The second time my wife sprained her ankle for seemingly no reason, it seemed odd, but not worrisome. Her primary care doc wasn’t worried and sent her to an orthopedist who said, “it’s a sprained ankle, wear this boot and stay off of it.” The rheumatoid arthritis doc was next. After a couple of months he got frustrated and sent her to a sports medicine doc who took x-rays and said, “wait a minute, this is not a sprained ankle.”
So, we were sent to MedStar and met a doctor who was so young looking that he must’ve starred as Doogie Howser, M.D. I mean, seriously, he looked about 15. He takes an MRI, says, “hmm, something is going on here,” and leaves for a bit. He returns with an older doc who looks very serious. All my wife, Kathy, remembers hearing was “Stage 4 melanoma.” That’s when Kathy stopped listening because what she heard was “I could die.”
The doc was talking about chemo, he was talking about radiation, all of those things, all the things you’d normally associate with cancer, it was just awful and he’s dredging up all of this stuff. And I’m sitting there thinking “Damn, this is just screwing up the entire works, man what is this?” So I’m getting a little annoyed, she’s having an emotional response to it all, and that’s when he looked at her and said “However, we have an immunotherapy drug trial going on right now and I think you would be the perfect candidate.” Neither one of us knew what that meant. He explained it, but we still didn’t know what it meant.
Kathy got accepted into the trial, and it changed our lifestyle because now it became part of a regimen. On the other end of it was Doogie Howser who said “I gotta cut open that ankle because I gotta know what’s going on, we’ve got to repair what’s going on down there.” Kathy had been reduced to a wheelchair, which changed our quality of life, and that was the hardest part of the whole experience, honestly. This young guy went in and fixed her ankle, put in a piece of metal, a metal plate, rebuilt her fibula, took out this mass that I don’t want to think about. He gave her the ability to move again. With that all being said, the one thing to recognize is what did that mean to us? What did all this do to the two of us? Because it was just us.
Then, Kathy went to a social worker down at the hospital who handed her a pamphlet for this place called Hope Connections for Cancer Support. And at first her response was “well, okay, yeah, okay, fine, alright, alright.” But the more she thought about it the more the idea of, well, maybe it would be a good thing to talk to somebody, maybe it would be, just to get it out, ‘cause there’s a lot of emotions I’m going through.
And, all of a sudden it really made a difference because there were people there who were worse than she was, there were people there who were on the other side of where she was. There were people impacted in different ways and what she ended up recognizing was “yeah, there’s a lot of people, and I can get out what I’m feeling.” But the other thing that happened to her was she started to say, “I can actually care about somebody else who is in the same situation.” And that did happen a lot. She made connections with people who were in the process of dying, and she was basically their friend for the last few months of their lives. It took a toll on her when they went, but at the same time it gave her that sense of purpose.
As a caregiver Hope Connections helped me because it took a lot of the burden from me. I was still needing to work through emotions with our kids and with Kathy’s family. So, having her become more and more involved with Hope Connections was great for me.
And then, one day Kathy came home and told me she’d gotten a job at Hope Connections. It gave her purpose and focus. Her attitude, which initially vacillated very much, was now so much more positive. And then, after a little while, she came home from work and said, “you know, they are looking for another board member. . .” I’m now the Treasurer of the board for Hope Connections and I’ve really enjoyed my involvement.
Hope has played many different roles for our family. But, the unifying thread has been the amazingly positive feelings we both get with each of our interactions at Hope.