Twenty months earlier
“Only one month until your retirement!” I look at Allen and exclaim. The excitement in my voice is audible. Only two weeks left and I will be taking a break from my job and planning the trip we have dreamed of and talked about with each other for years...as soon as he retires. I am going to take a three month leave of absence from work and we are going to drive across country via route 66. It sounds like heaven...just us and the road and no time restrictions. We haven't told anyone of our plans so as not to jinx it. Almost time to tell everyone. Now the time is almost here and the joy is almost too much for me to contain. I already had my physical and his is scheduled. Clean bill of health for both of us then it's smooth sailing.
Nineteen months earlier
I walk into the kitchen of our little cape cod home and see my long time partner sitting in his usual seat at our kitchen table. Something is wrong. I feel it in my bones. I feel it to the very core of my being. Time stands still for a moment then I notice a cigarette in his hand. Wait! He quit smoking five months ago. He looks up at me and I can see the sorrow on his face. The phone call came during the ten minutes it took me to drive to the corner store and back. I stare at him and walk across the room on legs that feel like lead. He shakes his head as tears roll down his face and holds out his arms to me.
“What is it?” I whisper while at the same time knowing but not wanting to hear the words.
He sobs and as he speaks the dreaded words his voice catches, “Colon cancer.”
I pull away and look at him. I can hear a voice screaming, "NOOOOOO!!!!" Then I realize it's my mind. I can feel tears streaming their way down my cheeks and dropping onto my blouse. I kneel in front of him and reach out to wipe the tears from his face but instead gently cradle his face in my hands, “I love you. I'm so sorry I wasn't here when the call came. You won't go through any of this alone again. I promise.”
Fourteen months earlier
...I pronounce you husband and wife.”
Three months earlier
“I'm sorry, the chemotherapy has stopped working. The cancer has spread to the bones in his spine and a large tumor is pressing against his spinal chord. There are also new lesions in his liver and several more lymph nodes are affected. There are other chemotherapy drugs we can try....”
I sit and stare at the saline dripping into the reservoir of Allen's intravenous tubing. At this moment my life seems so surreal. I think back to that day twenty months ago and wonder what happened to the happy woman that stood smiling and making plans for a cross country excursion. What happened to the halcyon dreams of yesterday. In minutes I will have to unhook the saline bag and flush his port line until tomorrow when I will give him his hydration treatment again. In the meantime I will bathe him and encourage him to eat, drink and administer his medicine. And I will love him...from across the room because it hurts him too much for me to hug him. If I'm lucky and it's a good day I will be able to sit next to my husband and hold his hand and give him a light kiss.
I will go to my bed and lay staring at the ceiling and listening for him. Before I close my eyes to sleep I will roll over and touch the pillow next to me where he used to lay his head and think that this wasn't supposed to be. Then a tear or two will escape my closed eyelids as I wonder if I will be blessed with another day taking care of the love of my life. Or will cancer rob that day from me just as it barged unannounced into our lives to rip from our reality all of our hopes and dreams?