A Wife’s Raw Look at the Human Side of Lung Cancer
Nov 05, 2015 11:31AM
By Cindy Nolte
On June 1, 2015, at my insistence, my husband Jerry went to the emergency room for extreme joint pain and a 104-degree fever. The cause of the fever is still unclear, but the combination of symptoms fortunately led to a chest X-ray that led to a string of other medical tests. That trip to the hospital changed our lives forever. My husband and I heard the words no couple wants to hear: lung cancer. My husband of nearly 18 years, the man with whom my life had merged so succinctly that our marriage ran like a fine-tuned machine, was facing a life-or-death situation.
In the first moments that Jerry and I were made aware of that diagnosis, it felt like a horrible nightmare. I went on autopilot, partnering with his primary care physician’s office, to make sure that he could be seen by the best doctors in the country — even though the hospital was not covered under our insurance. Suddenly, the money that we accumulated, homes that we purchased together, possessions, and 401ks were only important because I was willing to trade it all to make sure that my soulmate was healed.
Although Jerry and I already considered ourselves a loving couple, we learned a lot from his diagnosis. We learned cancer is physically, mentally, and spiritually gut-wrenching not only for the patient but also for his loved ones. Cancer is not just a physical disease — it is also emotionally overwhelming. Sure, it had my six-foot-tall, strong husband, who took me on our first date on his motorcycle, so weak that he confided in me that he thought he may need to start using a cane to walk. I will never get the look of sadness in my husband’s eyes out of my head as he choked up before going into surgery, unsure if he would survive the operation or what was to come, but I knew he was not yet ready to leave me. It brought out fears that neither of us thought we would face at this time in our lives. We learned never to put off anything that we wanted to do as a couple because tomorrow is not promised; today really is all that we have.
We also learned that although we built a rather nice life together, one that allowed us to travel wherever we liked and that met all of our needs at a young age, experiences are made through the moments that touch our hearts. We didn’t need to be in exotic locations or expensive restaurants to have a moment that touched our hearts. (Ask the doctors and nurses, who often commented to us, when they saw us walking together, holding hands, at Memorial Sloan Kettering after my husband had his lower right lobe removed.) Life is about embracing every moment — not just the ones that you think are special. Although I thought I knew what life was about as a spiritual teacher and bestselling author, my husband’s illness taught us both a deeper appreciation for the simple things. It’s hard to know what life is truly about, even when you think you are being self-aware, until you are faced with a situation that literally has you willing to give up your whole life’s work just for the chance to be with the man that you love.
Here are ten truths that we embraced through Jerry’s illness:
1. Love deeply through whatever you are facing.
2. Laugh! It may sound cliché, but it really is healing. In fact, it is essential to get us through some of our toughest times. When you feel like you cannot laugh, that is when you need to the most!
3. Be in the moment. Anything less prevents us from fully appreciating exactly what we are experiencing.
4. Put things in perspective. Will the bad situation affect us tomorrow, next week, next month, or even next year? If we can’t change our situation at the moment, find the positive in it and choose to be grateful.
5. Realize that there are others who would trade places in an instant to have our bad situation over their own.
6. Live through the bad situation in the only way you can. Realize that life is not measured by the trips that you take, the material possessions that you accumulate or even the level of education that you achieve. Life is measured by the moments that we allow to truly touch our hearts; and we can allow that to happen anywhere, anytime.
7. Never underestimate the power of positive thoughts or prayers. Others are happy to be asked to participate in your situation in a positive way.
8. Just because you face an obstacle does not mean that should be your only focus. Life is so much more than any obstacle that we may meet.
9. Obstacles have a way of bringing us to our knees or finding strength we did not know we had. We all have inner strength if we need it. (See #7.)
10. With faith, all things are possible. It doesn’t matter what we believe in; just believe deeply in it and trust that anything is possible through it. Faith alone gives you the hope to face anything that you will encounter in life.
Every nuance of everyday life seems a little bit less important, and every gift seems a little bit more precious. Our time together has become a more enjoyable, regardless of what we choose to do. We found that amazing things happen when we are present — when we have done what we can and we stop trying to do anything but enjoy the moment for whatever it is.
It’s important to add that Jerry did not display any of the typical lung cancer symptoms. He had quit smoking more than ten years before his diagnosis. Ex-smokers, heavy smokers, and even social smokers are at a higher risk of developing this dreaded disease. Early-stage lung cancer usually doesn’t have any symptoms. November is lung cancer awareness month. This November, I encourage you and those you love to get screened for lung cancer if you are considered a high risk. Early detection is essential to a cure.
This month — and every month — I hope that you are experiencing your life to the fullest for the precious gift that it is!
Cindy Nolte of Augusta is the owner of Fresh Look on Life, offering Reiki, hypnosis, coaching and corporate and group lectures. Freshlookonlife.com