The diagnosis was a rare cancer—adenocarcinoma of the duodenum. Where even is the duodenum? It’s a long tube just below the stomach and above the colon—technically a part of the small intestine. Only 1-3% of the population get this type of cancer and it’s almost never found early because the symptoms are quiet and vague. When it’s found early, it’s usually by mistake—while looking for something else—usually an endoscopy will find it. Ted’s symptom was stomach distress-acid build up. We didn’t react to this because as long as we could remember Ted had had stomach problems. We even kept liquid antacid in our refrigerator (don’t know why he liked it cold) and he constantly swigged from the bottle. So by the time we realized it was more than the usual stomach upset it was way too late. The doctor actually told us that the cancer was probably growing for 10 years. 10 years!!! What where we doing 10 years ago? Working hard and trying to figure out how to retire early. Just living life. So, what do you do when you get a diagnosis like this? You just put one foot in front of the other and do what’s in front of you,.
So the good news was that Ted could have an operation to bypass the mass so that he could eat without distress. The bad news? His cancer was Stage IV and had metastasized to the liver. He had 1-2 years—with chemo, a few months more. We were devastated but we didn’t stop there. A second opinion at Duke , phone calls to Cancer Centers of America and Sloan Kettering provided no other options. So we began chemotherapy and a 10-month journey of doctor’s appointments, emergency room visits and chemo sessions. We held out hope that Ted would be one of the miracles. I’d done a lot of searching on the internet and found a forum for his type of cancer. Most of the news was not good, but there were a few success stories—Why couldn’t Ted be one of them? As Steve Jobs said in his commencement speech at Stanford in 2005, “Sometimes life’s going to hit you in the head with a brick – don’t lose faith.” We did our best to keep the faith for as long as we could.
When I look back, the 10 months sped by. When we were in the midst of it, it seemed interminable. Ted did the heavy lifting (chemotherapy is definitely heavy lifting)—I did my best to keep him comfortable—Accompanied him to every doctor's appointment and every chemo session and made sure he was seated in front of a cancer-fighting saying on the wall in the chemo room-looked for food that he could tolerate—made soups and broths and other recipes from any cancer fighting cookbook that I and Rashida could find. We often talked about this new life as our “new normal”. It wasn’t what we wanted and not what we planned but we played the cards we were dealt.
In addition to fighting the cancer, Ted dealt with anxiety and depression stemming from his diagnosis. I promised him that from the time he was diagnosed, I would do all that I could for him and that in a clinch (which this definitely was) I was his person—I had his back. And I did. Since his cancer was intestinal, he continued to lose weight. He wasn’t a large person anyway so he became very thin—and with his weight went his strength. We worked with a nutritionist to try to add calories to his diet with things like Ensure and Benecalorie but he hated the taste so I had to become really creative at hiding the supplements in his food. As time went on, he was able to eat less and less, rested a lot and talked little.
Watching your loved one suffer is never easy but when he stopped talking, it was like I lost my best friend. Oh, he made sure everything was in order and that I knew accounts, passwords and his wishes—all the academic stuff but it was hard to reach him emotionally--conversations were few now. So I did what I could do. Made sure he was comfortable. He didn’t want to see many people so I became his gatekeeper. He didn’t want to be far from me, so I didn’t often take friends up on their offers to sit with him while I ran errands. I have few regrets (other than that he got cancer at all). I continued to tell him how much I loved him, give him hugs and make him comfortable until his last breath. He often remarked that even though he did not look like “my Ted” anymore, I still loved him and gave him hugs and kisses. My response? “All I see is my Ted”. And that was the truth.
I’ve learned a few things from this experience and I’m sure there’s more learning to come. The outside wrapper is really not that important. I was telling Rashida that its kind of like a balloon. The spirit (like the helium in a balloon) is what gives life and buoyancy to a person—the spirit is really what we love and revere. The outer package is not that important. Of course it is what we see in the beginning and since we don’t know the person, it is initially what attracts us but any long time relationship has got to delve beneath the surface and get to the real essence of the person. Somewhere along the 40-year relationship that Ted and I shared we found the essence. So, it really didn’t matter what he looked like to me – All I saw was the person I loved—the spirit within.