One year ago today, with hope all but burned away, Matt’s dad and I drove to Columbia to meet with the doctors, to see the final MRI, and make our last decision about treatment.
Matt slept through most of the day, waking only long enough to take a pill. We didn’t tell him what the MRI had revealed; we didn’t say that we had no weapons left in our arsenal to fight back the invisible monster that had finally revealed itself completely. I knew we would have to have that conversation soon—and it would be a wholly new kind of heartbreak. But not yet. Not until I saw the MRI. Not until I saw the truth for myself. And maybe that was a kind of cowardice, but I simply didn’t want to break what was left of Matt’s spirit.
The doctor walked into Matt’s room around two in the afternoon and beckoned us (Matt’s dad and me) to a private conference room. Private, because it was walled off from the rest of the hospital, but those walls were made of glass and we had a clear view of Matt’s room’s doorway and the nurses watching over him. They had a clear view of us, too.
The doctor pulled up Matt’s most recent MRI. And the images will haunt me forever. I will never forget the impossible angle of his neck. The flare of disease in the space between vertebrae. The glow of white that shouldn’t have been.
For nearly twenty months, there’d been a question I avoided asking. But one year ago today, I asked. I asked, even though I didn’t want to hear the answer, even though asking confirmed that I’d lost hope in our happily ever after. I asked: how long.
Weeks. The doctor’s voice cracked on the word.
And the tears flowed. Hers and mine. Because Matt had fought so hard and because he was so funny and smart and charming and because she’d become more than a doctor; she’d become our partner.
That afternoon, we officially agreed to stop treatment, to stop putting Matt through radiations and chemos, to get him out of the hospital and let him spend his time, his weeks, with his family. It was time for hospice, a word I’d only read in the brain cancer forums, a word I never imagined would apply to us.
We’d made so many choices during our twenty month battle. Where to go for treatment, which doctor to trust, which treatment to pursue, and on January 24, 2018, we had one more choice; the choice became one between in-patient hospice or home hospice. And like every decision in this story, it wasn’t uncomplicated and now needs its own space, its own separate post.
That night, I walked into the house and found my mom waiting for me by the door. I’d barely made it through the doorway before I fell to my knees. The weight of the day was just too much to carry and I couldn’t anymore. And I didn’t know that I’d be able to anymore. My heart, which had been shattered and patched together too many times before, was simply broken. But there was no choice. G and H would be home soon from friends’ houses and activities, and they couldn’t lose me, too.
So I stood. Which wasn’t an act of strength—there was nothing strong about walking over the jagged shards of broken heart, letting pain infuse every step. It was an act of necessity. I stood and made dinner and tried to figure out how this could be real life. Because it didn’t feel real. To be honest, it still doesn’t feel real. One year later, all these posts later, I still sometimes say “we” when I mean “I,” still sometimes start a text to Matt with a funny meme I saw, still often wonder how and why.
In the next few days, there will be hard decisions and hard conversations. There will be mistakes and regrets and heartaches—too many heartaches. But there will be something else, something that burns as true and bright as hope once did.