Duke suggested that Matt try physical therapy—in addition to acupuncture—to help control the pain in his neck and back. We scheduled Matt’s first appointment for September 26, 2017.
No text messages or photos exist to capture this visit, which remains captured in my imperfect memory simply because it was a first.
The physical therapist brought in a chair for me so I could sit and watch the session. Before beginning any exercises, the physical therapist asked a series of introductory questions. Matt provided long, rambling answers and told stories that didn’t quite lead to any conclusions. After he answered the questions, Matt looked to me for confirmation. He’d come to recognize that he couldn’t give his medical history anymore.
I kept my answers short, correcting only the information I thought was medically relevant. Protecting Matt from that emotional surrender was always as important as keeping his pain at bay.
After the initial questions, we started off with an assessment. The physical therapist watched Matt walk and noted the way he held his head slightly forward of his body. He noted the off balance gait and the right sided weakness. I told the doctor about Matt’s pain and how we hoped to relieve some of it.
The physical therapist used a device (possibly a heat based device?) and massage techniques. I remember watching the physical therapist’s hands on Matt’s neck as every worst case scenario inundated my thoughts. The spinal MRI had been clear: no tumor, no cancer, no reason to worry.
And yet—the pain in Matt’s neck and back. Why was he in so much pain?
Even in hindsight, I don’t know that I can truly answer this question. Had the tumor already slipped into his neck and spine? Was the Avastin hiding the tumor from the spinal MRI? If so, why did the pain disappear after the fourth hospital visit? The truth is that I don’t know and I won’t know. I will only have theories.
I’ve said that one of my goals is to identify when I lost Matt, how I lost him. When I look back on these days, I don’t see Matt—the real Matt—in the story. I’ve asked myself half a dozen times over the last few weeks whether this was the moment I lost Matt. Was it after the hemorrhage? After the seizure? Was Matt—the real Matt—already gone by the time we made that first physical therapy appointment? Every time I’ve asked myself the question, the answer has been no. Matt wasn’t gone, despite the way I can’t see him in this story. (The endless contradictions of brain cancer.) He was still there after the hemorrhage and after the seizure. Glimmers of the real Matt existed well into January.
And with that in mind, maybe I need to change the focus of this project. Rather than searching for the moment I lost him, maybe I need to focus only on the moments in which I saw him. Those moments in which his spirit burned brighter than an aggressive, relentless tumor.
Another September 26 stands out in my mind, though this one has nothing to do with brain cancer. It’s nevertheless just as relevant to the telling of our story, so I’ll add just this for now:
Ten years ago today, I donned a black Alice & Olivia dress, slipped my feet into a pair of six-inch purple heels, and greeted a room full of friends and family who’d traveled from every corner of the country to spend the weekend with us. Ten years ago today, I knew my life was going to permanently change for the better.
Because ten years ago today, I was one day away from marrying a man whose spirit will always burn brighter than an aggressive, relentless tumor.