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June 23, 2014
Ten days after the consultation, we were heading back to Sydney for Brendans’ biopsy. We didn’t need to get away early as we had booked accommodation for two nights. Sue was staying with the kids.
Bren had always been the driver. For no other reason than he loved it. Today I was driving, and I imagine my husband was more nervous than me. He didn’t show it. He just teased me a little. If teasing me took his mind off other things, I was happy for him to keep it up for the entire trip. He didn’t — he was asleep not even an hour into the trip.
Monday morning was an early start. Margaret settled Bren in at Princeton’s procedure and treatment unit (PTU), while I parked the car and grabbed two coffees. Bren was nil by mouth but wasn’t hungry anyway. He was anxious. We had to wait in the reception area to be called for the procedure and it was a long, uncomfortable wait (for Bren). We had to be there at 6:30 am — he was called at 2:30pm.
I spent the day at the hospital. Bren wasn’t brought back to a room until late in the afternoon — so I did what I would continue to do many times in the weeks, months and years to follow. I kept my husband company, read or journaled.
Margaret got back to the hospital around 4pm. She had spent the afternoon with Karen. We stayed with Bren in recovery for about an hour when we were finally allowed to see him. He was still groggy from the anaesthetic and wasn’t coping well with having both his wife and Mum fussing over him. We were happy to tuck him in and leave him to rest. Dr Brach hadn’t done his rounds yet, so we had no new information.
We picked the patient up bright and early the following morning. He was still very sore. But at least he had been given a crutch to take pressure off his leg.
We stopped at Macca’s, near the hospital, to have some breakfast and to let the morning peak hour traffic pass. It was there Bren let us know things would get worse before they got better.
I came back from the bathroom, sat down beside him and took a sip of my coffee. He looked at me and took a deep breath, “Doctor Brach said at rounds last night that it looks nasty,” he said.
Nasty was a word we had heard a lot. Right from the very first visit with Dr Whittam. It seemed like a small word for what it implied.
I felt my heart stop, and then there was nothing, just numbness. I looked at Brens’ Mum — her face had turned pale. She was doing her best to hold herself together and fight back determined tears. Bren and I rested our heads together and cried.
We took a minute, and then as if an unspoken command had been given, we gathered ourselves so we could head home. It was my turn to suck in a deep breath now — I wanted it to be a lie, a mistake. Bren asked if I was OK. I said yes, and then he asked his Mum, and she said yes. We weren’t.
After we finished breakfast, we collected our rubbish, binned it and left. In that moment, knowing Bren had cancer — wasn’t momentous; or dramatic. It was painful, bewildering and factual. A few times that day, as we made the four-hour drive back home, if his Mum or I fussed over him, Bren would reassure us he was OK.
We stopped to stretch our legs an hour and a half into our trip. When Margaret went to help him negotiate some stairs at the front of the shopping centre, Bren looked at us both, bemused. “I’m bent, not broken,” he said, smiling. “Relax, I’m Ok!”
Now there was nothing left to do but wait for the biopsy results and pretend life was still normal. Bren took a couple of days off work; to allow his wound to heal. He was taking long walks and doing upper body training to keep his fitness in check. The incision in his leg from the biopsy was a good size, so we assume they had taken a good look at the damage the mass had done to his femour.
Thankfully the kids were busy with school. We didn’t tell them yet that things were worse than we thought. We were no longer expecting a benign result. Things were going to get hard. We didn’t make a big deal out of what we knew. For now, we were continuing to put one foot in front of the other. Taking things one day at a time.
That in itself was hard. My natural reaction was — what do we do next? I wanted whatever was in Brens’ leg out. I wanted him to get better and felt like I had no control. I knew I was in a heightened state of stress and was determined to muzzle it. I had to be patient. There was a multidisciplinary team being coordinated. Logical me knew that would take time. I was scared shitless — what if we didn’t have time?
Every other day, after the biopsy, I felt like I was having a silent meltdown — privately, inside my head. The shower was my solace. It was where the meltdown could consume me.
I would let hot water run over my body while sitting on the shower floor and cry convulsively into a face washer. It was like releasing a valve that allowed me to keep going. When I could, I would focus on my breathing to recalibrate, and then I’d think about what my husband was going through, and the wave would crush me again.
Dear God, please help us. Please help us. I said that to myself silently every day. I have a personal relationship with God that has nothing to do with any organised religion. I thank him (he has a masculine energy in my mind) when things are good and am not shy to ask for help when I need it. I had never needed it more than when Bren was sick.