During out thirty five years of marriage, Libby would often ask, “Barry what do you like most about being married to me?” I say it happened often because apparently I was never able answer that question to her satisfaction so she kept asking. Now, admittedly, I had been married long enough to know how I should have responded, such as this thoughtfully considered answer, “I love the way that God has taken two different people and joined us together with distinct personalities and traits, complimenting one another’s weaknesses.”
Although the preceding answer was true and would have been the prudent answer, my unrehearsed response was an equally true but not very smart, “I like the comfortable feeling I get knowing that no matter what happens during the day I can always count on coming home each night to you….” but then I ended my answer with, “..kind of like slipping on my old pair of comfortable tennis shoes and relaxing. You know the ones that you keep trying to through away”. My answers had a way of beginning with mediocre promise and ending tragically.
I always thought of a better way to answer Libby’s questions after the fact and so in retrospect and the clarity that comes with separation here’s my answer: The thing that I loved most about being married to Libby was having someone with whom I could share my day. My answer is as simple as that. Libby called me multiple times everyday to tell me about all manner of things that had happened to her and I did the same thing (just not as frequently). When something exciting happened, big or small, I wanted Libby to know it first and I wanted her to hear about it from me. An old Swedish proverb expresses the sentiment even better: Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow.
Although I didn’t fully realize it at the time, when Libby went into the hospital on New Year’s Day and then soon afterward had her first seizure, our relationship changed. There were no more probing questions about what I liked most about being married or requests of, “Tell me again how much you love me”, in fact we never discussed anything in depth again. Things that would have brought tears to Libby’s eyes before she was admitted to the hospital were stoically observed by eyes void of emotion. In retrospect it is easy to see that the cancer which would eventually take her life had already started to take her mind and my role as husband and confidant had changed overnight to that of caregiver with health care power of attorney.
By January the 8th we had a confirmed diagnosis and a direction, the spinal tap revealed that the breast cancer had metastasized and spread to the spinal fluid which was creating pressure in the brain causing the headaches, seizures and nausea. The cancer was given a a new name, carcinomatosis meningitis and the treatment involved surgery to implant a Ommaya Reservoir in her skull to administer small amounts of targeted chemo straight to her brain.
After a grueling 12 days in the hospital Dr. Schlabach released Libby from the hospital and we went home on January 13, 2014 to a hospital bed set up in our living room. By the end of January Libby was improving modestly and we were going for chemo treatments two times a week but every trip resulted in nearly constant nausea and vomiting.
During our first trip back to our oncologist office following the hospital stay, Dr. Schlabach told us that we would treat the new cancer with two things in mind: First, we need to get some relieve from the pain, then he was going to attempt to treat the cancer and see if he could buy some time.” Libby said to Dr. Schlabach, “Do you think you can buy me six months worth of time? You see, I am going to be a Grandmother in June and I am really hoping to hold my grand baby” The matter-of-fact request was too much for our tenderhearted oncologist and so through tears, Dr. Schlabach replied,”I promise to do my best Libby, that will be our goal”.