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  • Dani Fontanesi

Learning to Cope

It's been three weeks and three days since we were first admitted to the hospital. It's crazy how time both flies and crawls in hospital life.

I haven't been able to express my emotions much in writing over these past few weeks. I think mainly because they're all so overwhelming, I wouldn't know where to begin, and also because they're so large, it's impossible to try to reduce them to words.

I cry a lot these days. I also spend a lot of time actively not crying.

I try not to cry in front of Matt because I want him to know I'm being strong for both of us, but sometimes I can't help it. Sometimes I cry in front of him, and sometimes we even cry together.

We cry because we're scared. We never know what the next moment will bring. More fevers? More shaking? More bad test results?

We also cry to mourn the loss of the life we had a few weeks ago -- a happy, healthy life with lots of dreams and plans -- and we mourn the loss of specific plans that we had made.

The Plan that Matt is mourning the most is our plan to start trying for babies at the end of this vacation. He was really looking forward to being a dad and I was really looking forward to starting a family with him. (We even had a name picked out for our daughter -- which we were going to have first, despite his claims to the contrary).

Putting off our "baby plan" has been really hard on him, especially given that our chances of being able to have our own baby have been reduced quite a bit following the chemo. When we first learned that he would have to have chemo, one of the first questions Matt asked the doctor was if it would affect his fertility. Learning that it would, his next question was how could we go about freezing his sperm before starting the chemo.

The hospital was wonderful in working with us on this, and they set up an appointment with a sperm bank the morning before he was due to start chemo. Sadly, he ended up being too sick to make that appointment, which was devastating to him. But despite our sadness at having to put our baby plans on hold, we're confident that we'll still be able to have our own babies one day. We just have to get over this hurdle in the meantime!

The hardest thing for me is not the loss of our plans. I'm happy to be stripped of everything -- our plans, our possessions, our lives as we knew them -- I just want his health back. The hardest thing for me is watching him suffer.

This process has been hugely painful for him, much more so than it's "supposed" to be, according to the doctors. Most people who go through this awful disease, don't have 104+ degree fevers accompanying them for nearly 4 weeks straight, like Matt has now. Most "cancer patients" (a term I hate, but am using this once for the simplicity of referring to a particular group of people) don't have to spend their nights blanketed with ice as their bodies shiver violently. Most people in this situation don't have their faces swell up and blister with their high fevers, and they don't have to breathe on an oxygen tube half the time. Most people in his situation don't have their muscles break down from the severity of their "rigors" (violent shaking).

Seeing him having to suffer through all this is the hardest part. This is what brings me to tears. The first couple weeks in the hospital, I would cry every night after he fell asleep. I would go into the hallway where he couldn't hear me and I would sob uncontrollably. The nurses would come by and hug me, and I would cry until their shoulders were soaking.

It's now going on week 4 and I cry less frequently each day, although the tears still come at random times, and there are many other emotions going through my body. My anxiety levels get high every time his fevers soar or whenever he has to have a procedure done -- whether a bone marrow biopsy, a bronchoscopy, or even getting a new PICC line put in.

There are also times when I feel a lot of anger. I'm angry that he has to go through this, and I'm angry at the things that I feel contributed to it -- like the insane hours he was putting in at work that had him so run down and physically and mentally drained for so many months before this, and the fact that his work has now cut him off financially. (Note: After writing this, two of Matt's bosses contacted me and said they were unaware that he had been cut off financially. They have now reinstated his income for a few more months, which is extremely helpful and very much appreciated.)

I also feel a lot of happiness at each milestone we reach. Today he was able to walk nearly 200 feet! Yesterday he walked about 50 feet, and the day before he could only take about 3 steps. Each milestone we cross reinforces that we're on track to beat this stupid disease!

Of all the various emotions I've felt over the past month, the emotion I feel more than anything is love. I've never felt as much love for someone in my life as I do for my husband right now, and each day that passes, I love him even more than the previous day.

I have never been so proud of someone in my life. Watching him fight through the chemo and fevers and the rigors and the rashes, and everything else he faces each day, fills me with so much pride and admiration at his strength and willpower. It's not an easy fight, but he is fighting it with such indescribable strength.

I never thought it was possible to love him more than I did yesterday or the day before or last week or last month, but every single day, I love him even more. I couldn't be prouder to get to call myself his wife.

(Above: One of our engagement photos from earlier this year by Jessica Higueras.)

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