Reflection: Edited from original post.
The month of May had always been my happy month. Mothers Day and my birthday month made for celebrations and having loads of extra love and attention heaped on me by my husband and kids. Who doesn’t love that? I loved the month of May, and then in 2014, it became the month that shit got real.
Bren and I had a very happy marriage for the most part, but like all good marriages, we had our ups downs. The downs were few and far between but made making up fun, and that’s why every good marriage needs a few. However, we had no idea what real downs were at this point but were about to be schooled in how far down we could fall and the strength it would take to catch each other.
By May 2014 we had been together 19 years, married for fifteen and had two 10-year-olds, who came in a pair. We lived in a quiet beachside town that we loved and had both been working toward turning passion projects into new career paths.
Life was good and exciting and we were having fun. We worked hard to get to this point in our lives and were taking a minute to enjoy it.
Three years on and I am sitting here writing in the middle of May, again. My life is very different now, on the other side of May 2014.
I have two 16 years both learning to drive, without the one who was supposed to be here to teach them. They both have part-time jobs, which I know would make their dad proud. And they are both still good kids. Which is a credit to both their dad and me, considering all they have been through and will always go through. But mostly, it’s a credit to them.
I am slowly learning how to be in the world without my go-to guy. That wasn’t easy in 2017 and isn’t easy now. I know it will be forever a work in progress. I read a post yesterday that summed up exactly how I feel since losing Bren; my interpretation, “I can easily look to the future, the same as anyone else, what is hard is knowing that he isn’t only missing here, now, he will always be missing there too.” That’s something I won’t get over.
On the other side of May 2014 I am now a widowed mum to two teenagers and a dog. I am surrounded by family and friends who I love and our family continues to grow. I am part owner of a successful business, and all of these things make me happy on a daily basis. I have a lot to be grateful for.
May is still my birthday month and there is still a lot to celebrate. I just can’t celebrate with my husband. But I can still make him happy, and to do that I have to be happy too. Here’s cheers to Birthday Months (and unforgettable husbands) xx
Original Post; May 2014: Finding Cancer
May is my birthday month. It’s a happy, easy, breezy stress-free month. And that’s why this May 2014, cancer blindsided us when we found out that it was probably the cause of Bren’s pain. We didn’t see it coming and now our family memories are divided into before and after the cancer diagnosis. May is our line in the sand.
There was lots of local interest in Bren’s plans to become a personal trainer after we put feelers out about the need for another trainer in our area. It was an exciting time for him.
He had been suffering from some muscle strain in his right leg and buttock for a long while, and by February the pain that was causing had become progressively worse. He was frustrated by the limitations it was putting on his training. Throughout February, March and April he saw a physiotherapist regularly, and diligently stretched every day. Nothing helped, not even backing off his training. Still, we didn’t think for a minute it could be cancer.
The pain was persistent and the physiotherapist couldn’t find anything wrong, by May Bren knew it was time to see the doctor. He was convinced he had a stress fracture, which he knew would be unusual in his femur, there just didn’t seem to be anything else to fit his symptoms.
After a visit with his doctor, he was sent for a bone scan; then a CT scan and then a visit to our local Orthopaedic Surgeon. A stress fracture was now looking unlikely but we weren’t ready to admit that to each other.
Dr White was lovely. A man probably about my age, he greeted us warmly, asked for the scans. As soon as he put them on the lightbox we knew whatever Bren had, it definitely wasn’t a stress fracture. We could see a mass on his bone, clearly, with an untrained eye. Actually, we could see two. I felt sick. The Doctors words were “if that’s a stress fracture, it’s not like any stress fracture I’ve ever seen!” And followed up with “we need to get you an MRI so that we can determine what those hot spots are so we know what we’re dealing with here.” My heart fell to the floor.
The Doctor walked out with as to reception, “see that Mr Maloney gets booked in for an MRI and I’d like to see him in my Taree rooms on Friday.” He said, to his receptionist. She looked at him with raised eyebrows and a ”how are we going to squeeze that in,” kind of expression. He patted me on the shoulder as he gave me a look of concern. And my heart sank again.
We tried to be upbeat as we left. I can’t imagine what was going through Brendan’s head. Whatever he was thinking, he remained calm. Grace under pressure is how my sister Deb refers to him. Thankfully today Bren had enough Grace for both of us.
The next couple of days were life, as usual, kids to get organised for school, chores to do, and work for Brendan. His boss and colleagues were already being very supportive. They were organising work around the pain Bren was in, prior to any sort of diagnosis, and allowed him to reduce his hours to what he could manage with his injury.
The following Wednesday Bren took a call from the doctor’s office asking him to come into their Taree rooms to see the doctor. He was at a friends funeral and couldn’t get there before the office closed, so they asked him to go to their Forster rooms on Thursday. This was alarming as Bren’s next appointment was scheduled in Taree (closer to home) on Friday.
We arrived at the Forster rooms the next day (Thursday), anxious but on time. Surprised to walk into an empty office, but for the two girls behind the reception counter having a conversation about someone’s sisters, auntie’s baby, we sat and waited to be called to the desk. The younger one looked over at us, smiled and asked what we needed. I walked to the counter and told them we were there to see the Doctor, to which the older one said, “oh no, doctors not in today, he has surgeries all day.”
Brendan and I looked at each other blankly and told them that the Taree office had organised for us to be in this office today, at this time. After 10 minutes, a few phone calls and some awkward glances in our direction, the younger woman showed us into the doctor’s office, saying kindly “the doctor will be with you shortly, he said he would pop over and see you between surgeries.” She smiled apologetically and hurried out of the room.
It felt odd sitting there just the two of us in the doctors poorly lit room, it was like we shouldn’t really be there. We were sitting side by side, neither of us spoke that I remember, but both knew this was not how good news was delivered.
I’m sure if there was a snapshot of us at that moment, you’d see two people; frozen, pale, shaken and too afraid to open their mouths for fear of what might happen. Barely breathing, we could have been in the twilight zone, maybe we were. Maybe I should pinch myself.
Today our life would change. Not because of anything we have or haven’t done. We have no idea if it’s going to be for better or worse; we just know it’ll never be the same again. What if he dies? Don’t die babe. Please don’t die. The next voice I heard in my head reminded me to breathe. So I did.
Dressed in scrubs, the doctor hurried in not long after we had sat down. The wait felt like an eternity. He sat, pulled his chair toward us and brushed his still thick hair back over the top of his head, in what seemed like a nervous gesture. He looked at us very seriously, with kindness, and thanked us for coming in. He explained that he didn’t want to give us this kind of news over the phone.
I heard myself exhale and looked straight at Brendan. He was bracing himself, sitting stiffly upright, straight back, hands clenched tightly together. When the doctor said the words, “I’m sorry this looks like it might be nasty” I felt hot tears fill my eyes. They didn’t fall. They just sat there. I saw Bren’s body slump, just a little like the breath had been punched out of him. His chin quivered ever so slightly, as we continued to speak with the doctor about what would happen next.
After pointing to two obvious masses on the scans, one larger than the other, Dr White turned back to us and said, “there is only one person I would trust to send you to with what I think this is. He is an Orthopaedic Surgeon at RPA in Sydney and is the best we have in the country. I will organise with the people at the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse; where he has weekly clinics, to set up an appointment for you as soon as possible. And with that, he held out his hand and shook Brendan’s. He said for the second time, “I’m sorry to have had to tell you this, it wasn’t something I wanted you to hear over the phone,” and he finished with “if there is anything I can do for you in the future, don’t hesitate, even if it’s just to have stitches removed.” he then wished us good luck and farewell.
Being referred to the best surgeon Australia has in his field, believe it or not, feels like a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you think awesome; that’s what we want, the best. On the other, you’re thinking CRAP, they’re not mucking around, this is some serious kind of “something nasty” Brendan has!
Ready to go home, we walked to the car. I asked Bren if he wanted me to drive. He looked at me with mock horror and said “what are ya…Crazy.” We laughed and I got in the passenger side. We didn’t talk much about what had just happened in the doctor’s office except for saying Shit! Out loud a few times. There just didn’t seem to be the words. Knowing was about all we could handle at that point. We needed a minute. Most of the way home though, the word “F@#K” went around my head on a loop. F@#K! F@#K! F@#K! F@#K!Now we had to wait for the call from Lifehouse. Within days we found ourselves there, with an appointment to see Dr Stalley. It was the following Friday, June the 13th.