This Is What I Do

I’ll start by making this disclaimer.  While I know that these things are happening to Trent I think that most people who know us know that we are very close and it’s very hard for me not to say “we” and I refuse to let him go through this feeling alone.  So please pardon the “wes” and “uss.”
This whole journey began with what will heretofore be known as “the accident.”  My youngest son was 5 weeks old at the time and my husband, Trent, had been working like a typical chef.  His schedule usually consisted of 12-14 hour days with only 1 day off a week during the busy summer vacation season.  He was afforded a week of maternity leave – thank you Baby Coley.  Baby Cole, although a sweet and beautiful baby, was completely normal as far as baby behavior was concerned and was up all hours of the night, and this schedule was beginning to take its toll on both Trent and I.  I should also mention that we also have 3 more kiddos, Sabrinna 17 a senior in high school, Lily 12 at the time and Gavin Beau 2.  Our house stays busy.  Needless to say both my husband and I were beyond run down and were simply missing each other.
Trent called me at about 6:15 in the evening on Sunday, August 10 to say that he was headed home early and was going to grill burgers, a family favorite.  We were both excited that he was going to be home before the sun went down.  I hung up and began prepping the kids and the house to be ready for Daddy to be home, subconsciously keeping track of the time, knowing that it would be about an hour before he walked through the door.
At about 7:15 the oldest, Sabrinna, asked if I had heard from Trent because it was time – we all seem to have a subconscious log of Dad’s coming and going because he is often so busy with work we can’t help but jump on him the minute he’s home for longer than 5 minutes when we were all awake. I told her that she was right, he should he walking through the door at any moment so I went for my phone to see if I had any missed calls. Turns out, I did, although none of them were from Trent.  Three of the calls were from the same number and I thought that was odd, as it was a number I had never seen before and almost before I could complete my thought my phone rang in my hand.
It was the Travis County Sheriff’s Deputy calling to notify me that my husband had been in an accident.
-Please sir, tell me more. This time without the awkward excruciatingly long pauses –
These pauses were in fact so long that I so eloquently and politely asked to the man, “Well?! Is he dead?!”  To which he thankfully responded no and was then able to fumble through telling me that Trent’s arm was broken and that it was pretty bad and that Trent’s beloved 4Runner was, in-fact totaled.
-It was a rollover accident, ma’am.-
Excellent. He then gave me details about where EMS was going to transport him and who towed the vehicle.  I hurriedly jotted down the information that I could remember and then tried to collect myself enough to tell my three babies that I was headed to the hospital because Dad was in an accident.
-Is he dead?- Asked Lily, the worried one.  She get it from her mama, bless her heart.
No, baby, Thank God, but he did hurt himself pretty badly.  I then made and received no less than 6 phone calls on my way to him, one from EMS redirecting me to another hospital, one with a hand specialist.
-He’s going to need it, ma’am.  Hopefully you’ll make it before they take him to surgery.- What is going on?!
This phone call obviously confirmed for me that the accident was more serious than “a broken arm.” Once I arrived at the hospital, I then proceeded to breastfeed Baby Cole in the hospital waiting room just before the social worker led me back to Trent. Although I was beyond relieved to see him just to confirm proof of life for myself, I hope no wife or husband ever has to see their spouse in such a state. Tubes and blood were everywhere.
-Oh my God. So. Much. Blood.-
Trent lay naked covered only by a thin hospital sheet from neck brace to toe. All he could repeat after he got over the shock of me actually being there was that he was sorry. After he calmed down a bit he went back into somewhat normal Trent-mode and introduced me to his nurse as casually as if we we’re at the grocery store.
-What a weirdo. I love him so much.-
His nurse apologized to me for the mess and explained that I was under pretty strict orders not to raise the sheet enough to get a good look at his arm. I ablidged, not really being sure what my reaction would be, thinking it might not be a good idea for all 3 of us to be “in” the ER. Trent explained very little about what actually happened other than that there were some very good Samaritans who stopped to render aide, providing a belt for Trent to turnicate his own arm shortly after the accident while waiting for EMS. It was confirmed by Trent’s ER doc that this heads-up move on his part likely saved his life. Miracle #1. Thank you, God, for Trent’s desire to heal others – he helped to heal himself. I was then told that Trent would very soon be taken back for what would be the first of four surgeries to repair an open dislocation to his left arm. Trent then asked about the results of a CT scan that was done after his routine x-rays came back a little funny.
-Wait. What? Funny x-rays?-
The doctor said that we would discuss the results of the scan very soon. At this point my mom-alert was on high and I was paying very close attention to the way the medical professionals around us were behaving because even though the accident was severe there was something different in their handling of him. The doctor then went off to do doctory things and then returned shortly with what I later gathered was support staff. Kind of like “where two or more are gathered in my name…” but more like “where two or more medical professionals are gathered in my name bad news will follow.”
-Why are there so many of you?-
They then proceeded to ask so many questions. Are you returning from a trip to Africa?  Have you ever been to Africa?  Have you ever been to a strange country?  Did your parents’ vaccinate you as a baby?  Have you recently been exposed to anything strange?  Do you remember eating anything strange? Do you remember inhaling anything strange?  Was the middle name of your fourth grade teacher strange?  Did she go to Africa?
Well, the doctors were seeing something strange in what appeared to be his right lung. A tumor.
-Excuse me. A what?-
And other spots are spread throughout both lungs.
It was as if all of the air had been sucked from the room. He was brought in for a car accident but was leaving with Cancer.  Surreal. Absolutely unbelievable. God help us.
During the 3rd surgery that week his doctors’ completed a needle biopsy, the results of which wouldn’t come for nearly a week. As much as we wanted definitive results we knew that his arm came first and needed the most attention. I think we also both knew what the results would say. However, our goal in the meantime was to stay as positive as possible and focus on keeping his arm. Fast forward through 4 surgeries, 4 nights in ICU, 5 teams of really great doctors (orthopedics, plastics, oncology, trauma and infectious diseases) 3 bacteria, numerous IV antibiotics, 2 blood transfusions, scary fevers combined with dangerously high blood pressure, x-ray after x-ray, a constant drip of hallucination-inducing pain medicine, countless nurses, another hospital stay in the family for our oldest daughter due to stress, 7 nights in the hospital for Cole and I Daddysitting, a 34th birthday for Trent complete with a modified hospital birthday party and who knows what else that I might have missed along the way, after 12 nights we went home. Seven days after his 34th birthday Trent was diagnosed with Stage IV Synovial Sarcoma, a very rare cancer that appears in muscles and fibers. His manifested as a tumor showing medium growth (somewhere between fast and slow growing) that is attached to the back wall of his chest cavity in between his 2nd and 3rd ribs at the time, as I write this story now his tumor has grown and now occupies the space between ribs 2-6. It’s approximately the size of a softball, maybe a bit larger and is proceeding to destroy the attached ribs like some kind of demonic gremlin. He also has metastases in both lungs. The tumor is inoperable because of location. Radiation is also not an option. Chemo it is, for now, and that’s been lovely.
-Don’t worry, Honey.  I don’t mind cleaning up Gavin’s pee, Cole’s pee or your pee.  I’m a mom, that’s my job.-
In the meantime we’ve had ups and downs, and a lot of help. My mom has kept constant vigil in addition to being mom to everyone in our house when I can’t.  She’s even moved in during the week to care for “her boys.” Trent’s parents keep the prayer warriors going, in addition to babysitting and car-recovery (we have 2 totaled cars). My dad and step-dad also work behind the scenes to get people here and there.  Many people have come together to feed us and help to keep me sane.
As for Trent, he’s hanging in there. He had good minutes and bad minutes – that’s how we were taking this whole thing, minute by minute.  But we’ve since moved on progressively from hours and have triumphantly arrived to days.  He’s still in a lot of pain, more than he lets on. He’s faithful, but understandably nervous about the future. His arm looks great. His skin graft and skin transplant have both taken and are doing really well.
Trent’s cancer diagnosis was just the capstone to an otherwise banner year.  I had my oldest child diagnosed with a genetic heart defect.  I resigned from coaching, in order to spend more time being a wife and mother to my three beautiful babies at home, only to find out that I would become a mother for the fourth time.  We moved Gibson, party of 6, from Bastrop back to our home town of Austin.  My second born was accepted at an elite all-girls school and became a teenager.  We potty-trained a busy 2 year-old boy.  We totaled 2 cars – thank you GM.  I GREW A BABY AND GAVE BIRTH, and subsequently tore a ligament in my belly and couldn’t stand up straight for 3 weeks.  My husband was laid off only to move on to a great job only to nearly lose his arm and his life and be diagnosed with cancer and resign from said wonderful job.  I went from being on nine weeks of maternity leave from teaching to four months.  I had a husband and a daughter in the hospital at the same time, said daughter went on to have surgery to have a mass removed from her ovary – non-cancerous.  I had a two year-old diagnosed with the same genetic heart disorder as his older sister – Long QT2 syndrome – don’t look it up – it’s scary.  I was then diagnosed with and designated as the carrier of said heart disorder.  I lost 20 pounds after 3rd baby.  My present for losing 20 pounds, another baby.  I gained 25 pounds during pregnancy.  I lost it all as of 3 weeks post-deliver and gained 25 because Cancer.  I went back to work.  I teach teenagers.  Did I mention my mother lives with us?. Did I also mention I couldn’t make it through this without her and she is an amazing example of what it means to be a Christian. Servant love. Absolute unconditional love.  Thank God for Jesus because she wasn’t always so angelic.  I remember an incident involving oversold tickets to “Look Who’s Talking,” and a certain fiery bronze blonde whipping a disgruntled crowd into a frenzy behind her flurry of choice earmuff-requiring phrases, and me, 8 year old me, only wishing to be the wicked witch of the west – to melt ununrecognizably into the floor of North Cross Mall.  Yes, thank you Jesus for saving that one.
Alas, I digress.
What have I learned and am I continuing to learn from this experience?  I am a mother.  This is what I do. This is what we all do.  As I tell my kids, pimpin’ ain’t easy.  You cry, you laugh, you hug, you wipe tears, you fall, you get up, you drink wine with friends who are sisters – often – it did not cause the falling, you work – hard – you hustle, you pick up, you drop off, you drive, you wipe butts and tears, you referee, you clean up people’s crap – literally and figuratively, you HOLD IT TOGETHER, you fall apart, you hurt, you scream, you protect like some big angry irrational bear.
You pull down shower curtains in fits of rage, frustration and pain over your ability to create life but simultaneously feel it slip so helplessly from your grasp.  You do this in the privacy of guest bathrooms so as not to wake sleeping precious babies. You do this because you love – oh how you love.
My husband has cancer. They say he has it bad and they tell us he will die.  But I will not quit.  I will be strong.  I will be there.  For him, for my babies, for everyone who needs me.  We are mothers.  This is what we do.  I am a mother.  This is what I do.


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