As Tweeters, Facebookers, Tumbl’rers, bloggers, and writers the internet over tackle the challenge of summing up 2013 and looking forward to 2014, my post turns out to be a hell of a lot different from the one I thought I’d be writing when The Improbable Author began last year. This was the year I was to be published, whether by a big house or as an indie. ’13 was to have been the year I put on my big boy pants and tried to make my own way through the marketplace.
Instead, the last two months of this year — during which I had grand plans for a book launch — were instead waylaid by something a lot more terrifying and important than whether or not my pulpy space opera would do well or not. Just after Halloween, my wife Jen received news that scared us a more than any monster possibly could: she had tested positive for breast cancer. The moment I received that first teary call from Jen relaying the doctor’s diagnosis, all plans I’d had fell by the wayside. Whether I had the time or not to devote to writing or book-marketing, I couldn’t even gather the thoughts needed to work out the details. I was numb, and angry, and dismayed, my emotions and thoughts contradicting themselves as fear and hope, pragmatism and delusion swirled around my brain. And I think I’ve remained in that state ever since.
Everything after the diagnosis seemed to proceed at a fast-forward pace. My day job’s insurance is (thankfully) very, very good, so doctors, specialists, and hospital staff jumped on Jen’s diagnosis with the enthusiasm of a hungry stray. We leapt from diagnosis (invasive ductile carcinoma), to planning the surgery, to informing our family and friends, to the surgery itself in almost no time. Less than a month after finding out about the lump in her right breast — the week after Thanksgiving — she went under the knife. Jen’s family has a long, sad history of cancer, so she made the brave and terrifying choice to not merely have a lumpectomy, but instead opted for a double mastectomy with reconstruction, with the full concurrence of the medical team. Once there, however, as our luck goes, it became more complicated. The cancer had spread to the lymph nodes on that side, such that they all had to be removed as well.
Recovery from surgery was another ordeal entirely. She had a horrible time managing her pain, with complications arriving at every turn. Where many can leave a day or two after surgery, she was not able to check out for four days. And then she was in and out of the emergency room and re-admitted a few days later when another complication arose with her medication along with a surprise fungal infection out of left field. Finally, she came home to stay home, but things did not necessarily get easy from there. The drains leaked and pulled and awkwardly, painfully obstructed everything from laying down to going to the bathroom. Stiches, tissue expanders, her entire chest, EVERYTHING hurt, almost all the time, interrupting her sleep and keeping her loopy on meds when she could stay awake. She could only gingerly hold her beloved children and my every move seemed to be the bumbling, jerking motions of a golem targeted upon annoying and hurting her despite my intentions. I grew frustrated, angry, confused, fearful, petulant, and lonely — and then guilty for wasting thoughts on my lot when nothing I felt could possibly compare to the fear and anger of my wife who ACTUALLY had a reason for her feelings beyond mere selfishness.
I thank God for her mother and her sister, who were there to help her in a much more soothing manner than I could manage. I’m also appreciative of the help our neighbors have offered, for Facebook’s numerous contacts that have enabled strangers and distant friends both to stay in touch, provide advice, and buoy her spirits. And I’m completely in the debt to the wonderful doctors, nurses, and staff of the Portsmouth Naval Medical Center.
2013 ended on a very sour note, but there were good things about the year’s end as well. Jen is on the mend, off the meds, and getting better every day. Christmas wasn’t the holiday she looked forward to before the diagnosis, but it was a good Christmas nonetheless. And though my book launching plans completely hit a wall (with apologies to all of those to whom I made promises and owed things which went totally unfulfilled), my partners in crime have kept working, garnering praise for this thing I created and then left untended.
2014 offers challenges, fears, hopes, and surprises as well, of course. First and foremost, my wife’s reconstruction and treatment continue. Chemotherapy is supposed to be a different kind of hell to experience, with the only good thing about it being that it has a fair track record at killing cancer and keeping it from coming back. I fear for the nausea, pain, and muddled thinking it carries with it and wish a child’s wish that I could face it instead of her. When it and the radiation are done, though, and when the reconstruction is complete and all the hair has come back, my more realistic hope for 2014 is that my wife can be not just a proud cancer survivor, but a genuinely happy, hopeful, and strong woman, fully aware that she excites me now just as much as she did when we were dating.
And I also hope to get a book out. 🙂