Tom and Abby on Lake Aldwell. June 2006

One year ago, my husband was finally diagnosed with a massive benign brain tumor.  He’d had headaches for years, undergone sinus surgery, been taking massive doses of steroids and been through CT scans and eventually, finally an MRI that found the golf ball sized tumor wedged neatly between his brain stem and cerebellum.  It was blocking the cerebral spine fluid from draining out of his head and causing crazy amounts of pressure to build up and press on his brain.  Suddenly the pain and vomiting all made sense.  Within 48 hours of the diagnosis, we’d been transported by ambulance to the nearest “big” hospital 3 hours away and the thing had been removed.  Emergency brain surgery.  Those 2 days before the surgery, he was doped up on pain killers and steroids to shrink the tumor.  He was groggy and ornery and funny and kind.  I’d crawl up into his hospital bed and just hold his hand.  We watched the food channel and pined after Lemon and Basil Eggs over Foccacia and baby back ribs.  He’d sleep and I’d watch his face.

I’ve never been a particularly religious person, but I found myself on my knees in the tiny hospital chapel the day before his surgery.  It was dark and there was one wall covered in stained glass, lit from behind with artificial light.  Someone was sleeping near the back of the room.

I closed my eyes and immediately had an image of Tom, Abby and I paddling a canoe on a beautiful still lake with snow-capped mountains in the background.Tom was laughing and splashing us with his paddle, he looked so healthy and happy. Tears streamed down my cheeks, but I had such a sense of peace and joy from the vision. I took it as a sign that all would be well with him.  And, I’m happy to say that it was (and is).

There was a serious heatwave happening while we were in Seattle for Tom’s surgery and subsequent recovery.  In the middle of his 10 hour surgery, the air conditioning in the hospital went on the fritz and somehow made the fire alarms start going off.  We sat waiting as they evacuated parts of the hospital and the firetrucks started arriving.  We didn’t know there wasn’t a fire for what felt like hours (it was probably only a few minutes).  It was 100 degrees outside, my husband’s brain was open in an operating room somewhere and the fire alarms were blaring.  I just started to laugh and laugh and laugh.  What else do you do?  The release of feelings and sound out of my gut was like something you’ve seen in the movies but always thought was melodramatic.  No, those movies have it all right.  I laughed and the tears started.  I stood up and walked over to a wall and leaned against it.  I laughed and cried and slid down the wall until my butt hit the ground.  I had a sort of out of body experience where I was in my feelings, but also could see myself sliding down this wall and thinking, “geez Carrie, that’s sort of over the top there!”.  Then I laughed at the fact that I was being critical of how I was reacting to the whole thing.

Eventually, the alarms stopped, we were assured that nothing had changed during the surgery and everything was okay.  We were the last people in the waiting room.  It had emptied out throughout the day.  It was quiet.  As soon as Tom’s neurosurgeon walked into the room, I realized that I’d been holding my breath.  He had a happy smile on his face and before he could even tell us that things had gone very well, I was up and out of my chair running toward him with a hug.  He managed to spit out the words “he’s fine” before I grabbed the man up in my hands and hugged him so hard.  It wasn’t until I was letting go of him that I realized that I’d basically been grabbing his butt in my fervor of a hug.  Yeah, I grabbed the neurosurgeon’s ass.

30 minutes later, I walked into the critical care unit to see Tom.  I kept trying to steady myself for the possibility that he might not be the same man.  That he might not recognize me.  That he might be an asshole after brain surgery.  That he might eat through a straw for the rest of his life (and mine).  But when I walked through that door and made eye contact with my husband, my best friend, the father of my child, my love, I knew that he was okay.  His head was all wrapped up in gauze, he had tubes coming out of every part of him, his eyes looked a little glazed, but he made eye contact with me and said, “Carrie?  Carrie?  I need you. I love you.  I need you.”  My eyes shot heavenward and I said simply, “Thank you.”  I’m not sure who or what I was thanking, but in that moment, I felt complete relief, protection, love.  I felt grace.

The epilogue to all of this is that it is the one year anniversary of Tom’s surgery today.  The tumor is completely gone.  He’s healed, he’s healthy, he can mow the lawn again (thank god!).  Aside from really needing to avoid downhill skiing or other potential hazards for hitting the soft spot on his head, he leads a completely normal and vibrant life.  He’s in better health than he has been for years.

These last few weeks leading up to the “tumorversary,” I’ve been giddy, happy, thankful and full of joy.  I’d been warned that anniversaries for this sort of thing can drudge up all kinds of old memories, flashbacks, depression.  I’m so pleased that this hasn’t been the case. If anything, I’m over the moon, more fully in love with this life, with this man than at any other time in my life.

These lives we live are so fragile.  So ephemeral. I had a(nother) fall from innocence last summer.  A time to reflect upon the goodness, the sweetness in my life.  Despite the grief and pain and fear, I have to accept the experience as a gift. I have the joy of holding this gratitude in my heart, the responsibility of living every single second to it’s fullest, and the wisdom, I hope, to keep it all fresh enough so I don’t forget.

About Carrie @ Rhubarb Sky

I am a mama, wife, writer, educator, artist, knitter, activist, cook, loudmouth (not necessarily in that order). I enjoy making things with my own two hands, backpackin, running, red wine, good food, reading, writing, playing, and being with good friends. I blog a little. . . I love a lot.
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15 Responses to Tumorversary

  1. insane mama says:

    Oh my God Carrie, What a great post, I have read little bits here and there and I knew something had happened. Your description of you sliding down the wall was perfect, exactely what you see in movies. I am so happy for you all that he is healed and healthy!

  2. Jill says:

    You should put a “have tissue ready” warning at the top of that post! I’m bawling over here.

    You and Tom have lived through one of my worst nightmares. The thought of something happening to Philip or my girls is enough to set me in a panic. To read your story, to feel the love you have for him… whew! You are some darn lucky people. (Sorry I can’t come up with anything more eloquent, I’m still blubbering from reading this.)

    Love and blessing to you and your sweet family!

  3. Marcie says:

    Carrie and family,

    (I’m giving you all a BIG hug right now!!!) That time was SO scary, we were thinking of you often. Happy, wonderful life to you all! There have been moments in my life that have shaped and changed my & Bill’s life forever, and the way we view it. We have learned, we have loved, we have become compassionate to others who still suffer. I feel stronger for it. xoxo.

  4. Amy says:

    Tissues required is right! Oh Carrie, your writing is so good–touching and funny and authentic. It’s one thing to live through interesting stories and quite another to have the gift to share them.
    Long live the Sanfords!

  5. Anna says:

    My eyes teared up reading this, Carrie. I’m glad for your entire family that Tom is doing okey now. Can’t really imagine how scary it must have been for you and Abby when he was sick and then during the surgery and recovery.

  6. Mandy and Maddy says:

    Carrie, I’m so excited you got your day in a boat with clear skies and mountains. It sounds like a lot of fun. I can’t imagine having to be as strong as you’ve been . . . you’ve always been such a strong, independent, friendly person that I’ve admired and tried to live like . . . I mean, I can remember being 12 and thinking you and Shel were so grown up and that you guys were making decisions and planning life and being great friends to people. Also, when we were at camp and I’d share with you that I just wanted to be a good person. I just wanted to grow up and be a great friend like you. I’m so lucky to still have you in my life and you’re truly one of the strongest people I know. I agree with all the other ladies on here too – this one was a tear jerker and your writing is such great stuff. Thanks for having the courage to share it.

  7. Laura says:

    I’m so happy for the happy ending! And I’m glad that faith and grace were there for you when you needed them. Congratulations!

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  10. Bons says:

    wow. you weren’t kidding. i’m so glad to have you in my life and am awed by the things you have lived through to get you to this exact point in your life, right now. what else can we do but live and love, right?

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  12. Holly says:

    Hi Carrie-I got your info from Jerry Judge Tropman-I asked for some suggestions on how to use Swiss chard…that is how I found your bog, and your wonderful chard recipes. Will try tomorrow!

    Anyway-I worked at Camp Storer with Tom in the 90’s and was shocked to hear about his health issues! I am so glad for you all that he has recovered and is doing well…I always enjoyed his humor, although I’m not sure I always “got it”! Please tell him I said hello and be well!

    I do love your blogs and if you have an email list will you please add me to it? Great recipes-I run an Environmental Ed program at a school and we have about 2 acres of gardens and in the fall I love to grow chard and collards and kale-they always grow so well and are so pretty, but I always struggle with what to do with them! I will keep checking your recipes to use with the students-those kids will eat anything they can pull out of the ground:)

    Thanks again-
    Holly Orians

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