Less than 48 hours before I was scheduled to leave for my trip to the Dominican Republic with Compassion International, my husband called to share the news that he has choroidal melanoma. Eye cancer. I’d just finished my morning workout when he called, and had a whole day of packing and preparing planned for the day ahead. But as I talked to my husband at the entrance to the gym, I began to feel sick. Literally sick. Packing and preparing for my upcoming trip was urgent, yes. But this was life altering and needed my attention today.
The day before, my husband, Seth, had gone in for a routine eye appointment. He shared with the optometrist that he’d been experiencing constant, but dim strobing lights in the corner of his right eye. She evaluated further, told him he likely had a detached retina, and made him an appointment with an ophthalmologist the following morning at 8:00 a.m. We were told he’d need surgery to repair the detached retina that afternoon, so I was ready for anything the way it was. Little did we know, it wasn’t a detached retina at all. It was eye cancer.
Seth didn’t go into work that day. And I didn’t pack or prepare for my trip as planned. We spent time together. We processed together. We ate lunch together. We called our parents together. We made a few key contacts together. We rested together. And in the evening, we shared the news with the kids together.
Needless to say, by the time Friday came rolling along, I was in panic mode. I now had one day to do what I’d originally planned to do in two days. Not only that, I was battling confusion and emotion related to the fact that I was about to leave on the trip of a lifetime writing on behalf of Compassion International, while also facing the reality of my husband’s cancer.
Immediately following Seth’s diagnosis, the ophthalmologist had contacted Mayo Clinic to see if Seth could be scheduled with one of the nation’s leading doctors in the treatment of eye cancer. Apparently, the doctor hadn’t been taking new patients, but they really wanted to see if there way any way Seth could get in with him. Fortunately, we got in. Well, at least we got penciled in for January 29-30. Our appointments weren’t confirmed, but likely.
My husband and I agreed. While this was absolutely NOT an ideal scenario, there was NO reason for me to cancel my travel plans. The appointments had been penciled in at Mayo. In the meantime, there was nothing we could do but wait. So we decided to proceed. As planned. I would go on the trip with Compassion International and live my dream of writing on behalf of children living in extreme poverty.
So yes, back to that Friday when I was packing and preparing like a maniac. I was non-stop all day long. In fact, it wasn’t until 9:00 p.m. that I finally finished everything and tucked myself into bed. Unfortunately, I’d packed, prepared and worked myself like a maniac so much so that I didn’t get a minute of sleep that night before the trip.
Seth and I refused to let this diagnosis get the best of us. I wanted that to hold true for my trip to the Dominican Republic with Compassion International, too. So Saturday morning, with zero minutes of sleep in me and a big trip ahead of me, I said good-bye to Seth in the dark of 2:45 a.m. and left to meet family friends who had graciously agreed to drive me to the airport. Later that afternoon in the Miami International Airport, I published a blog post explaining the state of my heart and soul at the start of this trip that meant the world to me. It was vague, but as specific as I could be without revealing the recent eye cancer diagnosis. My goal was to embrace the trip whole-heartedly, so I was bound and determined to keep it free of cancer talk.
The trip was amazing and an honor of a lifetime. I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. But I shouldn’t have been surprised when I experienced another near sleepless night mid-way through the trip and wasn’t able to get the day’s blog post published as I’d hoped. I’d come to the end of myself. I was basically a wreck for the first part of a day. I was on this trip to give, yes. But I also needed to learn how to receive. Planning, preparing and executing had been close companions. But now, I really needed to surrender it all. God was clearly at work, transforming me simultaneously and uniquely through my husband’s eye cancer and the trip of my dreams.
It’s been ten days since I returned. We’ve already been to Mayo Clinic for three nights and 2 1/2 days of appointments with doctors. I’ve spent most of the past ten days in a foggy, exhausted state. My emotions have been all over the place. Neutral, angry, sad, distant, distracted, empty, and finally two days ago, back to normal for the most part.
We’ve debated extensively how to share medical updates with family and friends. A Caring Bridge site was recommended, but for a couple reasons, we decided it wasn’t a fit for us. Seth considered starting a blog to document the journey. He even brainstormed titles, had a vision for his posts, and researched available URLs. But he decided the commitment to maintain a blog while managing his health and work would be too difficult. That left us with my blog. While this blog was never, ever intended as a place to “update family and friends about our life,” it is a public forum where you can pop in and read as you wish.
So we agreed my blog would be the best place to share this journey. But I still needed time to discern. I pondered in silence through days of exhaustion and uncertainty. I journaled the days I wanted to write, but wasn’t in any mood to type or edit. I contemplated a scenario in which I’d remain completely silent about Seth’s eye cancer on the blog, but realized quickly that a silent approach isn’t in line with who I am as a writer and would ultimately feel disingenuous to my readers. Plus, I was confident that this journey fit perfectly within my new blog vision, to “love what you live,” even when it’s less than ideal.
Mid last week when we were at Mayo Clinic for three days, we finally decided to make the news public on Facebook. When 230+ people responded with words of encouragement and promises of prayer, I knew right then and there that we had to find a way to update the caring circle of family and friends around us. Practically speaking, I’m in no emotional state to field non-stop calls, texts and emails. So the answer became clear from all angles – blog it will be.
I’m approaching this series gently, with as few expectations as possible. Because the truth is, we have no idea what to expect along the way. So I’ll write when I want to write, when I need to write, and when I’m able to write. This series will include basic factual updates, but won’t be full of jargon you’d have to look up in a medical dictionary to understand. This series will include insight into my feelings throughout the journey, but won’t reveal every detail of my private thought life as wife and caregiver. And last, but not least, I’ll definitely be telling stories and making observations about the world of medicine and cancer, caregiving and loving, believing and trusting in God’s goodness, even when life’s thrown you a major curveball. And yes, there will be vague references to patients and doctors, spouses and families, visitors and helpers along the way. Because we’re all on this journey of life together. We’re all here to learn from one another and love one another, even when life’s hard.
So please join us here for updates as you wish. For the next three to four weeks, I’ll be blogging our journey through eye cancer. After that, posts will be occasional as significant updates arise. As with any major series I write, I’ll put “The Apple of My Eye” graphic on the right sidebar of my blog. Anytime you’re looking for an update, get on your laptop, click the apple graphic (picture) on the right side of my blog, and it’ll connect you to this post. Scroll down to the bottom (just below), and I’ll include links to ALL posts I’ve written in the eye cancer series. The most recent post will, of course, always be on my home page.
He’s positive. He’s upbeat. He expects to get through this without a hitch. He’s approaching this with bravery, courage and hope for best possible outcomes. He’s not looking for pity, sadness, despair or hopelessness. Plentiful words of affirmation will suffice just fine for my man. Yes, he has eye cancer. But he’s still the apple of my eye.