What a glorious sight it is when you behold the beauty of a colorful rainbow following a severe storm. For at least a moment, we can forget the disaster that has come our way when we spot these gifts from God. We know there will be more storms to face in our path through life, but in the moment we can glory in the knowledge that even out of life’s worst circumstances, an object of beauty can still shine through to brighten our day.
Living in the state of Kansas, the heartland of America which is also known as Tornado Alley, we know that with each destructive storm that passes our way, there are better days to follow, We also know and understand quite well that there will also be more storms to follow. Some will be minor, some will wipe out entire towns out on the prairie. It is a way of life for us, that we somehow become accustomed to. And with all this being said, after her last visit to the radiation oncologist, we find ourselves in the peaceful calm after the storm with Loraine’s battle against breast cancer.
We are between storms and we have spotted a rainbow.
For at least the moment, life is beautiful.
Finally, the wounds from her double mastectomy have healed. The infections have gone away for good now, and the ugliness of the radiation burns and radio-necrosis are no longer visible to the eye. We have weathered a multi-front storm that actually began with Loraine’s brother , my best friend Howard’s liver cancer when he became terminal and we took him to care for him several months prior to Loraine’s own diagnosis.
Losing Howard was the end of a long, drawn out and tragic end to the life a good man. We knew his days were numbered when he could no longer climb onto his motorcycle which he had loved to ride. Howard was known for randomly climbing onto his bike and taking off on rides that might take him 1000 miles one way just for a steak dinner somewhere he had seen on the television or on the internet.
It was a sad day when he could no longer ride his bike, he had a bad knee that was complicated by his being morbidly obese. His morbid obesity was complicated by long term Hepatitis C and cirrhosis of the liver. These conditions were eventually worsened by the development of liver cancer and hepatic encephalopathy which generally occurs in people with chronic liver disease, such as cirrhosis or hepatitis. Hepatic encephalopathy brings on different levels of dementia, which obviously complicated his care in our home even more.
We took Howard into our home in early March of last year. We had a few months where he was feeling better, but once Loraine was diagnosed with breast cancer in the fall, we began seeing more of decline in Howard’s health each day. He was losing his mind to hepatic encephalopathy and his mobility to get around was getting worse. His mobility was a great concern being as he was morbidly obese at almost 600 pounds at one point. He had fallen down in his home shortly before we took him in and I drove down to help him back up, this task took me 45 minutes to do. I swore that day that if he ever fell again, I was going to call the fire department instead of trying to help him myself. I had a fear that he would fall trying to navigate his way from our front door to our driveway, so I had a contractor come in to level my front yard, and to put in a new sidewalk and driveway to accommodate his needs.
I’m not seeking sympathy, nor a pat on the back. We do what we need to do for our loved ones. But, I do feel a need to vent a little in regards to a few family members. At about the time Loraine received her diagnosis, Howard was in his decline. I often had to help him bandage his legs which were weeping fluid from lymphedema, as well I would also have to occasionally help him in getting dressed, putting on his shoes, along with his personal hygiene needs of showering and cleaning up after the toilet.
We do what we have to do sometimes.
We took off work to get Howard to his doctor appointments, as well as doing all his laundry, cooking and cleaning for him. Howard was no longer able to take care of his basic living needs for himself, and from the phone there was a deafening silence from their only remaining brother and sister. Neither of them ever called us to check on Howard, or to even see if there was anything we needed to help in his care. But guess who was there wanting to direct things and who had their hands out when he passed. And we were dealing with this after Loraine’s diagnosis of having cancer too. It is a truth that people will show their true colors when times are tough…
January 6th of this year, Loraine underwent her double mastectomy. The operation went very well, and she was sent home from the hospital the next afternoon with drain tubes placed at four locations in her chest.
After a few weeks, the drainage had come to a stop and the drains were removed by her surgical oncologist during an office visit. Loraine was healing pretty well and was in good spirits until a staph infection settled in her left incision sight sometime in February. The infection caused a large, nasty looking hole to appear that had to be cleaned and dressed day and night for a couple months until it finally went away. During the middle of fighting her infection, I took Howard to his final doctors appointment on February 21, where he was informed he needed to consider going into hospice for palliative care as his time was drawing to a close. I got him checked into KU Medical Center that afternoon, Sunday afternoon, I watched him draw his last breath as he passed away. But for the fact we had already been grieving for Howard’s eventual demise for some time, we never had time for truly grieving as we were still battling Loraine’s infection. She could not begin her radiation treatments until she was fully healed. That being said, there came a point when the radiation oncologist made the call that Loraine was not fully healed, but she was healed enough to begin her treatments which could not be put on hold for any longer.
Finally, my dear and sweet wife of 33 years began her radiation treatments in May and finished them in June after six weeks of daily treatments. Radiation is supposed to be easy, yet she suffered from second degree burns and radio-necrosis which brought on another infection afterwards.
Tuesday morning of this week, we took Loraine to a followup visit with her radiation oncologist. Thankfully, I could go with her on this visit as I have not been able to accompany her over the last few months because the Covid 19 virus. Loraine has finally healed from everything, and the incision sights are no longer angry looking as they have been over the course of the last 6 months. Most of her pain has subsided, yet there is still a little lingering pain that hopefully will go away soon. She still has a small amount of a burning sensation where her radiation treatments were focused, and will be asking about this tomorrow when she goes for a sonogram of her chest and breast area. There is a small knot from a keloid, but other than that all appears to be normal now.
The storm we have been enduring is over now, we have seen the colorful rainbow which brings us joy. Yet, the fight is not over as we never know when the next storm is going to crest the horizon. There will be follow up doctor visits each of the next three months, and then every three months for the next two years. Loraine is a very tough and resilient woman, she was a military spouse who has endured two previous cancers. As she stood at my side during my military career, I will stand at her side for this tough battle of hers.
Will ever hear the words “Cured of cancer”?
I’m not so sure anyone ever truly hears they are fully cured.
What I do know is we will live with the threat of a return of active cancer for years to come.
Even when one has been declared free of cancer, there is always a continued threat.
But for the moment at least, we can finally take a breather and do our best to continue life in as normal a manner as possible. Life is tough and not always fair to any of us, but life still offers us choices to make. We can choose to succumb to bad occurrences, or we can choose to shake it all off and lean forward into the fight of our lives.
We are fighters to the end!