Before the cancer came there wasn’t the slightest doubt in my mind that I would be the first one to go. After all, I was 3 years older than her, and in this country women generally outlive men by about 5 years. And she always seemed so much stronger than me health wise, and much more capable of handling difficult, messy legal and personal situations that inevitably occur after the death of a spouse. Besides, from personal experiences it appeared that women were better equipped to handle this type of tragedy and adversity than men.
Before the cancer came she was eager to indulge in all the various social opportunities that life in our new home city had to offer. We both retired from our jobs when we were in our fifties and moved from the the East Coast to Las Vegas. She loved going to the overpriced, style over substance shows featured in Strip hotels. Yes, they generally offered lots of noise and glitz, little in the way of depth, and were designed for tourists who wanted a break from throwing their money away in the casinos. But it made her happy so we went. As the years wore on, however, we frequented those shows less and less.
Before the cancer came, she had designed for herself an entire array of card and mahjongg games in the community social center to keep herself fully occupied. She, and her card-playing buddies, would often go at it to well past 10: PM. When she finally came home she would have to watch a little TV in bed in order to wind down before shutting out the lights. As the years wore on, however, her night games became less and less frequent, until finally she only played during the day. Then the daytime games began to diminish also.
Before the cancer came she had decided that our weekends would start on Thursday, which generally meant eating out and gambling. The only nights we ate dinner at home were Monday-Wednsday. On the weekends we would always see new movie releases, then have dinner at a quality restaurant and finally end up feeding the machines in some casino. The few times that she did manage to accomplish a major hit she was so highly excited and joyful. It was wonderful to behold. And then, like all the others, that activity also began to diminish. I suppose one could call it the process of growing old.
Then one day the cancer did come. I remember I had been out by myself that evening and when I came home I was in a hurry to check my email on the computer. Before I could do that, she announced to me that she had cancer. “What kind of cancer” I shouted in shocked disbelief. Seems she had been to the doctor who ran some tests and told her that she had Stage 4 cancer in her colon that had spilled over into her liver. At first I was in full denial. “How can they determine that you have colon cancer without first doing a colonoscopy,” I shouted. So she scheduled an early morning colonoscopy. When the doctor finally came out after the exam and told me that she did indeed, have colon cancer that had spread to her liver, my heart sank. This can’t be happening I told myself over and over. This is what happens to other people that you hear about through gossip. But now, this was the new reality for both of us.
So, at first she sought treatment at a nearby Cancer Center, which put her on a regimen of chemo pills which in the end did nothing but give her neuropathy in her feet. The simple task of walking became more and more painful for her, and then impossible as time wore on. So next they started giving her almost 2-hour long infusions of chemo which initially seemed to be working. But they also made her highly nauseous and by the end of the week she was usually throwing her guts up. She started losing a lot of weight, not an unusual occurrence for cancer patients. But early in 2018 the chemo seemed to be doing the job to the extent that she planned to attend our granddaughters wedding that was be held back East, 3000 miles away.
Two days before the wedding in May 2018, however, she developed a stomach blockage and had to be taken to the hospital, and the trip was cancelled. Our other granddaughter was also planning a wedding on the East Coast in October 2018, and my wife had faint hopes of making that one. But by then her health had deteriorated to the point that such a trip also became unthinkable. Another stomach blockage occurred and this time they decided to operate. But it meant staying off the chemo for weeks before the operation. She became weaker and weaker and the simplest of movements like getting in and out of bed became undoable. The last time we went out together was in early December 2018 and she could barely make it. I sometimes believe that if she had not been denied the chemo for such a long period she might still have been with us. Maybe thats just wishful thinking.
On January 9, 2019, the love of my life, my wife and best friend for near 55 years succumbed to cancer. And here I am, alone and broken-hearted, left to rattle around in this big empty house by myself. I Skype with my 3 daughters which does help considerably, but it’s still an empty existence. I’m reminded of the poem that Irish poet Dylan Thomas wrote to his father who was on his deathbed at the time-” Do not go gentle into that good night; but rage, rage against the dimming of the light.” In the end, my beloved Vivian did go gentle into that dark night. But she was more than ready to be finished with the suffering that cancer had inflicted on her frail body. The only consolation I have is that I’m pretty old myself, so I should be with her again on the other side in the not too distant future.