The year 2020 started off with a…
Well, actually it was two weeks before the New Year’s Eve fireworks, a precursor of what was to come. Like that feeling when you are looking at the toilet and the water is starting to bubble up instead of going down and you have no plunger. Like that but ten times worse.
December 18th my husband picked me up from the airport. He was standing at the back of our SUV with the hatch up smiling as I rolled up with my luggage. He kissed me. “Welcome home, honey.” Something was off. His smile was off. A big smile often brings creases around his blue eyes and a cute little dimple on the side of his mouth. They were not in their expected places. I work two provinces away from home but I shrugged it off as we were only apart for ten days this time and maybe he had a long day.
The next morning I purposely woke early to make coffee and a nice breakfast. Sipping my coffee in the silence of my living room I was excited for the Christmas season, spending time with my family and participating in season festivities with friends. Two weeks home, I thought sighing happily. Having breakfast ready I went to the bedroom to wake up Ken. He was awake staring blankly at the ceiling.
“Hey hon, I made us a sweet little breakfast,” I said reaching down giving him a kiss. He brought his eyes to me, they were forming tears. My heart stopped. “What?! What?! Please just tell me!”
His voice started breaking up. “I’m sorry I didn’t want to ruin your Christmas.”
Now my blood was really pumping. “Just tell me, PLEASE!”
“I might have cancer. I came from the cancer clinic yesterday.” He covered his eyes with both hands. “I’m sorry.”
And there it was. Something that I figured would eventually hit one of us. And here my poor husband was apologizing for possibly having cancer.
The next two weeks we did the best we could to feel celebratory especially in front of our kids, family, and friends. We did have moments of fun and laughter; there would be a few minutes throughout the day we just forgot about it. We didn’t tell anyone until we knew for sure. The biopsy was in three weeks. The standard wait was six weeks but Ken was lucky there was a cancelation. “There is no way in hell I could wait six weeks. I would be in the ER with ulcers before my biopsy.” True statement. He would have.
Ken was fortunate he has an excellent doctor, Dr. Singh, who pushed for the biopsy. Her initial requests were denied as his PSA wasn’t high enough and deemed warranted. She kept putting in the referrals. “I am not going to accept this,” she would tell him on the phone. Dr. Singh was almost 80 years old but she was feisty.
I went back to work in British Columbia; leaving this time was unbearable knowing my husband was terrified. I told him to think positive and it was going to be ok. I didn’t want him all wound up and making himself sick. The plan was I would be back for the biopsy results. His cousin, who is more like a brother, will take him to his biopsy appointment.
I was in Vancouver attending to work matters for the next few days. I had a flight booked home for Ken’s biopsy results on Thursday. It was Monday and I was just wrapping up the workday when my cell phone rang. It was Ken. He knew I wasn’t available until after 5 p.m. Oh God, what can this be about?
“It’s confirmed.” He choked, It’s cancer”.
At that very moment, I was more upset that I wasn’t there. “I will take the next flight out.” I was screaming in my head, the plan was I was to be there! Ffffffffuck!!
“You don’t have to do that. There is nothing you can do. You already have a flight on Thursday, just come then.”
I booked an early flight for the next day. I didn’t sleep all night. I didn’t imagine Ken did either. We knew the next few months ahead of us were going to be tough and filled with uncertainty. 2020 just started and it sucked already.
My husband was all over the place. One moment he had a fighting spirit, “we got this!” The next he was ready to jump off the next bridge. But mostly he was flailing about ready to implode. The standard treatment options that were available for this type of cancer with our provincial health system had some ugly side effects. Two major ones were incontinence and ED issues. He was 52 years old and had at least another 30 years ahead of him.
I kept telling him to calm down so we can make a plan. I don’t know if he picked the right partner or the wrong partner but there are two things about me: I have some control issues (mostly with my family) and I thrive in bringing order to chaos. My first impulse reaction was
We make a pretty strong team, Team Wynes we always joke. This situation wasn’t going to be any different. But instead of cracking him over the head with a two by four (because that would be super insensitive), I took another typical approach I usually use when we need cheering up; I booked a trip for two, a week on Vancouver Island.
The day before we were to fly out I called a friend of mine who owns and operates a global medical tourism business and she is a cancer coach. Adele Kulyk of Global Health Connections has more than ten years of experience in finding alternative treatments for cancer and other diseases that aren’t available in our province or country or not options people are comfortable with here. She was able to see us right away. Adele is extremely knowledgable in prostate cancer. Ken had already put in 100 hours of research himself so they chatted up a storm. He was interested in the Sperling Prostate Center in Florida. Adele provided information on other treatments. She had excellent working relationships with many doctors outside of the country and saw firsthand the service her clients received. We were there for almost three hours! The plan was she would send his biopsy report to her urologist in Mexico. She also would attend the urology appointment as a support and advocate. Ken was in a better space than when we first arrived. She offers an incredible service for anyone with a cancer diagnosis.
The west coast island air was what the doctor ordered. We landed in Victoria, rented a car, and headed straight to our good friends in Comox. If anyone could whip my husband in shape for a fight it would be Patty. She is a hero in my eyes with her battle with breast cancer. She is fearless and brilliant and she had street cred. I have never had cancer as my husband would remind me when I would tell him what to do. She spent a good chunk of our visit talking him through what the next few months are going to look like and feel like. It was like a release for him. She also gave me some much-needed advice, “Treena, you are like me, wanting to control everything. This you can’t control. I had to learn that.” Then we drank a copious amount of wine, laughed, and enjoyed the company of good friends. Ken and Lyle even had a little jam session as they both play in bands. It was an amazing visit!
We took advantage of our rental and did a tour of Vancouver Island. The ocean, the rocks, the trails, the mountains left us breathless. Nature has the ability to bring you down ten notches. I also splurged on accommodations to get the best ocean views. Lucky for us it was low season and it felt as though we had the place to ourselves.
Our last night together was in Victoria. We spent the whole evening at Irish Times listening to live music and chugging several pints. We laughed, danced, and got silly. It was that night that the creases around his blue eyes and cute little dimple reappeared when he smiled. We were in fine form to take this bitch of situation head-on.
“We need to go now! I think this virus is really going to take off. They will close the borders!” I blurted frantically over the phone. He decided on the alternative cancer treatment in Florida, the Sperling Prostate Center. He was already in contact with them.
“It won’t get to that point. We can’t go now, I still have to get my MRI.” I can almost see him shaking his head over the phone. “Stop panicking.”
I was certain this new virus was going to get to Vancouver with all the international travel. I was in YVR airport every month and seeing how much traffic going through from all parts of the world. It was only a matter of time. It is February 8th. “Just drive over to Alberta and get one this week. I will pay for it.” I knew he was going to worry about the cost. That was the least of my worries.
“Just settle down. You’re getting all riled up over nothing. They won’t close the borders, it will affect the economy.”
I was pissed I didn’t press him harder. I was watching alternative media outlets from across the ocean stating the seriousness of it. He was watching American news broadcasting the virus wasn’t that big of a deal.
“That’s just typical of my luck. Of course, the world would shut down when I get cancer.” He said over the phone.
Ken had a tentative date booked at the Sperling Prostate Center in Delray Beach for May 12th. We had a solid plan and one Ken felt good about. We were even going to make a trip out of it by going a few days earlier to enjoy the sunshine and beach. The location was between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Our friends, Leanne and Jason offered us their timeshare which really helped with the cost. Yes, the cost. It was a big chunk of change. Luckily I had a job where I was able to stash a little bit every payday and saved for a year and a half. I really wanted new kitchen cupboards and a winter family holiday in Mexico. It was just about enough to cover the cost.
Canada was on lockdown and everyone was told to stay home. I was only to be home for a quick visit and couldn’t get back to work due to travel restrictions. We were now both working from home. Our stress was building as it was looking like the coronavirus wasn’t going away anytime soon. We decided to take a quick day trip to Edmonton to get an MRI. I had gloves, masks, and sanitizer gel. We even went to the bathroom on side gravel roads to keep our contact at a minimum as a safety measure.
Ken received his MRI results in a couple of days. It wasn’t good. There was more than one tumor and it was starting to protrude. He was freaking out all day. Time was definitely not on our side. We had to act, and quickly. Thankfully the Sperling Centre was still able to treat it. Dr.Sperling assured Ken it was still treatable and can achieve excellent results.
On top of having cancer and being quarantined to our homes, there were two more challenges: the approval and ability to travel into the States and the risk of contracting the virus in the States (ok maybe that is three). Florida was a COVID-19 hotspot (no pun intended). We were obsessed with the news, constantly watching for the latest updates. Air Canada and Westjet were no longer flying into the U.S.
Ken was a machine on the computer figuring out how to get approval for travel, options for flights, accommodations that were open to guests, and COVID-19 regulations. He got a medical note. It was likely I wasn’t going to be able to go. It was both a blessing and a curse that I couldn’t go. I hated that I couldn’t be there with him because I felt only I could keep him safe. And it was probably good that I didn’t couldn’t go because I would be hovering over him constantly telling him what to do and not do.
“I would probably just drive you crazy. You know how I’ll be.”
Ken nodding, “Yep, I know exactly how you’ll be. Dousing me with sanitizer every five minutes.”
Initially, Ken was going to have to drive to Minot, North Dakota to catch a plane to Fort Lauderdale which would have been a big pain in the ass driving over the border (nevermind what it would be like coming back). His cousin’s wife, Victoria, found a better route, flying out of Calgary to West Palm Beach. This also allowed me to drive him to the airport and back home.
I hadn’t wept or even shed one tear this whole ordeal. Was I stressed or worried? Absolutely. My personal mission is generally to keep it together for everyone else. In order to keep Ken strong, I had to show strength. But I finally cracked. And it was over getting fuel of all things. On our way to Calgary, we stopped at Costco to get gas. I had gloves and wipes on the ready and I was going to pump the gas. I didn’t want Ken to get sick before he left because we were so close in ending this ordeal. He jumped out of the truck and starting pumping gas, touching everything with no gloves. I had a fit, told him to stop and I will do it. He told me I was over-reacting and continued filling the truck. We were almost out of the city and I could feel the hot tears coming and they wouldn’t stop. I was upset that I wouldn’t be with him during his procedure and I couldn’t be with him to keep himself safe. I just needed him back home with no cancer and no COVID. West Palm Beach was re-opening and I was scared.
“It’s beautiful here! We definitely have to come back when the world gets its shit together.” He was in good spirits. I had packed him masks, Lysol wipes, and hand sanitizer. Hoping he was using them. I asked him how full was the plane.
“Yeah, I was surprised. It was almost full,” sensing my anxiety he added, “Don’t worry I was wearing my mask. Everyone was.”
On the day of the procedure, I kept checking my phone every fifteen minutes waiting to hear from him. I text him three times. I was both excited and nervous. He finally text me ‘Done and in recovery. Just waiting for the doc. I will call you from the hotel.’
“When Dr. Sperling came in he told me I did excellent.” Ken telling me over the phone. “I told him well that means you did excellent. He said, then we make an excellent team. I told him, no offense but I hope we never work together again.”
I started to laugh. What a relief! All went well.
“Yes, I walked in with three tumors and walked out cancer-free on the same day. Now to celebrate I am going to get a coffee.”
“So you are cancer-free?” It almost seemed unbelievable.
“Dr. Sperling said I can say that cautiously but as far as the prostate goes all the cancer is gone. I am to follow up in six months. Next time I come here I intend to be drunk and not blasted in the ass.”
One thing about my husband, he can still make me laugh no matter how difficult things are. I think it was what got us through most of this ordeal was humor. Even up to the night before his procedure. There is a lot of jokes you can come up with about having a laser up your butt.
It is interesting how we defined our “it’s-finally-over” points and our emotional release valves opened up. Ken’s was when he entered the hotel after his procedure. Mine was when he walked through airport security and was back in Canada.
Once he is recovered, which shouldn’t take long, we will put this behind us. Chalk it up to another arduous journey. We are thankful not only for each other but for all the support along the way. Little blessings do make a big difference. Onward and upward.
Two weeks of quarantine for us..
Oh and f–k you cancer messing with my husband. Ok, that was my final release.