January 31, 2017. I was working late that week, so I was home in morning. It was just another day in life, nothing super odd. Stephanie had a doctor’s appointment that morning, but it wasn’t something that caught my attention. She came home, we all had lunch together, and we put Sarah down for a nap. With our quiet time together, Stephanie and I crawled back into bed and continued our How I Met Your Mother marathon, where we had started with Season 1 Episode 1 and were watching every episode through the alternate ending (which, for the record, is much better than the original). We were on Season 6, Episode 13. (Spoiler alert) I remember this, because the episode is called “Bad News”, and it’s the episode where they learn that Marshall’s dad dies. We were part way through the episode when Stephanie’s phone rang. She saw the number and decided she needed to answer it. I figured it could wait, but paused the episode anyway while she listened to the person on the other end. I remember thinking at the time that I hoped they would let her go quickly so we could get back to enjoying our time together before I had to head into work. I sat there and looked at my phone while I waited for Stephanie’s conversation to end.
As the conversation continued, I could tell that something wasn’t quite right. I tried to over hear what they were saying, but all I could muster was that they wanted to see her. When she hung up the phone, she looked like a ghost had walked in the room. She said that it was the MRI place, and that they wanted her to come back in that afternoon and to not come alone. Stephanie immediately had a million things running through her mind, and told me how scared she was. I remember thinking she was overreacting and that it couldn’t be that bad. I was certainly in denial, because bad things happen to other people, not to to me. So I was more frustrated with the inconvenience of ruining our nap time together than I was concerned with what could come. So we called a friend to come over and watch Sarah while she finished her nap, and we got in the car and drove to the doctor’s office.
When we arrived, we checked in and sat down in the waiting room. I remember that wait so clearly. We picked two chairs on the side wall with no other seats next to it. We were underneath one TV, but could see another along the left wall that was airing one of those court shows where rando dude wants money from someone else. We sat there and held each others hands, without looking at our phones, and just wondered what was to come. I’ll never forget what Stephanie said to me. She said, “I just want to remember this moment, because it could be the last before our lives change forever.” That stuck in my mind because it seemed so off, so surreal. At the time, I thought to myself that she was being a little dramatic, still convinced there wasn’t anything to be concerned about. I have never been so wrong in my entire life. That was the last moment we shared together before our “normal” lives were turned upside down, and less than 8 months before we would no longer be together on this earth. I never in a million years could have imagined that our lives would never be the same, and that’d I’d lose the woman I thought I would be spending the next 70+ years with.
When they called Stephanie’s name, we both walked back. They took her through the standard screening, and as they did, they put some papers down on the counter. I glanced over to see what information I could gather, and all I was able to read and interpret before they picked the papers up again was something along the lines of “no significant finding”. Or so that’s what I thought I read. Turns out I found one line that talked of nothing else being found, but missed every other line that talked about the mass they had found. After my quick read, I immediately felt relief, because while I didn’t think anything was that wrong, this just confirmed it to me. I didn’t share it with Stephanie on the off chance I misinterpreted, but I was confident that we’d leave and get back to living after this minor inconvenience. Again, I was quite wrong. As we sat in the room and waited for the doctor, I began to think about what I needed to do that day and the next couple of days. As the doctor walked in and starting talking, things quickly turned. After he told Stephanie she had a lesion in her brain, he stepped out to get something. Stephanie curled up in my arms and we both cried. We had no idea at the time that it was cancer, or that it was malignant, or that it was Glioblastoma, the most aggressive type of cancer in the worst part of her brain. But still, in that moment, everything changed. Our comfortable lives with our daily routine was gone. Our “big worries” about my next business trip and how we’d be separated for days or weeks, the daily grind of cleaning and cooking and laundry: it all became so insignificant.
It’s been one year since that happened. My life has changed more in the last year than I could have ever imagined or dreaded. Stephanie and I spent the next 8 months growing closer together, growing in our faith, and really living the way we should have been living all along. And now I’ve spent the last 4 months seeing it all disappear and trying to figure out how to wrangle up what pieces I can and try to move forward. I wish every day that I could go back to that time a year ago before anything changed and have that life back, because I want to have my wife back and I don’t want her to be suffering as she did especially the last couple of months. But I also wish that I could go back to that time with the outlook and perspective I have now. As Stephanie mentioned earlier in her blogs, we were both thankful for how we were able to live our lives and grow through the process. A close friend of mine shared these words with me shortly after Stephanie died, and I cannot express it any better. Having lost her husband, she told me: “I wouldn’t wish my pain on my worst enemy, but I wish my perspective on the world.” The pain is truly unbearable and incapacitating at times, but the perspective is something I wish everyone could experience. I can’t count the times Stephanie shared how precious our time is, and how no one is guaranteed any amount of time. And yet with how busy we get in our day to day lives, we too often don’t truly comprehend that. It’s so cliche to say or think “it’ll never happen to me”, and I can’t count the times where I heard that and was still like, “yeah, but chances are it won’t”. And even me typing this and sharing my experience, it still doesn’t have the same effect as if this had happened to you instead, which I pray never does.
So as I sit here and cry on the first of many unfriendly anniversaries I’ll face this next year and for the rest of my life, I guess I wanted to accomplish two things. First, I needed to revisit that horrifying day, as this whole week leading up to this day has been tough for me, and I’ve broken down more frequently this week than the week before. Second, I hope that in some way I can try to spread my perspective, emphasizing how precious time is and and how fickle life can be. I want others to live the way Stephanie did after our lives changed a year ago, and I pray that one day I’ll be able to live like that again too.