Re-Balancing My Life

June 18, 2013

I tried to post this a few days ago and couldn’t get it to format properly. I hope this works better. If you’ve seen this already, please forgive me. 

Several Years Ago

Photoof mare and foalI was living Canada and breeding sport horses. I adored having the foals around frolicking in the fields. It’s like living the Hollywood dream, you know the one… house in the country, ten acres, a big, bright barn, a couple of barn cats and a devoted dog, a front porch with a view of deer grazing in the field across the road, nearest neighbor almost visible through the trees and barely close enough to shout to.

Life Was Beautiful and Perfect

My husband and I both had our own successful small businesses. He was a radio engineer, working under contract to maintain the student radio station, CKCU, at Carleton University, and taking in contracts from CBC TV and other local radio and Yoyotelevisions stations. I was an office maintenance specialist working for several real estate companies and small businesses setting up and maintaining internal systems as well as training new staff and designing custom forms and flow charts.

In the evening I fed horses and played with foals, training them to lead, pick feet up, stand quietly for bathing, load into a trailer, and all the other things foals need to know. On weekends I would load a few of them into my horse trailer and travel off to a show, always bringing home a box full of ribbons.

Then Disaster Struck

Ted in HospitalOut of the blue, at our anniversary dinner, my husband of 30 years started having trouble swallowing. Within 6 months the once strong and vital man of my life had been through chemo, radiation, and 11.5 hours of surgery to remove his esophagus and redesign is stomach to compensate. Everything he ate caused intense pain and various stomach problems, he passed out if he stood up too fast, and my life changed from ‘happy-go-lucky’ to full time nurse and caretaker.

We expected this to be a temporary situation. We expected him to recover, adjust, regain his strength, and for our lives to gradually revert to our earlier status–with, of course, some necessary adjustments in dietary habits. It would just be a matter of time.

In the meantime, the cancer clinic and all the doctors were following the recovery process and there were many follow-up appointments. Each one showed improvements and our emotional roller-coaster ride seemed to be levelling off.

Then Came A Spot

About a year after the initial surgery, at one of the routine check-ups, the x-ray came back showing a little spot almost off the edge of the screen, so a second x-ray was scheduled. The regular x-rays had been taken of the area where the cancer was originally concentrated. The new spot was much higher but, because it had been missed on all the other scans, had grown to significant size.

We checked all avenues.

Photo of TedHis body was maxed out on chemo and, once chemo was used and didn’t kill everything, the cancer typically developed an immunity to it. In his weakened state chemo was not an option. Radiation used in the area was already at maximum. More radiation would dissolve all tissue and kill him. Surgeons had already removed everything they possibly could from the area. Surgery was not an option.

Our Only Option

There was no way out. Esophageal cancer is very aggressive and spreads throughout the body quickly. It was already in his lymphatic system, which means it was taking the fast track, the body’s express lane. It was now about 22 months since the original sign and diagnosis.

What could we do? I had already dropped my most demanding client, and before the surgery he had found a competent engineer to subcontract his business to. I started bringing all my work home rather than doing it in the offices. I tried to stay out of the way and let him do as much as he was comfortable with, while at the same time being there if he needed me.

Gradually it became more and more difficult for him to breathe until one afternoon he asked me to take him to the cancer clinic. At the clinic they discovered that his lungs were filling with fluid and they took him to a room. An hour later he was connected to feeding tubes and tubes to remove the fluid from his lungs…more incisions. They also put him on monitored pain meds and gave him an ‘on demand’ pain button, which he rarely used.

The Big Decision

Our home was in the country about an hour from the center of Ottawa. Ted was in the hospital for three weeks on the opposite side of the city.

By this time it was past the middle of winter and just over two years after his initial diagnosis. I was keeping up as best I could with the small contracts I still had, but was spending as much time as possible in the hospital.

Photo of living room fireplaceWe talked about many things during that time, and one of those things was his desire to go home. He didn’t want to die in the hospital with strangers, he wanted to be home, propped up in front of the fireplace and watching the snow fall through huge windows behind a bank of house plants.

The hospital staff, and especially his surgeon, let us know that moving him home was impossible unless I could get help and, miraculously, my parents arrived within hours on a surprise flight from Florida. I met them at the airport and we went straight to the hospital to get the process started for moving him home.

A Death Sentence?

For over a month Ted had been unable to eat. He was being fed through a special IV that was provided every day. The content was determined by blood tests taken each evening. He was also receiving transfusions every two days because he was losing blood internally. We were told that both of these support systems would end if he went home. This meant that he would live less than 10 days after leaving the hospital. However, even if he stayed in the hospital his life expectancy was no more than two weeks. For him the decision was easy.

The next two days saw deliveries of special equipment to the house that was designed to make his last days as comfortable as possible. A hospital-style bed arrived with a special mattress to prevent bedsores. Soon there was an oxygen machine, numerous attachments to the hospital bed, boxes of pain medications, and all the paraphernalia that accompanies them from needles and syringes to special hazardous material disposal boxes, cotton, bandages, soaps, saline solution, ….. Our living room began to look like a hospital room, but more friendly.

The bed was set up in front of the fireplace so all we had to do was tilt the header and he had a view of both the fireplace and out the front window. The armchair stayed and more chairs and small tables were moved in, but the dining room table was moved to the porch. I think the day he arrived home from the hospital in the ambulance was one of the happiest days of his life.

The Last Days

Ted's last dayFor the next 10 days I slept on the love seat in the corner of the room so I could hear him if he needed anything. There was a small clock that chimed softly when it was time for his pain meds, and the IV unit chimed when it got low. I learned to give him all his meds and to change the IV and during that time rarely slept more than an hour or so at a time.

Gradually, the little strength he had when he arrived at home decreased and his color went from pink (they gave him blood just before he left the hospital) to pale white. Sometimes my parents and I would be sitting near the bed talking and he would be laying in bed with his eyes closed. Out of the blue he would surprise us by interjecting a comment into the conversation. Instead of sleeping, he was laying quietly and listening while conserving his energy.

Then, one afternoon, he took a deep breath and didn’t breathe again for what seemed minutes. This went on for several minutes, not like he was in distress, but like he just no longer needed that much oxygen. I held his hand until I realized that it had been almost half an hour since his last breath, and his hand was getting cold.

And Now?

That was the tail of winter five years ago. Many people have rudely and unthinkingly told me that I should ‘get on with my life’. At first I was shocked by these statements. For a tine I went through a stage when I was guilty that I couldn’t move on. Then I realized that those who say such things have never lost anyone really close to them. One day they will suffer a loss and they will never make such a statement again. For the last year or so I’ve been saying ‘yes, I know’, and letting the comments slide off my shoulders.

ThePastSo…what AM I doing now? Now, finally, I’m washing the walls in my mind and clearing the past. The memories are being carefully wrapped in tissue paper and stored in special boxes in my head where I can take them out and smile nostalgically as I look them over and reminisce. It was a very special time and I never want to forget, but I don’t want to live there for the rest of my life.

The physical items from the past that I surrounded myself with for their comfort value are beginning to look old and out of place. I think the time has come to turn my head away from the past and look forward into a bright new future. A future where the people are alive and new memories can be made. A future filled with possibilities. A future without the strings of the past holding me back and slowing my steps.

Oddly enough, now that I’ve made this decision I feel very calm and relieved.

I’m taking a giant step of faith in the future. Have you made a decision lately or in the past about your future? Have you knowingly stepped onto a new path rather than following the road of least resistance? Tell me about it in the comments below, I would love to hear your story!

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17 Responses to “Re-Balancing My Life”

  1. I hope, after two years, that all is balanced once more. It takes time, time, time to re-adjust to life again after a horrendous ordeal such as you suffered. Thank you for reading my blog. I want to get to know more people on a regular basis and will be looking for you.

    • kayuk said

      Thanks for stopping in to say, “Hello!”, read a bit, and stick around to make a comment.

      I hope you enjoyed your visit here as much as I have enjoyed my stops at ‘The English Professor At Large’ and that you will continue to visit regularly.

      I am a lover of language properly used, the influential depth of commas and the delicacy of apostrophes…

      The feel of the meaning of a word in my brain and the way it rolls off the tongue is sensuous and exciting…so many words and so difficult to choose the one with exactly the right meaning to convey the precise emotional nuance.

      Ahhhh! The ecstasy of it all!

      I also often tend to get carried away when I write and end up saying far more than I planned, and I (occasionally) ramble, but my writings are honest representations of my feelings and state of mind.

      Please feel free to comment on anything you see. I, too, like to get to know and ‘converse’ with those I meet online.

  2. leggypeggy said

    Thank you so much for stopping by my travel blog. Your like led me back to your moving story and the great pain, and sometimes joy, the last years have brought to you. I’m especially glad I found this page that talks about the re-balancing that’s taking place. You posted this page almost two years ago and I wonder how your days are now.

    I can relate to some parts of your journey. My own father died in a car accident (in freezing rain) when I was 18, my stepdad died over many month of lung cancer (he never smoked) cancer and my best friend’s husband died last July, having been diagnosed with esophageal cancer in April. I don’t think Maggie is ready yet to read your story, but I hope she can someday. You’ve told it beautifully.

    • kayuk said

      I’m so sorry to hear of your losses. It is so painful to lose someone who shares your space, your hopes, your dreams and your time. The longer you share, the greater hole the hole that is left by the loss.

      Grief is specific to each person and each of us has to take the time necessary to find our way through it.

      I went through the ‘I have no reason to live’ stage the ‘I WANT to feel suffocated by grief because it’s not fair that I’m still alive’ stage, the ‘Poor Me! There is no one left in the world who will ever care that much about me ever again’ stage, the ‘Why the hell didn’t he at least show me how to use the remote?’ stage, and the ‘I feel guilty for even looking at another person of the opposite sex but I don’t want to be alone for the rest of my life’ stage, and now I’m working my way through the ‘Ain’t love grand!’ stage with someone new.

      It took over six years to get here. Give Maggie time, steer her toward grief counciling meetings at her church or the funeral home – they are usually monthly and free – and will help her to realize that, contrary to what she may think, she’s not going crazy and the realization that others are going through the same feelings is somehow comforting. Above all else, be there for her. First my mother and now my sister have been pillars for me to lean on after all the rest faded into the distance. Now my boyfriend and a group of new friends are my support system, and I’m coming out of my shell, smelling the roses, and seeing the light of the sun again.

      • leggypeggy said

        What a lovely reply. Your comment about knowing how to use the remote gave me a chuckle and your comment about a boyfriend and support system let’s me know that life is getting back on track for you.

        I know Maggie will take time. She knows it too and we have had some wonderful frank conversations. Luckily she lives in a smaller town and virtually the whole town is there to support her (she’s an amateur actress there and everyone knows her).

        I’m going to do a tribute on my blog to her hubby, Jim, on the anniversary of his death.

        • kayuk said

          That is a wonderful idea.

          My husband was the engineer for a college radio station and every year they have a moment of silence at the time of his death. They also show photos of him every year at the station birthday party. He worked for the station for over 25 years and every year one or another of the announcers has a special commemorative show in his honor. Alumni from all over Canada and the US call in to reminisce.

          It always makes me feel good to know that he is not forgotten, even though I am moving into a new phase of my life.

          I’m happy to hear that she has a lot of support around her. It’s important to have private time to cry, but it’s also important to have people to talk to and activities to do.

          • leggypeggy said

            How wonderful that your husband is honoured and remembered by others so regularly and so appropriately.

            • kayuk said

              He was well respected and well liked by all who worked with him. And, as the engineer of a college radio station, he often used duct tape and baling wire to keep the station going between funding drives. Because there was a new batch of student diskjockey trainees each year, and they went on to work at radio and TV stations around the world, there are a lot of people out there who remember him. It’s comforting.

            • leggypeggy said

              Very comforting, I’m sure.

  3. Angie Davidson said

    Believe it or not, I’m just learning about Ted and I’m so sad to hear that news. You both had a huge impact on me in my 20’s when I lived in Ottawa with David Christian. I remember you guys especially at Halloween because I remember a party the four of us went to where you were a sexy witch. I also remember the knitting machine, the dresses you made and your zest for life. You guys were amazing. I’m so sorry that we lost touch. I’m inspired by reading your story of working to rebuild your life. Hope we can re-connect.

    • kayuk said

      Oh my gosh! Angie! I thought we would never connect again! I remember lunch together in downtown Ottawa when we split a bottle of wine and could hardly walk out of the place. That was a GREAT lunch! If I had had contact info I would have told you about Ted. It’s been over five years and far longer than that since I saw you. I will be contacting you tonight.

  4. m33s66vr said

    A very touching and compassionate accout of you and Ted ‘fighting the good fight’. I had a hard time fighting back the tears, until I got to “And Now?”. It makes me happy to know that even YOU can take those very precious times and wrap them up in a ‘special package’, resolved of course, to NEVER forget them…
    You asked if any of ‘us’ have made a decision that would affect our future? Well… My sister passed away when I was 30 (just a few years ago – ha ha), AND at the same time I was trying to accept that a relationship I REALLY wanted to flourish, was not going to (yet again!). So, I walked away from work one afternoon, went down to the Ottawa River, sat myself down, and had a VERY long cry. I could have jumped into the river that day (I can’t swim). But, after weighing all aspects of my life, I decided I had it better than 90% of the people on this planet. So, I picked myself up, and went back to work…
    I think that qualifies as a decision that affected my future(?)…

    • kayuk said

      Thanks Mark, for the encouragement and for the personal story. I think almost everyone has had some kind of major event in their life that caused a distinct change in their attitude. A time when actions could take several different paths. And when it happens, you never forget.
      Thanks for sharing.

  5. floridaborne said

    I believe that Ted would be proud of your passage through grief, your courage, your strength, and your ability to savor the layers of love at each point in your life.

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