Wendy has been asking me to write something for a while. To tell the truth, it has been hard to know where to start.
Now, I don’t want to make you all reach for the sick bucket, but it is worth telling you that, by way of background, Wendy is the ‘other half of my orange.’ If you read about Julie you will know where this comes from.
Having had two failed marriages is nothing to be proud of, but it does make you realise when something is good. Wendy is more than just a wife, she is my best friend and the centre of my universe. We have been married for eleven years and lived together for about two and half years before that. We have had amazing adventures and travelled all over Europe, much of it by motorcycle. I never get bored with her, ever. This doesn’t begin to tell you the half of it, but I am trying to spare you the sick bucket. But I do adore her (sorry).
Like many couples, I suppose we were settled in to our routines. We worked, planned meals and did all the usual family stuff. We were always planning our next holiday as these spaces were precious to us in our busy lives. Times when we could be ‘just the two of us.’
When we got together we had four kids between us. Refereeing was hard work, but rewarding too, of course. We have had some great ‘family times’ with all of them. They all grew up and became less dependent, as they do. We love them all but it’s nice that we don’t have to ‘manage’ them any more, or at least not as much as before.
Life was comfortable and we were happy. Perhaps we took some of it for granted though.
Wendy is the least likely person to ever take a day off sick. She has always claimed to be immune to colds. She isn’t, but she will just carry on anyway. When she complained of abdominal pain in January I knew it must be severe for her to even mention it. Because of the location of Harry (the Cecum) the pain was in exactly the same place as appendicitis would be. In fact, even the doctor in the Surgical Assessment ward thought the same, getting her to sign the consent forms for appendectomy. He opined that it was unlikely to be cancer, as she was too young.
No worries, appendix out, a couple of weeks off work – sorted. But the next day, they thought it would be wise to do a CT scan, and this wasn’t so good. There were grim faces as we were told something didn’t look right on the scan, and a colonoscopy would be needed.
I still didn’t panic. The colonoscopy report was confusing, as it listed a whole string of things which were normal. Next to ‘cecum’ he had written ‘cannot rule out mitotic lesion.’ They just want to be sure then? No need to panic.
The biopsy result were sent to the bowel surgeon. There was this weird phone message which said ‘we need to discuss this in person, and you need to bring a relative.’ Now I was starting to get scared. That sounded very ominous. Could it be cancer? We couldn’t wait for that appointment so we bullied our GP into pulling up the biopsy results. It was cancer.
By now, Wendy and I are reading about bowel cancer on the internet. Always a dangerous thing. We scared ourselves silly. We finally got to meet the surgeon. It still sounded not as bad as I had feared. He said it ‘appeared to be contained in one place’ and that it could be a ‘keyhole procedure.’ So maybe we found it early? An operation, a few weeks of recovery and then we can put it behind us? He did talk about lymph nodes, and how they would have to be sent away for testing after the operation.
As we waited for operation day, Wendy’s pain became worse and worse. It was so awful to see her like this. But we clung on to operation day as the day when things would begin to get better. Mercifully, the operation was actually brought forward.
On the day of the operation, I delivered Wendy to the hospital and then had to say goodbye to her as they led her away. The surgeon promised to phone me when it was over. I left her at about 1pm and I was expecting this call by 5pm. Well 5pm came and went so I phoned the hospital. No news. 6pm also came and went. Now I am starting to panic. Had something gone terribly wrong? Finally the surgeon phoned me: “Your wife is well, but it took longer than expected. The tumour was adhered to the wall of her abdomen.”
At about 8pm I was allowed to see her. It was like something out of a hospital drama. She was attached to several machines and there were tubes coming out of everywhere. I felt like saying ‘what have you done to her? She looked better than this before!’ But the nurse assured me she was fine and fed her coffee and toast. I couldn’t quite get my head round it all.
She was only in hospital for a few days, but they were long days. She had been given an epidural, but when it was withdrawn the pain was awful. She had a machine that allowed her to give herself a shot of morphine every five minutes. After only one minute she was desperately pressing the button again. She was also very emotional and doesn’t even recall some of the things she said. I think it was about day three when I knew she was feeling better. She hated the hospital food and asked me to smuggle in Macdonalds!
She made friends with Karen on that ward, just by pulling faces and making thumbs up and thumbs down gestures. I was struck by how many people go through this every week. I was also struck by the amazing dedication of the nurses. Every one of them had a cheery manner, despite some of the unpleasantness of their duties. They are all wonderful.
Wendy being Wendy, the day after being discharged went back to take tins of biscuits for the nurses, and also for the patients she had befriended. Her recovery from the operation went relatively smoothly. At first she could only walk very slowly and I had to help her to bathe and dress. But there were no complications and she got stronger every day. We went for a follow up visit with the surgeon. They had found cancer in about half of the lymph nodes he had removed and there were likely to be others. We were facing chemo. The very word ‘chemotherapy’ struck fear into both of us. Visions of being made violently ill by something that was intended to make you better filled us with dread. But there was really no alternative. Without chemo the prognosis would not be good. We would just have to face it and deal with it.
We managed to fit in a blessed week in Majorca. She was six or seven weeks post surgery and strong enough (just about) to enjoy a week of sunbathing and eating out. The travelling was hard on her though. She still was only able to walk short distances slowly. A special mention here for the Easyjet gate staff at Luton. When I paid extra for so called ‘Priority Boarding,’ it was because my wife had difficulty walking. So it was really galling that you let everyone stampede across the tarmac to the steps at the same time! I’m surprised she didn’t get knocked down in the rush. I know you think we are all cattle. But some of us cannot rush! In fairness the Easyjet staff in Palma did it properly which made the return journey less painful for her. And to everyone else that took part in the stampede, if you see someone who has difficulty walking, please be patient. It might be you on day. Rant over! But it was a wonderful week and just what we both needed.
Then the chemo began, and with it the ‘Mine’s Broken’ blog. In true Wendy style, she tells it ‘warts and all’ in the hope that someone, somewhere will read it and say ‘that’s how I feel, that’s what it is like for me.’ She hopes that someone will find it helpful. The feedback she has received so far has both moved and encouraged her. We recently met someone who beat cancer seven years ago, and he said, ‘I could have written that – that was how I felt.’
Now the hard part.
Wendy wants me to write something about how I feel. She hopes it might help someone whose partner has cancer. I don’t know about that. Most of the time I feel ‘this is shit!’ It’s so unfair. Wendy doesn’t deserve this. Does anybody? I also feel very proud. Wendy continues to think of others all the time. She has inspired and moved so many people by the way she is dealing with this. People we know and people we don’t. A lot of the time I feel angry, but there is no one to be angry with. I feel numb. I feel confused about my feelings. I want to know if she is going to beat this shitty disease. But no one can tell me that. There are statistics, but Wendy is not a statistic.
For now, I just have to live the famous line from the marriage vows, ‘in sickness and in health.’
I have to be strong, to be there for her. To fetch her a coffee and proof read her blog posts. For years, when her computer or her phone wouldn’t do what she wanted it to do I would hear her cry ‘mine’s broken.’ Usually I could fix it for her.
This time, Wendy’s really is broken – and I can’t fix it.
That makes me sad.