The Long, Hot Summer

I pretty much recovered from losing a kidney…physically. The toll on me mentally had yet to rear it’s ugly head. I really didn’t have time to dwell on it or recognize that there was more to it than just simply cutting out a cancerous organ and throwing it away.

Summer was soon to be upon us. It’s not necessarily my favorite time of the year. Although I love the idea of being out in the sun and fresh air, the fact that heat and humidity is part of the deal is for me, the deal breaker. I hate heat. I despise humidity. I can really only survive it being trapped inside with air conditioning. Or being in a pool or any body of water. For the last many years, I would travel north to the great state of Maine and hang by the lovely pool at my sister’s house. For the 4th of July, we would attend the annual Taylor family cookout at the family cottage along the shore of Lake Messalonskee, one of the Belgrade Lakes. But this year would be different…

On the 2nd of July, my brother in law Bill suffered a catastrophic event. His advancing prostate cancer wormed it’s way into his spine and in the blink of an eye, paralysis struck. He was completely unable to move from the waist down. It was awful. And so totally unexpected. He was rushed from Waterville to the hospital in Portland with the intent of having emergency surgery in hopes of reversing the paralysis. This turned our world upside down. While my sister rushed to Portland, I drove to Waterville to tend to Lucy and Buzzy, take care of the pool, do some laundry and pack a bag for her. I then drove back to Portland to be with her for a few days. We “celebrated” the 4th of July by standing on the roof of the hospital parking garage and watched the fireworks from the Sea Dogs stadium. Not nearly as spectacular as we were used to but everything was still really just a blur. In the days following the surgery, it was clear that reversing the effects of the paralysis was not in the cards. It was so shocking. It was so unexpected. It was so sad.

Bill remained in the hospital in Portland for a few more days and then was sent back to the hospital in Waterville to continue to “recover” from the surgery. What faced them now was so daunting. Wheelchairs? Handicapped ramps at home? Full time care? What the hell was going to happen next? It was a long Summer. I spent every other weekend driving back and forth to Waterville just for the purpose of being with my sister. I did whatever I could around the house to make it a little easier for her. Every moment she was not at work was spent at the hospital, navigating his care and his future. For one brief moment, it was thought that Bill could return home and move forward from there. Are you serious???? A handicapped ramp was built for his wheelchair so that he could get in and out of the house. He was brought home one day just for a visit to assess the house and the potential for him to be sent home. It was heart wrenching. And it was very clear to my sister that he could never come home again. Bill missed his Lucy and Buzzy almost more than anything. So we brought Buzzy to the hospital for a visit. You can do that. Lucy missed Bill terribly but she was not a candidate for a hospital visit. Everything about this cancer sucked. It was so unfair. But it would get worse…

As the Summer days wore on, it became clear that something else was happening to Bill. His cognitive skills began to change and diminish. The cancer spread up his spine into his brain. Really? Prostate cancer never does that. Except it did. In mid-August, Bill was moved into a nursing home. It was awful. My sister did everything she could to manage his care and fight for better treatment for him. She was determined. But some things are out of your control. We could see what was happening to Bill. We knew his time was ticking away. He was sent back to the hospital for some medical issue. He would not go back to the nursing home again. I continued my trips and did what I could. I would visit Bill in the hospital sometimes but not always. It was so hard to see him suffering. It was in these moments that my cancer story reared it’s ugly head for me. Again, how could I have been so lucky? It was so “easy” for me. Cancer? No problem, just cut it out and be on your way.

I was about to leave on a 6 day sailing trip at the end of August. I had given serious consideration to cancelling the trip because Bill’s days were coming to an end. But it was decided that I should go sailing. I went to the hospital to visit before I left for the trip. I told Bill I loved him and he said the same to me. I walked out of the room. I would never speak to him again. I sailed away and returned on August 31. Bill was still alive but was on his journey to another cosmos. I did not go to see him, I didn’t want to. I stayed with my sister through the Labor Day weekend and headed home on Tuesday afternoon. Bill passed away while I was driving home. It had been a long, hot Summer and now it was over. There was no more pain and no more suffering…for all of us. A new and very different life was about to begin…and I was not prepared for it, at all.

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