Just a short time after the special area groups conference concluded and all the northern province teachers were back in class, the oncologist called. For the first time in our fledgling marriage, we were just getting settled into our first home, a small apartment. My husband's first year teaching school was off to a promising start. Our 18-month-old was adapting to being the older sister, and our baby girl was already displaying personality up the wazoo.
I came into the living room just in time to see his face change. I didn't know who was on the phone. A week had gone by since the conference and also his 6-month checkup. His doctor was in the city down south, but he had gotten his job in the north, so it became prudent to do both at the same time. I waited until he could talk.
I don't remember my exact reaction.
I just remember being angry. I remember crying. I remember there being a swirl, I couldn't get my thoughts together. I think I remember giving him a hug. I wanted to hold him more than anything.
I remember the fallen look on his face, the margin of defeat, as though a thief had just come and robbed him blind and then set his house on fire.
I remember storming back and forth, down the hall to the laundry room, making trips with our clothes, angrier every time I came back through our apartment door. It wasn't fair. I was angry. Hurt somehow. Confused. I tried to push my love through those screens to comfort my husband, give him support, but it was a thwarted, minimal endeavor when I just wanted to scream. I slammed the basket down harder every time I returned, throwing laundry into drawers or on the couch, some folded, some unfolded. Being a fairly health woman my whole life, I surprised myself by getting so worked up I felt major body ache while climbing into bed.
Then came the consultation, for which we had to travel back down south for, confirm the news with the oncologist, see a small presentation about the treatment and procedure they would do on my husband's cancer, and return home only to get hit with the reality that we would not be able to keep our apartment or even sublet it. At all. We had one week.
The treatment was to be in-hospital. Chemotherapies- yes, multiple -were going to be administered via a PICC line (what was that?) An autologus bone marrow transplant. T cells. Blood counts. IVs. Plasma. Visiting procedures. There was much information to take in. In the room where a few rectangle tables were pushed together to form a "U" in front of a television on a rollcart, the air was somber. All my mother-in-law and I could do was look at each other with a number bouncing off our heads: 30%. It was all the doctor could give us for success of cure. It was a number that hung in the air worse than second-hand smoke in a bar. We had a week to come back and get my husband moved into the cancer ward at Health Sciences.
Into people's basements, garages and school staffrooms went our stuff. All of our belongings were thrown into boxes. I could barely think straight. I hadn't even had time to think about post-partum anything, writing a budget for our new lives with new income, or get out of my poutine-eating, cookie-dough-eating slob self before being hurled into a world that meant entire uncertainty. Where would I live with my girls, what were the most important items to bring, what was I supposed to do? What would happen to our belongings? Why did I feel like we were refugees fleeing in fright?
My mother-in-law was not happy with my half-done packing job when she came up north to help us. The friends who ultimately agreed to take us in came to help, too. They also lived down south. After hundreds of trips up and down the stairs with boxes and furniture, a trip to the ER after my husband slipped on the stairs and busted a lamp into his palm, and a scoop of the girls, the place was empty.