I had always aimed at something to accomplish like acquire an engineering degree; live in a house with a toilet and running water; raise my son to become a healthy, happy, and useful citizen. I also had visions of calling the shots in a business of my own. I wanted to write a book and get paid for motivational speaking. I visualized every single one of them and proudly crow: I touched every bright star that I aimed for against insurmountable odds! Never a dull moment. Done deal. Time to savor life at its fullest.
Then just as I was preparing to retire to take things easy, health dramas began to cascade in my life.
It all began when I was 63. Or 64. I’m like Coochi Coochi Charo – hard to pin down the age. I experienced my first glimpse of the deadly pounce of a killer ailment called End-Stage Kidney Disease (ESKD). The patient – my first husband Tom – had been diagnosed with it 10 years back. The first 9 years allowed him his normal pursuit of kicks. With his buddies, he drank with gusto kegs of Miller Lite and smoked thousands of unfiltered, unflavored cigarettes. Friends and relatives predicted lung cancer would get him. Tom did too so he bought a cancer insurance policy.
Soon ESKD reared its ugly head. It sapped Tom’s energy and he stopped helping in the business. In a valiant effort to manage the ESKD, the doctors put him in an induced coma, which lasted 2 months. In those 60 days, our grown children and I took turns daily holding his hand and whispering in his ear how much we loved him and wanted him to get very well soon. I asked him to squeeze my hand if he could hear and understand me. He did every time!
When time came to wake him up, his bar besties joined me and my family in the hospital room to welcome him at his grand resurrection moment. As soon as the coma drug left his system, Tom opened his eyes, sat on the edge of the bed, stood up, gyrated, and burst into his signature karaoke song, Wild Thing! You make my heart sing! We were all totally floored. Then he noticed me: his wife! He approached me, brought his lips to my ear, and pointed to the wall. See that cabinet? It contains cigarettes. Get me some.
The doctor and I agreed Tom’s mind was out of whack. The good doctor dismissed us, the audience, early. In the wee hour of the following morning, he returned Tom to coma mode. A few days later, the Nurse Practitioner informed me Tom’s body was shutting down and can survive only on life support. I made a painfully tough decision to schedule a date to unplug all life support, ending his 66 years of earthly existence and our 35 years of marriage.
The difficult decision haunted me immediately. I did not think I could sleep that night so I reached out to my supportive bestie, a gallery owner, the exclusive distributor of world-renowned R C Gorman’s works. I told her, I badly need a distraction from the horrible thoughts about my decision. Perfect, she said. I’m attending an art fundraising event tonight. Get ready. I’ll pick you up.
My friend drove us to an art gallery. In the middle of a great room stood a nude well-endowed not-too-black male model. Artists hovered around him, sketching pencil on paper his body’s various angles and contours. The artwork would be sold to art patrons.
I had never seen such a thing. I kept thinking, having just given doctors my permission to end my husband’s life, ogling the impressive privates of a pale black dude wasn’t exactly what I had in mind for a distraction. I knew my friend had meant well and we laughed about it much later.
My 20-year-old business occupied me. It took me 4 years of widowhood to wonder, Why am I so alone? Even my daughter-in-law remarked one day that had Tom been the survivor, he would have already remarried.
At 68, I entered the seniors’ dating scene. I met Octo, who became my second husband. We moved from the NM desert to a retirement resort in sunny CA. We travelled. We flew across the pond to London and loaded up on fish and chips. We crossed the chunnel to Paris. And enjoyed a few other destinations. Unfortunately the 2 years of good times came to a screeching halt when Octo was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I provided him moral support through his radiation treatments. The prostate cancer disappeared, he recovered. We resumed living.
Toward the end of the second year of savoring the moments, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer, prognosis 8-12 months to live. The news devastated Octo. I noticed he’d disappear then emerge with his eyes red from crying secretly. He was mourning my upcoming departure from planet earth. Fortunately the cancer drug Tarceva helped me to beat the odds.
The good news energized Octo! Henceforth he dedicated his life to providing me moral and technical support in my fight against cancer.
He overdid it! He spoke at all times on my behalf, driving the doctors and nurses crazy. I mischievously enjoyed watching the medical personnel’s attempts to rein in the 78-year-old overbearing, cantankerous, retired corporate executive.
Octo searched for a clinical trial that would fit my type of cancer. He found one – the CO-1686 Clovis Trial. He drove me from one university cancer treatment site to another. Starting from the University of New Mexico to University of Colorado in Denver to University of California (UC) in Los Angeles to UC Irvine. I went along, content with blogging and sharing my experiences with other cancer sufferers and scratching lottery tickets.
The Clovis trial drug stabilized my cancer, allowing us to continue walking hand in hand toward the sunset. We settled down in a Southern California retirement resort and soaked in the beach city’s perfect weather while the eyes feasted on gorgeous sceneries. Alas, the complacency ended when the Clovis sponsor abandoned the trial. They simply couldn’t overcome the drug’s toxic side effects. In addition to the uncertainties of my cancer treatment, Octo was diagnosed with the worst type of leukemia.
Octo fought hard for himself. He entered a clinical trial suited for his leukemia. The first of 2 required chemo treatments succeeded! It erased the bruises from all over his body. Champagne and caviar! He was going to live to be a hundred. Alas again, it was not to be. The chemo had blown a portion of his brain. The doctors operated on his head to fix the brain’s damaged portion.
The surgery worked! I saw him in bed all smiles, obviously feeling well and ecstatic over the successful surgery. Another alas, a new catastrophe popped up. He lost his ability to read or write! Amazingly after a week of physical therapy, all skills returned as if nothing had happened. But he still had leukemia, needing blood transfusions twice a week.
His trial Onc refused to proceed to the second chemo, citing Octo’s age. The brain might not tolerate it. Undeterred, he talked to his PCP in search for a new trial. PCP was brutally frank, You have 3 weeks my friend. Our lives have the same story. We have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Make peace with your family and go into hospice. Octo was so livid about the dire prognosis he wanted to file a complaint against Dr PCP with the medical board. But without infusions, his energy ebbed. He resigned himself to entering hospice.
Octo and I were clueless about hospice. We thought hospice was a place, a building. After signing the hospice agreement, I realized the house we were renting would the hospice, the site of a medical service to neither rush nor delay death. I was designated the head honcho in the observation department, responsible for ordering supplies and drugs and administering them. The hospice nurse taught me how to recognize patient agitation and inject morphine which I could not bring myself to do. After 7 days in hospice, Octo succumbed to leukemia. Never a dull moment on that chapter either. He was 82.
I fervently believe my previous life struggles had prepared me for the rollercoaster events of 2 widowhoods in 8 years. Imagine the hundreds of rejections and setbacks I had endured while pursuing my goals during my first half century of life. What did not kill me obviously strengthened me.
Life pushed on. At age 74, I declared, No more marriages. Who would want a serial widow with Stage 4 lung cancer? I’ll just have fun dancing, fine dining with foodies, admiring art, etc. I stayed in the retirement resort in another manor, determined to keep filling my cup until my number’s up. I was 74.
Soon I met 2 younger divorced men, 73 and 61, who like me were in search of a “friend” in a retirement resort. I embraced serious cougarhood and chose the much younger one, BT. I figured he is young, he should not be dying anytime soon.
BT disclosed his ailment, type 1 insulin-dependent diabetes (T1D). I disclosed mine. I assured him, My Stage 4 lung cancer makes your T1D look benign.
We swang and swayed in bring-your-own-everything dances. We played bocce. We joined trips to presidential libraries. We socialized with buddies nightly at our favorite hot whirlpool where we offered solutions to the world’s problem.
After 4 years, BT would soon turn 65. He was so excited about finally joining the Medicare crowd. One day in the month before his birthday, he took out his bike to pedal his way to the Medicare office and start the registration process. Horribly, he accidentally crashed his bike. X-ray images showed all 4 broken ribs on the left side and both elbows. Because the heart is under the ribs, the doctors put BT in an induced coma and ventilator in the intensive care unit (ICU). He survived and went home. But the stress from the accident shot his blood glucose number to the roof 3 weeks later. I called 911. He was returned to the ICU. He recovered and went home again. Three (3) days later, he had another hyperglycemic episode, another 911 call and he was back in the ICU for the third time. I don’t have any medical training but Dr Google’s got my back. He said extended periods of high glucose episodes can cause long term damage. When the doctors could not stabilize BT’s blood sugar, they finally released him to a Nursing Facility one week short of his 65th birthday.
Covid-19 restrictions prohibit visits. I spoke with BT on the phone. From our conversation, I sensed his mental disconnection. Never heard from him again.
I’m back on square 1, reeling from the latest dizzying rollercoaster ride. I am getting my morning sun on the patio, searching for anything positive, anything at all, in the 2 widowhoods and 1 ill-fated relationship.
I found one! Since the tragedies did not make me wealthy and diseases were involved, I won’t ever face an inquisition. The good times were definitely awesome. I’ll take the good with the bad. The events surely kept me busy. There was never a dull moment.
BT’s Fate woke me up and wagged her chubby finger in my face, You are not getting any younger, Cup-Filling Lady! You should hang around the young’uns in the coop from which you flew 10 years ago.
No prob, I agreed. I shall return!