On the day of my diagnosis, Bobbie and I left the clinic and headed into Waikiki to see Gina Musetti, our acupuncturist, bringing her the news of my diagnosis and asking for advice regarding alternative treatment options. Ninety minutes later Bobbie and I found ourselves sitting at a table in the Hau Tree Lanai restaurant, located beachside in the New Otani Hotel just south of Waikiki Beach. It was nearing the end of lunch service when we arrived, so we had our choice of tables, choosing one just two or three steps from the coral sand of Kaimana Beach. The restaurant is beautiful, with high, cream colored stucco walls on three sides and only a rail separating the diners from the beachgoers on the ocean side. In the middle of the restaurant stands the tree that the restaurant is named for…the Hau tree. The limbs and branches of the tree spread out over nearly every table and therefore almost every diner is shaded from the sun by a canopy of large, crinkly, green leaves.
The table we chose was in the far corner of the restaurant, near the rail and angled in such a way so as to allow both of us to sit and look directly at the mix of tourists and locals, sitting on the sand soaking up the rays or frolicking in the small waves not more than fifty feet from where we sat. Beyond the swimmers was a shallow reef that continued several hundred feet into the crystal blue ocean, on which much larger waves were crashing. We could hear a low buzz of conversation and laughter coming from various clusters of sunbathers on the beach, but neither of us had an interest in listening in, we had other more important things to do. Our life, as we knew it, was over…dead and gone.
We sat in near silence while the waiter presented the bottle of chardonnay I’d ordered. Without saying a word I nodded my approval and after he’d opened it and poured wine into our glasses, he placed the bottle into the shiny, silver bucket of ice that was perched on the far corner of the table and excused himself. Only when we were alone did we begin the arduous task of making an honest assessment of our life; where we were and where we were headed, which, at the moment was decidedly unclear. At times we sat quietly, barely speaking at all, staring out to the horizon, lost in our own thoughts. But for most of the afternoon we spoke in anxious and earnest tones about the reality of our situation. It was a painful and revealing conversation, for it fully exposed the enormity of our grief and the depth of our love, which made my thoughts of Bobbie eventually being alone all the more unbearable. More than a few times during the three plus hour lunch, the conversation halted, as one or both of us needed a moment to regain our composure.
We talked about how our children, my siblings and our closest friends, might react to the news and the manner in which we would break that news to them. I knew almost instinctively, that everyone should hear the news of my illness at the same time and directly from me, so we decided on an email. Our sadness overwhelmed as we talked about the life events I would quite likely miss; the wedding of our two unmarried children and the high school and college graduations of our grandchildren.
The discussion turned to our house, the home we’d watched being built from the ground up. We spoke fondly and tearfully of our Sunday afternoon trips up to the construction site, bringing our camera and a bottle of wine along with us. How we’d toasted each sunset, imagining one day sitting in comfortable chairs on our back lanai, rather than the concrete retaining wall on which we were then sitting, watching the sun dip into the black Pacific. As we talked that afternoon, it became clear that our days of living in the home of our dreams would be coming to an end much sooner than we had ever imagined.
Finally, we talked about the impact cancer would have on my contracting business and the eventual total loss of my income. We tried to envision what the future would look like and most of all, how it would feel, but it was useless; the news was too fresh, the hurt too deep, the fear too overwhelming.
Isn’t it amazing, how just a few words instantaneously changed everything? Those three little words, “you have cancer” possessed the power to turn our life inside out and upside down! It seems almost silly to even consider that such a notion is true, but that is plainly the reality of it. If you ever hear those words, you’ll know it as an undeniable truth. Even if you’re fortunate enough to be “cured,” nothing about your life will ever again be the same and nothing about you will be either. In the future, the word normal may be used to describe your temperature, but it is a near certainty you will never again use it to describe your life.