If you've been a reader of my blog for very long, you know that I've hinted here and there that we have a family member battling a serious illness. Out of respect and privacy, I've never shared the details online. Today, because we've recently reached a turn in this road, I want to tell you a little bit.
In the summer of 2011, The Gorilla's brother Dave was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer that had already metastasized to his liver. It was shocking to everyone. From the outside, Dave still appeared to be the funny, athletic, boistrous and positive family man we all loved. Learning of the secret war his body was waging rocked our entire family. At the time, he was just 46.
Surgeries and treatment followed. Dave and his wife Robyn kept their outlook positive, both of them working full time with three kids at home for years into this journey. Eventually the doctors found new spots, this time in his lungs.
My husband and his brother are only 20 months apart. For their entire lives they've been close, squabbling as kids, throwing punches as teenagers, getting rowdy at one another's colleges, cheering on successes, standing in one another's weddings. You know, brothers. Some of the strongest bonds on earth.
Dave is a high school principal and I know without a doubt (because his students, teachers and fellow administrators have made it known) that he has changed lives in his chosen vocation. He's a leader and an encourager, the kind of man they make movies about.
But the most important role Dave has ever played is husband and father. He and Robyn have three great kids, one in college now and two still at home. Throughout the three years since diagnosis, they've remained strong parents.
About a year after they learned of his illness, Robyn started a blog to keep friends and family members in the loop. Since that time, Embracing the Roller Coaster has touched the lives of those who love this family, or who are walking the cancer road themselves. I know her updates have been informative and inspiring for people who scour the internet looking for stories like theirs, who need to hear from someone who understands what they're going through.
Last month, the doctors told Dave that his disease has run its course of traditional treatments and that they are no longer working. He has applied for disability retirement and is doing his best to manage the pain and side effects.
I have hesitated to write about this before because it's not my story to tell. But it is Robyn's. She's guest posting here today with a piece that captures a small slice of all that is going through their head and hearts right now. You can read more of Robyn's story at her blog Embracing the Roller Coaster.
By the time I crawl into bed, he has already been there for several hours of restless sleep. I am quiet and careful as I hunker down and let my pillow and mattress absorb the weightiness of the day. In the darkest dark I listen to him breathe, and I wait. He will reach for my hand and tell me he loves me - a brief connection that will happen several times during the night.
As he drifts back to sleep, I will reflect on events of the day; the kids, work, changes. Regrets. He has been sharing these lately.
“I feel like I have let down the team.” I have tried to talk about this to friends. I want to say that it’s crazy. That he has fought for almost three years and put himself through hell to try to beat this. But I can never get the thought out before the tears come.
“I wish I had gone on them sooner.” He’s referring to Zoloft. For much of his life he has battled some pretty significant mood swings. When living with cancer added a heaping pile of stress to his plate, he agreed to give it a try. I reassure him that I am glad that he went on them when he did as it has made him much happier.
“I hate that the kids have to go through this.” This one makes me catch my breath. But we have come a pretty long way. We used to talk about how hard it will be on the kids when he is no longer here. Now we talk about them being resilient and what we can do to help them on their journeys. He reminds me that it will be my job to tell them that it is okay to be sad, to cry, to feel crappy but that they also have to leave room for happiness to come in too.
Yesterday, as we were leaving the doctor’s office, he said, “I don’t know what I would do without you.” And I thought, “Me too."
Thank you for reading, my friends. I covet your prayers for our family, Dave, Robyn, and their children.