by Brenda Lee Sieglitz, author of Ebb from the Shoreline: Finding Cancer and Courage
When we first heard the words “cancer” from the gastroenterologist, I was astounded. Kevin almost seemed unsurprised, as if he knew that the pain that had been plaguing him for weeks was not just an irritant. It was if he had the foresight to know it was a tumor that was growing rapidly in his belly. I was 24 when he was diagnosed with a rare tumor, Angiosarcoma.
A type of cancer that had such little information online that I could only read about diagnosis in dogs to find information.
I was his caregiver for 4 incredibly long months. 60+ days we spent in hospitals waiting on tests, surgeries, chemo, blood transfusions and life saving ventilators. During the few weeks that we were finally on our own, seeking refuge in my parents home, it was up to me to know every med that he took, when to take it, and to be aware of the red flags of infection. The cancer seemed to take Kevin’s memory, to steal away his awareness. He was 36 yet had aged to an old man.
While in the hospital, Kevin asked if I believed in miracles – he was determined to be one and I desperately wanted that as well. We didn’t want to know the statistics; probably because we both knew, somewhere in our subconscious, that they were dire. He asked me to believe and I did because he needed me to. I didn’t want to think about his death, even though every night before I lay down to sleep I prayed that he wouldn’t leave me… somehow knowing that he would.
I couldn’t believe I was my husband’s caregiver at age 24.
But then again, I didn’t realize I would be his widow at 24 either. I didn’t know what to do – there was a reason I hadn’t become a nurse like my mother and older sister. I couldn’t handle blood, it just wasn’t my thing. Yet I found the courage to face his blood, the discharge from his feeding tube, the scabs that formed around his esophagectomy. I faced it without a gag, because it was him. I would do that for someone I loved.
While some days I think widowhood seems so much more difficult than being a caregiver, when I take myself back to those days of the unknown, I know that those days were just as trying. I didn’t know what to expect of his body from one minute to the next. He would be fine, then a fever would spike, an infection set in, and we would be on the verge of losing him.
A fine line we skirted so many times.
The tug and pull of those days, feeling helpless, I did what I knew how to do: to love him, to care for him, to be his walking medical record, and to believe in a miracle.
Brenda Lee Sieglitz was born and raised in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and was widowed in 2008 at the age of 24. She has been freelance writing since 2009 and enjoys travel writing and sharing her grief journey on her blog, brendaleefree.com. In 2009, she won the Content of the Year Award from the former Associated Content for her article “A Widow’s View on the US Healthcare Debate” and in 2011 she was selected as one of Wyndham Women’s Local Nation content travel writers. She also freelance writes and speaks for several travel, grief, and cancer related media outlets such as Soaring Spirits International, Where & When, Pennsylvania’s Travel Guide, NationalParksTraveler.com, Savvyauntie.com, and Johns Hopkins’ Cancer Matters blog.
She leads fundraising events for Team Sarcoma: Keepin’ it Kevin which raises money for the Liddy Shriver Sarcoma Initiative and Angiosarcoma Awareness, Incorporated. In her spare time, she adores playing with her two nieces, going on family adventures, hiking, camping and is working to complete her bucket list dream of visiting all National Park units.
Sieglitz is remarried and continues to reside in Lancaster County with her husband and their redbone coonhound, Molly. She released her book, Ebb from the Shoreline – Finding Cancer and Courage, in March 2014.