I met Tara through an online organization that networks widows. We were both young when we lost our “older” husbands (Kevin was 12 years older than I) and both had died of esophageal related cancers. We have kept in contact since months after we lost our husbands and try to encourage one another along this difficult journey. When Tara sent me her guest blog, I ended up tears feeling so many similar emotions that I had felt in my journey, in hers. Read her story with an open heart and mind and you will get a taste of the pain it takes to be a caretaker and then a widow.
My story is about my own personal experience with death. The death of the love of my life, my husband Keith.
Keith and I met while working in a cheese factory. He was 13 years older than me and I told him numerous times that I wouldn’t date him because of our age difference. Even though I felt that way he grew to fall in love with me as I was dating another man. Two years later after I ended that relationship Keith told me that it was now or never, he wouldn’t wait any longer for me. On a Sunday afternoon we went up north by his brother’s camper and spent the day up there. It was a beautiful day and I had a wonderful time. Later that night sitting in his truck I asked him if he was going to kiss me or not! He was shy about it, but that was how are relationship started. From that day on we were inseparable and the age difference didn’t matter anymore.
After a month of dating we were walking through the mall and walked into a jewelry store when the lady asked if we wanted to look at engagement rings. We both laughed and said sure why not. It wasn’t something we planned but we walked out of there having purchased a wedding set. My whole family thought I was crazy to be engaged so quickly. To him and me it just felt right. Two years later we got married. The wedding was absolutely beautiful, the best day of our lives. For the next year it felt like we were on cloud 9, we were so in love and happy. My sisters always said that we were so much alike it was like I had married myself.
My husband had been a volunteer fire fighter for 16 years. His fire department had a really big reconstruction and their open house was the weekend of our one year anniversary. The weekend was as perfect as it could be. We had a birthday party, graduation party, the open house, and our anniversary all in one weekend. For our anniversary he took me to “our park” and got down on one knee and gave me a box. It was a beautiful ring with a diamond in it and hearts on the side. He started crying and said “I should have done this the first time, will you be my wife forever?” I started laughing and said of “course silly we are already married!”
The next day Keith went to his family doctor because he had some pain in his back and his stomach. They took blood from him and did a physical. They said they would call him with results. He was called the next day and said he was low on iron and needed to get on some iron right away and that they feared he was losing blood somewhere. They set him up to see a gastrointestinal specialist the next day. We went in and the Dr. said I think you may have an ulcer; we will do an endoscopy and see what’s going on. They did this exactly a week later.
The results came back and the Dr. showed me pictures. He had an ulcer the size of an orange and he was setting him up to see a surgeon right away two days later. He said they would call us back with the results of a biopsy and they sent it because it was standard procedure. I started crying and he took my hands and said we will take good care of your husband. The next day while I was at work Keith called me and was crying. He could barely talk but when he calmed down the words “I have cancer” came out. I remember asking what but heard the words he had said. I was in shock. They had called him on the phone and told him the results from the biopsy they didn’t expect back for a week already came back and showed cancer. It wasn’t an ulcer after all, it was a tumor. He had some scans done the same day of the endoscopy and we would review those results with the surgeon the following morning.
The next morning the surgeon said he would go in and take whatever he could out. He said he had not had time to look over the scans, but would call us later that evening with more details. It was a Friday and he didn’t want us wondering all weekend. He called us that night and the words I heard were “I’m sorry there is nothing I can do for you. His cancer is already in Stage 4. It’s in his lymph nodes, his liver, and his lung.” That was the day that my world went crashing down. They gave him a prognosis of 6 months to live.
Over the next couple weeks I wanted a second opinion. I took him to another hospital 5 hours away. They were amazing! He started his chemotherapy treatments there and every time that he went back he wanted to tell them he wanted to quit chemo. He was sick of feeling sick all the time; his Dr. told him no. The scans showed improvement. The chemo was working.
We had insurance coverage through both jobs. However, the insurance company was denying the treatment. They said it was experimental for the type of cancer he had, Esophageal. He was never a smoker and rarely drank so they were not sure why he had gotten the cancer. We got a lawyer and sent in appeals for the insurance coverage.
Keith and I went on a vacation, we needed a break. When we got back we had a letter in the mail from the hospital saying they had cancelled his appointments the next day. Our bill had reached over $450,000 and they were unable to accept him any longer. They did not feel we would win our case against the insurance company. In order for him to continue treatment we would have to pay the balance and a $250,000 deposit also. There was nothing we could do.
We came back to the original hospital back home and he got different treatment. It made him even sicker than the last chemo and did not work. The cancer was growing back. By the time that we won our appeal and they started the chemo that he had gotten at the other hospital it was too late. The cancer had come back so hard that it was worse than his initial diagnosis.
I watched him go from a 240 pound man to about 130 by the time he passed away. He was originally given 6 months to live and I had 19 months with him after diagnosis. Watching him die a painful and slow death was the worst experience of my life. I hear people say the word cancer and I cringe. It hits home for me so much. I lost the one person I loved more than anything to this horrible disease.
I sometimes wonder why I was put through all this, but I don’t think it was for me. Keith had lost his mom at 12 years old. At 25 he lost his dad, and 14 years before his diagnosis his brother Gary died of the same cancer. A month and a day before Keith died his oldest brother had a massive stroke and died. He felt alone a lot through his life. The happiness that we shared changed his life. His family always told me that he became a much happier person when I came into his life. So I look at all the hurt I went through and think it was worth it. At least I could be there for him through his sickness and show him the love he had been always longing for.
Sometimes life throws things at us we don’t think we can ever get through. As hard as it is to still live every day without my husband I still am thankful that I got to have the love we had if only for 5 years. I think of him every day and miss him so much. I was hoping that would change by now and it would get easier, but I have yet to feel that way.