Editor’s note: Nina is a former resident of Sagamore Hills. Her family reached out to us to share their story and is asking the community for prayers of support. This is the second article in the series. You can read the first one here.
By JT Aguila
As the Lovely Nina continues to recuperate at home, she gets a little bit stronger every day (She’s just not doing wind sprints just yet) and I’m able to catch my breath and not feel like I’m drowning. Shortly after her surgery to remove the colon cancer and the subsequent emergency second surgery to repair a perforated bowel, I found myself having nightmares about being underwater and waking up gasping for air.
The role of a caregiver is one that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. Granted, the patient is the one in the weakened, traumatized, medicated and diseased state but it’s the caregiver who sees it unfolding in front of them. It’s the caregiver watching their loved struggling to get better, changing the personality that they grew up knowing, cherishing and falling in love with. Now you watch them dying in front of you as you hope against hope that you can make it stop. You pray that the person in front of you comes back to you as the person they were, healthy, laughing, smiling, being their whole self again. But what if they don’t? How does one reconcile that in their mind … in those dark, horrific places that we’re afraid to explore?
For me, the struggle was not only the fight against cancer that was ravaging my wife’s body. It was also the anguish of not knowing if cancer would return each time it had been beaten. Each time the Lovely Nina was victorious began a new day of “what ifs.” What if the cancer comes back? What if that simple cold or stomach ache is symptomatic of the cancers return? What if we don’t have enough health insurance? What if the medical bills are too high?
How many people get cancer 6 times and beat it? Nina did and has. She is brave beyond measure, Her determination, as unstoppable as a fully loaded 18-wheeler heading downhill from the Continental Divide during a snowstorm on the icy westbound Colorado I-70 highway. The first bout, colon cancer, which we shall call “ANGER” was traumatic, with the surgery itself to remove the cancer as well as its unknown outcome. Then seeing Nina for the first time after that first operation. She was pale as a bed sheet, tubes in her throat and nose, IV lines in her arm and hands and the constant pinging of the machines surrounding her like so many vultures waiting for the near dead. Then there was her recovery leading up to chemotherapy which at times is more brutal than the surgery itself. The surgery is the easy part compared to chemotherapy and the dreaded 5FU. A wonder tonic that takes the cancer patient right to the edge of the proverbial cliff, again and again, and again. Chemo burns your veins, destroys your stomach with constant nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, gives you chemo brain, a fog like after effect that leaves you with unclear thinking and diminished cognitive function. Chemo also can leave you with the inability to touch or hold anything cold. Which is a particularly hateful, villainous side effect if you are trying to avoid losing your hair by having cold pack therapy on your head during treatment. Week after week it pushes your body to its limits, letting you look over the edge, daring you to look into that abyss, urging you to quit, grasping you by your belt as you hang over the edge on your tip toes … only to pull you back again.
Bouts 2 through 6 aka “Denial, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance”