnosed with brain cancer, at which time we realized what we’d thought were muscle spasms has actually been smaller seizures.
About a year ago, my husband started having back & shoulder aches of the type commonly associated with being a person in their late 50s pushing themselves with rather strenuous exercise.
In June 2023, my husband had a muscle spasm in his shoulder severe enough to warrant a trip to urgent care for an injection of pain meds and a prescription for more pain meds. The way his body, specifically his kidneys, responded to those pain meds was the start of a series of unfortunate events that would lead to a diagnosis of prostate cancer 2 months later.
Hearing “your husband has cancer” for the second time in my life was bad enough. Hearing “your husband has the same type of cancer your dad died from last year” was even worse. Hearing the news that specific way, that “oh you thought this was just a muscle thing lolnope cancer” way, for the second time in my life, was just… what?
Commence Operation: Freak The Fuck Out Over Everything
There was a lot of downtime between events, so I had far too much time to imagine the worst. And I didn’t even need a very good imagination to get there.
We got the official diagnosis in mid-August, and immediately started treatment in the form of a prescription to prepare his system for an injection that would keep his condition static until they could do a full PET scan to see exactly what they’d be dealing with. We were told to schedule the scan right away because they booked out weeks in advance and, sure enough, calling in mid-August got us an appointment in mid-September.
Or so we thought.
Meanwhile, in another of life’s open tabs:
We had a large piece of furniture that had been listed for sale for well over a year, that finally sold the week before we were scheduled to have the PET scan. I’d bought this piece of furniture back in 1998 with my future-late-husband shortly after we started dating. It was one of the first Big Things we did together and in my mind was always associated with him, one of the reasons I kept it so long, but in 2022 I was finally ready to let it go.
The sale was made, the delivery company contacted me and, without asking if the date worked for me, said they’d be here to pick it up on… the same day we had the appointment for the PET scan.
But they hadn’t asked the buyer if that date would work for them either, so a mutually agreed-upon later pickup date was set.
Turns out I wouldn’t have had to worry anyway because our original scan appointment was canceled with less than a day’s notice. Literally TWENTY-ONE HOURS before we were supposed to walk in the door, I got a call from the facility where the scan was supposed to happen saying they couldn’t do it. Despite my having spoken to them the day before to confirm details, I was now hearing “something something don’t have a thing someone won’t release a dose of thing stuff blah blah it’s because we’re not a hospital so you have to go to a different facility” and to this day I have no fucking idea why that scan was canceled. All my brain registered was “you now have to get this procedure done somewhere else and it’s an hour before the end of business and you have phone calls to make” so I stopped asking questions and started making phone calls.
The “good” news was, we were able to get an appointment for only 6 days after the first one was originally scheduled. The weird news was, it was at the same facility where my late husband had spent all but the final two days of his life after he went into a coma.
Clicking back over to our Furniture Sale tab:
Despite everyone concerned having agreed on specific dates for pickup and delivery, I was contacted by Furniture Delivery Guy saying he absolutely positively needed to pick up the piece 6 days earlier than scheduled, the day before the PET scan. By that point, my brain was already making too many connections between the past and present so, as far as I was concerned, the sooner this particular piece of my past was living somewhere else, the better.
Long story short: This person is incompetent and the piece was destroyed by his incompetence before he even got it on his truck. Mirror shattered, frame broken, damaged beyond any hope of repair.
At any other time and under any other circumstances, this would have sucked mightily.
At this particular time and under these particular circumstances, that I had bought this piece with my late husband and kept it all these years only to see it destroyed in a freak accident the day before my husband was having a scan to see just how far spread his cancer was, seemed considerably more ominous.
Clicking back over to the PET scan tab:
The medical group that would be doing the scan has two campuses, one 10 miles and the other 20 miles away from us. When asked if we had a preference, I said “whichever has the soonest opening” and that landed us at a hospital which my most vivid memory of was from 2001, when I’d watched my comatose husband transported out of it to a hospice facility a couple of miles away, where he would die barely 48 hours later.
Getting there is mostly freeways and nondescript big city scenery. But for about a mile before you reach the hospital proper, there’s an actually very lovely stretch of tree-lined, shaded road. I’d driven that stretch of road hundreds of times in 2001. It had been the transitional part of my trip to and from the hospital every day, the time I took to prepare and then reset. But I had somehow completely forgotten about it until I was driving it again in 2023, and that “you’re driving to the hospital to visit your dying husband now” feeling came back.
By the time we got to the hospital, I was a bit of a mess but really trying to keep that from my husband who was the one on his way to literally have radioactive materials injected into his body so I felt like it would really be kind of a dick move to fall apart on him right then?
I mean, he knew, but I tried.
Clicking over to an open tab from 2001:
My younger sister used to visit regularly when my late husband was in this hospital and, because the entire situation was unsettling and we all had our coping mechanisms, she used to sketch a lot. One of the sketches she did during that time was of his left hand with his wedding ring, resting on the bed. After he died, she framed that sketch for me, and it held a place of honor in what I called my Walk-In Collage.
Clicking back over to the PET scan tab:
I held most of my freak-outage in check until we approached the office where the scan was actually being done and saw this on the wall right outside the door.
At which point my brain said “what the actual living breathing airborne fuck is happening right now” and large portions of it just shut down for the sake of sanity preservation because when I texted that photo to the sister who had done the sketch back in 2001, her reply was
so I knew it wasn’t just me making connections where none existed.
I wasn’t allowed to go into the room where the scan was being done due to the aforementioned radioactive materials so, rather than sit in the waiting room crying and making people uncomfortable for 2 hours, I decided to go to the gift shop.
But #protip if you are a very chatty couple in a nearly empty waiting room, maybe don’t sit your chatty selves down to start loudly chatting in a chatty manner right next to someone sitting alone who is pretty obviously NOT REALLY DOING TOO FUCKING WELL RIGHT THEN IN THAT MOMENT.
So yeah, I decided to go to the gift shop.
This particular gift shop is not the average “subpar-quality stuffed animals and overpriced ‘Get Well Soon!’ mylar balloons” type of gift shop. It’s more of a boutique, featuring a lot of items from local artists and crafters and designers, as well as some mass-produced but still boutique-feeling stuff, and all the proceeds benefit the hospital’s outreach programs. Much as I’m not usually big on retail therapy, my options for distractions were limited, so I decided to try to get some holiday shopping started.
The layout of the shop is sort of like a puffy capital E.
There was someone at the register when I walked in, and I stopped to look at pretty much everything as I worked my way to the back of the shop. In the far corner were some shorts. Hubs had been told to dress warmly for the scan itself but almost immediately regretted not wearing something cooler for the drive there and back, so I thought it was worth looking for something in his size. I was in that far corner of the shop for a few minutes before realizing they didn’t have anything that would work, and taking the things I had found up to the register.
The cashier was not at the register. And a woman on the other side of the glass door was waving at me and asking how I got in because she also wanted to shop.
The reason the cashier wasn’t at the register was because she was at lunch. Somehow not realizing there was still a customer named ME in this rather oddly-angled but still pretty small shop, she had left, securing the door behind her and putting a sign in the window saying she’d be back soon.
I got locked in the fucking gift shop.
WHAT IS THAT EVEN A METAPHOR FOR
It’s a type of lock that I’m pretty sure the fire marshal would frown upon, it can’t be opened without a key even from the inside. Fortunately, someone wearing a badge walked by within a few minutes, and security arrived very shortly after. I left the things I’d planned to buy sitting on the counter and walked down a hallway to find a quiet place to sit where it wouldn’t be too visible if I started crying.
Which I did. Because seriously? I was trying to make the best of even a few minutes of this deeply shitty situation and I got locked in the fucking gift shop?
After crying for a while, I headed back to the room where my husband was being scanned. As I walked past the gift shop, I saw it had reopened and the stuff I’d left sitting on the counter was still exactly where I’d left it, so I got my presents and tube of hand cream after all.
This is very good hand cream, if you’re in the market for such things.
And “I got locked in the gift shop” is about the best you can hope for when you need a reply to someone who just said “they told me not to take off my shoes because my feet were radioactive.”
You can read all about that adventure here.
Meanwhile, in another of life’s open tabs:
We had been contemplating the move to a split king bed for a while anyway and, when we got the diagnosis, decided we needed to go ahead with that. After everything else that seemed to be conspiring to make life as complicated as possible, as soon as I got the email saying our order was with the delivery company, I said “watch them want to deliver it on the same day as the PET scan” and sure enough, the next day I got a text saying they wanted to do exactly that.
Fortunately, they were flexible, and the bed was delivered the next day.
What sucks about having a procedure done on a Thursday afternoon and being told that the results will be back in “a couple of days” is it’s pretty much the longest possible wait time. So we resigned ourselves to not hearing anything until Monday, and tried to make the best of it. Having a fancy new bed delivered on Friday that we had to learn how to use before we could even sleep in it was a decent distraction.
Monday came and went with no word, so we thought “okay, Thursday wasn’t a whole day so we’ll hear tomorrow.” That tomorrow, a Tuesday, marked 6 weeks since we’d gotten the diagnosis, and we did not hear anything. On Wednesday I called to ask where our results were and was told they were just waiting on a signature to release them and, if we didn’t have them by the end of the day, to call first thing the next morning.
I called first thing the next morning and was told they were just waiting on a release signature and then the results would be sent directly to the referring physician but not to us until 7 days after that due to a new policy that had gone into effect the previous Monday.
On Friday, over a full week after the scan had been done, we finally got confirmation the results had been released to the urologist and we set up a Zoom appointment for the following Monday morning to find out what they showed.
That Monday, trying to be the supportive helpful partner and do the bookkeeping so Hubs could just listen, I went to my desk to grab a pad and pen to take any necessary notes.
Being the frugal hippie that I am, I will keep a notebook as long as there is a single blank page in it. So it didn’t surprise me that the random notebook I happened to grab that morning was over 20 years old. What did unsettle me a bit was that the random notebook I happened to grab that morning, to take notes during a doctor’s appointment to review the results of the PET scan that would show how much my husband’s cancer had spread? That notebook was one I’d been using as a journal when my late husband was in the hospital back in 2001.
So I grabbed a different notebook.
Turned out there weren’t many notes to take. Pretty much all the urologist had to say was that the scan hadn’t shown anything he wasn’t expecting, and now we needed to see an oncologist. He made it sound like we weren’t out of the woods, but we were in the woods in a nice cabin with a well-stocked pantry and plenty of firewood; cause for concern but relatively safe for the time being.
The oncologist contacted us and let us know their first available appointment was on my dad’s birthday. But we were feeling pretty good based on the conversation with the urologist, so I was able to inwardly say “oh Universe, now you’re just fucking with me” and carry on with my optimism.
Turns out the urologist had been severely downplaying the seriousness of our situation, and on what would have been my dad’s 84th birthday, we learned that my husband has metastatic Stage 4 prostate cancer. The cancer that my dad died of in 2022.
As I type this, the prognosis is “hopeful” that Hubs can have “several more years of life” and steps have been taken to do everything possible to make that happen. There are some new pills in the house
and next week we have a “what to expect when you’re expecting chemo” video appointment, to prepare us for the treatments that will commence at the end of the month. The first round of chemo will wrap up right around my birthday and I’m hoping my gift will be hearing the treatment was as successful as possible.
Being “cured” isn’t in the cards. This cancer will not be fully vanquished. But with a little luck and a lot of science, maybe it can be managed and my husband, my best friend, my partner in all things, he can become one of the good statistics, part of the group the internet is talking about when it says “people with this type of cancer can live for many years”.
This is us, “many” years ago, in early 2008.
If we can have another “many” years by that definition, I’ll take it.