As I pulled my Sheriff’s Department patrol car out the station's gate I could feel my fatigue. Although I was just starting my shift I was exhausted. Emotionally, physically and spiritually worn out. I thought to myself, “another eight hours of dealing with other people’s crises.” It was time once again to put on the strong exterior and act like a professional, to be caring and provide a feeling of safety and security for the community. The problem was that I could not provide that at home, the place I cared about most.
An hour into my shift, the computer in the vehicle--called a Mobile Digital Terminal or MDT--made its little noise indicating I had received a message. As I pulled the message screen up I saw “ TO/111A/ 10-19 WC”. My unit was 111A and the rest was bad news. It meant I had to report to the watch commander and that was never good. I turned my patrol car around and headed for the station.
The drive was lonely and full of anxiety. What had I done wrong now? I scrolled through my memory of recent events and could not find anything I had screwed up, or at least thought I had. My heart raced as I walked into the station and knocked on the watch commander’s door and waited for the invite to enter. I silently thought, “this is all I need now.”
The watch commander asked me to come in and shut the door behind me, another bad sign. He began by asking stupid questions, small talk. I complied with his silly game all the while burning up inside with anger, grief, and apathy. Then he stopped and looked right at me and said, “Mark, I heard that your wife has cancer, is that true?”
My eyes began to well up with tears as I clinched my jaw. The room was filled with that awkward silence for what seemed like a very long time to me. “Yes Sir, that is correct,” I said with a voice that shook.
“If you need anything whatsoever, you let me know,” he said. “Any time off, ANYTHING!” He went on to suggest maybe I seek out some help from our department psychologists and I just nodded.
“Is that all, sir?”
He said yes and I left the station, returning to my duties feeling confused. “How the hell did he find out?” For the first time I had someone above me actually care about me and my family. Could this be true?
Melanie and I had been suffering this journey for about two years when I was summoned by the watch commander, and the journey was taking its toll. We had a six year old daughter, a three year old son, and a one year old daughter when Melanie was diagnosed with some sort of cancer in her thyroid. All I really knew was that the doctors were concerned, Melanie was terrified, and I could not comfort that kind of fear.
As our journey progressed so did the complications and the emotional panic. The spiritual cries for help and the hopelessness raged on. Our babies who brought us so much joy now amplified our fears. How would I raise three kids without my wife by my side? There was a sea of serious and terrifying questions and I could not find one reasonable answer.
It all started when I noticed a small and unusual bump on my wife’s neck. A few days later she went to the doctor and of course it was down played, no big deal, it’s just a cyst and we will remove it. The surgery to remove the no big deal turned into a nightmare of incompetence. They had accidentally “nicked” a vocal cord nerve leaving Melanie without a voice. The doctors decided to only take out half of her thyroid and close her up. That’s when they first discovered she had cancer.
When Melanie was pregnant with Madison, our youngest, the doctors had discovered something was wrong in Melanie’s body but could not figure out what. Her antibody count was off the charts high. Melanie’s body was in essence trying to kill Madison. The doctors thought Melanie may have lupus, in which case being pregnant was a bad thing. The lupus test came back negative and the puzzle got tougher. A decision was made to take Madison by an emergency c-section as soon as they safely could. The experience led Melanie and I to abandon our dream of a fourth child. We walked away thinking that we were out of danger with Melanie and Madison home safely. What we did not know was that Melanie’s body was actually fighting cancer and we had all missed it.
By the time the watch commander had called me into his office we were neck deep into trying to keep Melanie alive. Her journey was far harder than mine. Depression and hopelessness were consuming her. Her mental state was dark. At one point she had made a comment to me about ending her life before the cancer did. I knew I had to do something, anything!
I arranged for several sessions with the department psychologists. We both needed to find hope and the sooner the better. For me, the daytime doctors appointments and the early morning shifts where taking their toll. It was all I could do to present myself as a functioning adult, let alone to be a figure of safety and security. I was a wreck internally. My empathy turned into apathy. I had little in my emotional “checking account” and any emotional check I wrote would surely bounce. I tried to keep what little I had for Melanie, which meant everyone else got little to nothing from me.
While at work I worried about Melanie hurting herself. How could I ask her to go the distance when I knew what that looked like. I later realized that Melanie and I were in what I call a defining season. We were defining who we were as individuals, who we were as parents, and who we were going to be as a family.
Recommended for You
Love core value print (Limited Release)View on Amazon
As the time came around for Melanie’s second surgery our tactic changed. Fear was replaced with determination, apathy with focus, and doubt with love. I treated the doctors as if I was on a call and interrogated the heck out of them.
“How many times have you personally done this procedure?”
“Who are you going to have in the room with you?”
Melanie called me her personal bulldog. I would not let up until Melanie and I were both content with the plan. I became relentless, the more the doctors stuttered the harder I pushed. After all, we had to wait one whole year for the last mistake to heal before they could go back in and finish the job they started--all the while knowing that the cancer was growing and spreading.
Our psychologists did their job well. We were facing this next round with hope on fire. Our love for each other and our children became our banner. Smiles, hugs and kisses now fought back the tears and the paralyzing fear that was present the first round. Stay in the now, stay in the moment of love was our goal. We taught our children about love and let them love on mommy continually. No, it was not easy, and no, it was not all smiles, but it was working and I was thankful for it.
Melanie came through the second surgery amazingly. Everything went better than expected. After time passed she had to go through a radiation process to kill any possible remaining cancer cells. The three-year journey ended when she was given a cancer free status from her medical team. All that remains today are a few scars and a tremendous amount of love.