In March of 2009, Chris and I went to Destin, FL so that she could take a break from her cancer treatments. She had completed her first rounds of chemotherapy, and desperately needed an escape from her everyday life. Those first few months of chemo, six cycles in all, had been grueling. The treatments had taken a devastating toll on her body. She experienced constant nausea, had chronic fatigue, had a significantly depleted immune system, and she had lost all of her hair. Chris was worn out, and desperately needed to recharge. The white, sun-drenched beaches of the Florida Panhandle on the Gulf of Mexico were just what the doctor ordered.
During our vacation there, we took long beach walks, we collected sea shells, we enjoyed mornings and afternoons sitting under beach umbrellas reading, we watched the sun rise and set, and we rested up. But our R&R wasn’t just for Chris—her illness had taken a toll on me, too. I was constantly learning new things about being a cancer caregiver, as well as trying to keep up with my job at Eric Mower and Associates. At this point in time, Chris was on a leave of absence from Office Environments, unsure when she would return to work.
Not too long after that spring vacation, Chris felt that she could return to work, at least on a part-time basis. After consulting with her oncologist, we were relieved to find out that her bone cancer was in remission, at least for now, and Chris wanted to take that opportunity to try to go back to work. However, the cancer treatments and the three spinal surgeries that Chris had undergone from 2005 to 2008 had taken their collective toll on Chris. She no longer had the stamina that she would have naturally had at age forty-one, and so she met with the management of her company to explore other, less demanding career options, as going back into commercial office furniture sales would have been too physically demanding.
Since Chris had started her career as an interior designer right after college, the management at OE felt that this role would be physically less taxing for Chris than sales. As a salesperson, she would have had to always be on call for her customers, but as an interior designer, she was often in more of a behind-the-scenes role. Chris had a desperate desire to return to work, but didn’t have the energy to work full-time, and so OE’s management agreed to let her come back to work in an interior designer role in a part-time capacity.
Since Chris had been out of work for quite some time (nearly a year at this point between the very complex spinal surgery at Duke University Hospital, subsequent recovery, and the first several rounds of chemotherapy), some changes had taken place at Office Environments. There was a new interior design manager at OE, and her name was Jessica. She would be Chris’s new boss.
Jessica and her husband Chad had moved to Charlotte from Michigan, and as it turned out, they lived only a few miles from our subdivision in southwest Charlotte. Chris took an immediate liking to Jes, and soon they found themselves not just co-workers, but also very good friends. Chad and I became friends, too.
It didn’t take Chris too long to get up to speed as far as her new responsibilities as a part-time interior designer. She easily settled into this new role, and found career fulfillment once again as she resumed her career, albeit in a different role. My career at EMA continued along, too, and it was good to be back at the office every day, although I missed spending so much time with Chris, as I had done when she had undergone her chemotherapy treatments.
We tried as hard as we could to get our lives back to normal, too. We resumed some regional travel whenever Chris felt that she had enough energy to sit in the car for a few hours. We took trips to the mountains in Asheville, NC, and would also take periodic trips to Raleigh, NC, Columbia, SC, and Atlanta, GA, to visit various art museums. Chris had a great love of art, and seeing and experiencing beautiful works of art helped to restore her soul, which had been nearly crushed by cancer.
Various projects continued at our new(ish) house as well, and we continued to make it a comfortable, relaxing environment, as Chris still spent substantial time there resting when she wasn’t working at her part-time job.
As 2009 came to a close and 2010 began, we continued going to regular check-ups with her oncologist. For those first several check-ups after Chris went into remission, she remained tumor free. However, at one of those seemingly routine appointments, the oncologist informed us that he had some bad news: Chris had a new tumor. We were stunned.
The oncologist explained that because the chemotherapy drugs in her first rounds of treatments had been so powerful and toxic, Chris could never be treated by those drugs again, even though it appeared that treating her with them had put her cancer into remission. Her oncologist had a second line of defense to offer us, and that was to try a different type of chemotherapy. Chris dreaded the idea of having to undergo more chemo treatments, but Chris knew what she had to do, since not getting treated was not an option.
EMA and OE still continued their incredible support for our situation, and we once again had the flexibility of doing what we had to do to try to beat Chris’s bone cancer. I would be able to go to chemo treatments with her again, and work remotely while I was with her. Chris was able to put her part-time job mostly on hold, working a little bit from home whenever she had enough energy to do so.
After the first few rounds of this second tier of chemo drugs, Chris started to lose her hair again—she was going bald for a second time. She was angry that the cancer cells lingered in her body. She was upset because we didn’t seem to be able to get the upper hand on this insidious disease. She was frustrated that she couldn’t move forward with her career without cancer interfering. And Chris was scared at the possibility that she might someday lose this battle to save her life.
Scott G. Howard worked in the advertising agency business as a media buyer and media director for nearly twenty-five years. He is now an author, storyteller, and freelance writer, and writes from his unique perspective on relationships and life. Scott was born in Syracuse, NY and resides in Charlotte, NC, where he has lived for almost twenty years.