My husband J.P was scheduled to leave with the military on Sunday January 17th, we had known since last summer that he might be going, he was in the Navy, but was going to be going on land as Airport security. I was very worried as we have a daughter (Sophie) who was 1 at the time. But J.P never thought about trying not to go, it was so important to him to do a 2nd tour in Afghanistan, and would have never turned it down as then someone else would have to go in his place and leave their family. So we accepted it and prepared, and packed and took family pictures and planned for him to be away until August of this year.
I remember the day of his diagnosis so clearly, we had planned to go out for the night on Friday January 15th, 2 days before J.P was supposed to leave. That morning was a typical morning except for J.P going to an eye doctor appointment I had scheduled for him. For the prior months he was complaining of eye pressure and headaches, so I wanted to make sure he did not need glasses or anything before he got on the plane to Afghanistan. Little did I know how much the appointment would change our lives…
I received the call from J.P that the eye doctor noticed that his Optic Nerve was swollen, which could be anything: from nothing to something as serious as meningitis, or something else. Although the doctor figured it was nothing to worry about, he sent J.P to his military hospital just to be sure. From there, the military doctor was concerned enough to send him to a civilian hospital in Halifax for a CT scan.
I was at home with Sophie that whole morning wondering what could be wrong. When I researched Optic Nerve swelling I received things back such as MS and Brain Tumour. I thought in my mind that it could be a brain tumour based on his symptoms, but I was not panicking. I figured at J.P’s age, it would be a low grade benign tumour that would be easily removed and we would move on.
I received a call from a military nurse while I was waiting for J.P to call me. She asked me for some numbers off his paperwork for Afghanistan. I asked her if he would still be going, she said no. I asked her over and over why, she could not tell me until they had a doctor confirm what was wrong, but she said he would not be going.
When J.P called he was very upset about this, the fact that someone else would have to leave their family so suddenly to take his place. He kept asking me to call the nurse back and tell them everything was fine and that he was able to go. A little while later, I got a call from J.P’s brother which confirmed the suspected diagnosis; a large mass in his right frontal lobe. No matter how much I tried to prepare myself for this I literally remember my breathing stopping. I somehow pretended to our daughter Sophie that everything was ok.
While at the hospital, the doctor explained that he could not go home as his tumour was so large that it could “teeter” either way. They were very shocked at the lack of his symptoms. I spent the night calling family and arranging for a stay in the hospital, and trying to wrap my head around everything that just happened. We met with Dr. Clarke, the neurosurgeon who would be doing his surgery. The surgery was planned for Monday, two days away, sooner if necessary. I remember his symptoms got so much worse over those few days in the hospital; he had double vision and seizure-like hiccups.
I kept thinking over and over what would have happened if he had not gone to the eye doctor and got on that plane to Afghanistan. The doctors advised he probably would not have made it, or at the very least went blind. The tumour was so large it was actually pushing his brain down and it was crushing his brain stem.
The morning of J.P’s surgery I was terrified. We brought Sophie in the day before to see him. The doctor went over the risks with us, things from paralysis, to stroke, to death. But it is not like we had a choice. The surgery was delayed an hour or so as there was an emergency before him. He went in around 9:30am. I remember I called the Optometrist that saw J.P originally on Friday and thanked him for saving his life. If he had not sent him to the hospital and let him get on that plane we would be dealing with a much different situation. I like to think that amidst all of this, there was someone looking over us.
The surgery went well; it was about 8 hours or so long. I remember I carried J.P’s wedding ring around everywhere I went that day, I never once put it down. Sitting in the chapel of the hospital, felt like something out of a movie…this is something that other people deal with, this does not happen to you when you are in your 20′s.
The doctor came in around 5:30/6:00 and told us that the surgery went well. They removed 95% of the tumour, and J.P was recovering well. The bad news…This was not a slow growing low grade tumour as originally thought, but likely a high grade GBM stage 4 tumour, which we were to find out later, is one of the most lethal cancers out there. So despite J.P recovering well, this was not the news we had hoped for.
Recovery was a bit of a struggle. Hard to believe but J.P had his surgery on a Monday and was discharged to go home on that Wednesday. It was very scary coming home, as J.P had a huge amount of fluid build up in his brain so we were back to emergency a few times in the following days. I would say the recovery was the hardest part for J.P of all of this.
The day we brought J.P home from the hospital was an emotional time for other reasons. Throughout not sleeping or eating for days, I had a nagging feeling that we might be expecting baby number 2. My suspicions were confirmed with a pregnancy test the moment we got home from the hospital. I remember sitting in the shower crying for a long time…wondering how on earth I was going to do this, a 13 month old, a baby on the way, a husband with brain cancer.
The weeks following came chemotherapy and radiation for J.P which as you can imagine was not the best experience.
The following months have had their ups and downs, certainly good days and bad days. This has been an experience I would wish on no one. I look around thinking of all the things that I thought were so important before, but now I see things more clearly. The moments that matter are those quiet ones at the beach where you don’t think of anything else but that particular moment in time, lifting your daughter in the air…the sound of the waves, the feel of the sand…those moments laying with your husband, watching your stomach do a dance when you are 8 months pregnant, almost like he is saying to us, I am here to save you.. But for the most part I try to have peace, and feel that somehow the universe has a plan that we just don’t understand no matter how hard it might be. It is the only thing that helps me get through.
For now we are just taking one thing at a time. J.P does chemo monthly & his last MRI came back with something questionable on it, so he will have another one in October that will hopefully tell us that everything is ok. I have my fears, I worry about it every day, I think about the future and the possibility of him not being here and I can’t, otherwise I would not be able to get out of bed every day. I would miss all of these moments that will turn into beautiful memories. Something could happen to any of us any day. It sounds so cliché, but we really need to live each day like it is our last because it might be.
I am so lucky to say that J.P and I, in our 5 short years of marriage, have been able to find and have love like sadly many don’t. He is my best friend, my rock, my everything. He is someone that I am completely 100% myself around. He fills me completely, and I will never take that for granted. He is an amazing father, husband and friend; we have taught each other so much. I am looking forward to many more moments together.
It is sad that it seems to sometimes take a horrible situation like cancer to make one realize the important things in life, but what matters the most is that we found it. We know now what matters the most. On September 20th we welcomed our beautiful miracle baby boy Jacob into the world, we are so thankful that he is here with us, and that J.P was feeling well enough to be a part of everything.
One of my favourite quotes is by Oprah, but it is truly how I try to live my life these days-”Breathe, Let go, and remind yourself that this very moment is the only one you know you have for sure”
Sacha Bremner, Wife of J.P., Halifax-area NS