Dates. People observe them as markers to life events. Birthdays, first meetings, first dates, job changes, house buying, sobriety, weddings, deaths, national and global tragedies. There is something about the marking of time with those life events that remind us of joy or pain or even a shift that occurs within us. For me, that day is the 13th.
It was Friday, the 13th , that I sat at a picnic table trying to get a hold of Jeremy knowing he was in the hospital and they had just done a CT scan. I knew it was bad. I had known since Labor Day that something was wrong. I had a field trip to Williamsburg planned for the kids and I was not sure if I should still go. He ended up going to the doctor before I left because I felt so uneasy about going. He went in and she did some blood work and sent him home. The next day I got on the road but got a text right after crossing into South Carolina from him telling me all his blood work looked good except one test. A test she had only done because of the weight loss he was experiencing. She wanted him to go to the gastroenterologist. When the gastroenterologist called to give him an appointment, they gave him one for the next day. That scared me. The next day the gastroenterologist told him that they wanted to do an endoscopy/colonoscopy, but she even suggested him going to the hospital. When I realized she had said this, I begged him to go to the hospital. They would not have said that if they thought it was something that could wait. So he did. And there I sat with my heart pounding, barely being able to breathe while twice his phone dropped me because of the bad reception in the hospital. I moved about the courtyard behind a cafe trying to find a good place for reception, thinking it was me, until I landed on a curb. And it was on that curb, on the 13th, that I heard the words that changed the course of my…our…lives forever. “They found several lesions all over my abdomen and on my pelvic bone. They think it is cancer.” You know in movies, when they depict moments when everything around the character is still moving, but everything is dulled and in slow motion. Well that is how it was for me. They thought it was cancer. It was on the bone. It was bad. After I got off the phone, I went looking for my mom and sisters who had taken my kids off to explore so I could talk to Jeremy. I walked down the cobblestone street in a fog, my one thought being that I needed to get home to him. I found them and privately told my sisters and mom what he had told me, but I had to pretend everything was ok because of the kids. That is how I remember Friday, September 13. It is the day everything changed.
Once I got back the next day and we talked to more and more doctors and more and more tests were done, I knew it was not just bad but really bad. He was discharged from the hospital and we went home with a calendar filling up with doctor appointments. Within a week, we had the official diagnosis. He had stomach cancer. And it was one that doctors missed more times than not because there is no tumor. Cancer cells just grow in the lining of the stomach and then spread throughout the body. Most cases are not detected until the patient is Stage IV. The prognosis is never good. Known treatment only had the potential of slowing down the cancer. Giving us more time. That is why we held out hope for immunotherapy, because the potential of its effectiveness is still being studied. Knowing it was most likely a matter of time, I would crawl into bed with Jeremy at night and we would hold hands with my head pressed up against his shoulder and we would pray, usually me out loud because he was so tired and sick. And I…we… would thank God for another day together. A marking of time.
October 13th rolled around. And Jeremy looked at me with a soft look in his eyes and in a quiet voice said, “Dee, it’s been a month today.” And we both stared at each other and acknowledged the passing of time since that day. We never said it to each other, but I know we both questioned how much more time we had.
Then November 13th came around and once again, he stopped me to remind me that it was the 13th and it had been two months. He did it every month. The acknowledgment of a changing experience for him. For us.
The night he died was the hardest experience I have ever gone through. Understandably so, it has marked me. Changed me forever. I was able to be with him. To crawl into the bed with him and lay my head on his chest as his heart took its last beat. And when it was all said and done and I had to get up to go get my children, I stopped halfway to the door when something hit me. It literally took my breath away. I turned to him, or rather the body that had housed him and said what he would have said to me if he could have, “Jeremy, it’s the 13th. It’s been five months.To the day.”
Not a 13th has gone by without it reminding me of that life altering moment that changed everything and then the life altering event that changed me. Today is September 13th. One year from when it all changed. Seven months from when Jeremy no longer had to mark distinctive life events with time. But until I see him again, I will continue to do so.