2011 was going to be a very big year for my family. Todd and I were celebrating our twentieth wedding anniversary; our youngest daughter was graduating from high school and turning eighteen. I would have my fortieth birthday, and our oldest daughter would turn twenty-one. Both girls were going to college in the fall.
And Todd was diagnosed with stage 4 neck cancer.
The day before our twentieth anniversary.
The man who’d hardly even had a cold the nineteen years and three hundred sixty four days of our marriage was suddenly in the fight of his life. Of OUR life. Surgery. Port. Feeding tube. Chemo once a week on Thursday. ALL DAY. First in, last out. (Typical firefighter, huh?) Radiation every weekday, and this was the worst. It absolutely burned him up. And a long recovery from the treatments, one which, two and a half years later is still ongoing. ‘Normal’ has a whole new meaning now.
I’m learning a lot since we’ve gotten involved with the Fire Fighter Cancer Foundation.
We didn’t know about all the health risks involved 20 years ago.
Fires are said to have been ‘cleaner’ then, but there were still chemicals and reactions involved. No one wanted clean gear. Fitness and a healthy diet? Please. Everyone knows firemen, and especially us southerners, love good (fried, fattening, artery clogging) food!
Another thing we learned is to ignore NOTHING. Todd just found a lump in his neck while he was shaving, and it was soft. Cancerous lumps are ‘supposed’ to be hard. Without a conscientious doctor, it might have been dismissed as nothing more than an infected lymph node, instead of lymph nodes full of cancer.
Early detection is important for successful treatment, but we found another key component during our journey. It is absolutely 110% necessary to keep a positive attitude. Find something, anything, to laugh about, to help keep your spirits up.
The day of Todd’s first treatment, he hung a Monster energy drink can on his IV pole.
Those poor nurses knew pretty quick they’d have their hands full with him, but he did all he could to make the most of a bad situation. We’re making the most of it to this day.
We all know we’re our husbands’ biggest cheerleaders. I’ve become mine’s biggest healthcare advocate as well. He doesn’t let things go like he used to, and if I’m afraid he will, I speak up. I try to make as many doctor appointments as I can. I ask LOTS of questions, and keep everything we get from his doctors in binders.
Cancer was a wakeup call for us, a great reminder of what’s truly important.
Now we’re looking forward to hitting the five year mark in a couple of years and receiving a diagnosis of cured, and celebrating our twenty-fifth anniversary – it’ll be another big year!