I remember never laughing so hard when Jenny tried on her wig. She had gone and had a wig styled and cut for her before she lost her hair. It was similar to her hairstyle before which was a cropped blonde cut. When she put it on and looked up at me, she let out this sound between a hysterical laugh, cry, and snort.
The wig looked horrible. Beyond horrible. Jenny’s mom and sister came in from the other room. We laughed until we were all crying. We hadn’t laughed like that in months. It was the best release. Jenny decided she was happiest with her 99 cent bandanas from Walmart.
As we recovered from the emotional and financial butt kicking we had just received from cancer, it felt like we would never go another day without thinking about cancer and how it affected our lives. As we got further from the treatment though, we thought about it less and less.
About 3 years ago, we were cleaning out our bedroom closet and we came across Jenny’s old bandanas. What happened next sums up how cancer stays with you. The bandanas were on a middle shelf , easily accessible and in plain view. I grabbed the ten or so bandanas and asked Jenny what we should do with them. “Should we throw them away?” I asked. She hesitated, then said “Put them up on the top shelf in the corner of the closet.”
And that is how it is with cancer. Jenny has been in remission for over 6 years and, while we don’t think about it all the time, cancer is still there in the corner of our minds. We would like to throw it away, but have to acknowledge that nothing is certain and that everyday is precious. Many major decisions have been impacted by those bandanas in the corner of the closet. We have walked away from a house we were under contract on because of a suspicious blood test. We had our family planning decided for us…or so we thought.
Jenny grieved for years over not being able to have another child. She will tell you that she’s not sure she necessarily wanted another child, but she felt the yearning just because she was told she couldn’t. She said it made her want one even more. So I was excited when she came home one day to say she felt a peace about not having anymore children. She was working full time as a hospital administrator for a Trauma Unit and enrolled in a Master’s program full time. And as Jenny does with everything, she poured her all into both job/school. Jenny knew her plate was full. And well me, I knew I was done years prior, so I felt like having a beer and celebrating.
About 2 weeks later, we were minding our business when Jenny got a little under the weather. That morning I was going to go to the grocery store and pick up a few things. Today, she decided she was coming with me. Odd, but she is a woman after all and you women don’t always make sense to us men. We entered the store, grabbed a gallon of milk and walked towards the aisle with the toilet paper. Between the milk and the toilet paper is the aisle for feminine products and as we walked past, Jenny turned in. Again, an odd move in my mind especially because she was not having her period and was not really having a period very often at all as a result of the chemotherapy. Past the Tampax to the pregnancy tests. WAIT! PREGNANCY TEST? That was in my head as she grabbed 3 different brands off the shelf. Never can be too careful. What is it with you women and buying multiple tests?
Anyway, we didn’t speak the rest of the trip in the store. We didn’t even make eye contact. The only words I said in the store, were to the check out lady, when I put the tests on the conveyor belt. I think I said something like “Can you make these negative please?”
I also worried about Jenny. Didn’t she know she couldn’t get pregnant? Even though I wanted this to be negative, wasn’t it supposed to be negative? Please not another emotional letdown. Jenny doesn’t cry much and I’m glad. I hate it because it’s usually over something big that I can’t do anything about. Women- that feeling sucks for men. Really sucks.
Back home we had to hustle to get the kids ready. In all the commotion, I didn’t even think about the possibility that she might have already taken the test. Right before I was about to leave to take the kids, I asked her in passing if she had taken the test. “Yep, it’s in the bathroom” she replied. She yelled for Ben and Emily to get into the truck.
I walked into the bathroom and looked at the stick and there it was for all to see, a faint line that announced “pregnant. “ I have experience with faint lines. Their names are Ben and Emily. So I know that how faint the line is doesn’t affect how pregnant Jenny is either.
The next thing that happened is one of those events of unfortunate timing. As I looked at the stick and began to comprehend what this meant I spontaneously uttered the words “Holy F#@%.” I am not proud of it, but it is what I said. And just as I said it, my oldest, Rebecca, walked into the bathroom. She said “DAD! What did you just say?” In my finest bit of on-my-feet parenting, I told her that I said “Go get in the truck.”
Jenny and I were in a daze for 8 months. The reaction we got from people was hilarious. We had a lot of “Go get in the truck!” reactions and eyeballs dilated. We called her oncologist who immediately referred us out to a High Risk OB doctor. Then because this was our 4th, we got a lot of the “You do know how this happens, don’t you?” or “I didn’t know you were Mormon (or Roman Catholic?)”.
But then others were thrilled. We walked around in a daze and just nodded our heads to peoples’ congratulatory wishes. We got to the point where we started feeling bad about not being super-excited. Honestly, we were hesitant because the bandanas in the corner of the closet were figuratively being put right back in the middle shelf with a pregnancy. How would this pregnancy affect Jenny’s long-term prognosis? What happens if she gets sick again? How was I going to explain this to her parents, especially her mom? I mean, I was to blame, right? And I didn’t want to lose Jenny now. Not after getting through all of the shit. I don’t cuss a lot. Not at all actually, but cancer scares the hell out of me. And now I was being faced with the prospect of being a widow with 4 children.
The day came for Samantha’s arrival and in the last month, Jenny and I were starting to finally getting excited. Those feelings of fear went away the second Samantha was born. The births of my other kids were life changing, but for some reason this had extra special meaning. We had witnessed a miracle from God. There was no way we were supposed to be holding another baby after Jenny’s treatment. And there I stood, with my sister-in-law and mom in the delivery room holding Samantha. Jenny’s parents were on speaker phone through the delivery and heard Samantha’s first cry. And all I wanted to do was kiss Jenny.
Jenny will laugh and tell you that her chest looks like a tic tac toe board. She will shrug her shoulders about her weight struggles since receiving so many steroids during chemotherapy. But to me, I just saw my beautiful wife who gave me our 4th child. And they both were perfect. And yes, I held Samantha and was so proud. But all I wanted to do was pass her off and kiss Jenny. I wanted to crawl into the bed and hold her. It was possibly the most romantic I ever felt for Jenny in our 9 years of marriage. And this feeling was overwhelming. It was a complete 180 from where we were just 5 years earlier when we were scared to plan for the future.
We named Samantha after my great grandfather Sam. But when we looked up what her name meant after she was born, the book read, God has heard. I read it to Jenny. Jenny looked at me and smiled and then down at Samantha and said, “Indeed.”
So that’s my story. So before I sound anymore like a woman blogger, I must leave and go shoot a gun, chew some tobacco, and lift some weights. My estrogen levels are approaching my testosterone levels and I have a reputation to protect. I leave you with this picture. I want you to think of me this way despite my posts the last two days.