I was 15 when my mother died. She passed away two months before her 47th birthday.
I remember it clearly. I went home at lunchtime to pick papayas from our side yard because we needed some for our Home Economics class in the afternoon. Next thing I knew, my cousin Narlyn was screaming my name saying my mom collapsed while she was having lunch with my dad at school where she taught. They brought her at my auntie’s house a few meters from ours. Our auntie had a jeepney that would take mom to the nearest hospital which was two towns away. An ambulance was nonexistent in our little part of the world back then.
I ran as fast as I can. The small crowd that gathered around her at Mama Noring’s house parted as people let me through. She was barely conscious but she opened her eyes when she heard me calling her name. She tried to talk but couldn’t. Her eyes welled up with tears as she looked at me.
That was the last time I saw her alive. She had a stroke. Years later I realized that with fast medical assistance she would have made it.
I think of her often especially now that Adi is sick. The circumstances of living in a sleepy town of a developing country didn’t give her a second chance to live and love. With Adi, medical science is here at our disposal. He will make it. I will do everything in my power for him to make it.
CHAPTER FOUR: Dr. Chovanec and the Angel in Disguise
On his second check up, Adi was told to go for a CT scan. The hospital gave him the date– May 4th. It was almost a month from his initial check up which was on April 10th. It was like an eternity of waiting.
And it was an eternity of waiting for the biopsy result, an eternity of trying to pull ourselves together, of learning to waltz through the daily grind despite our inner turmoils. We coped by talking, by assuring each other we’ll make it through whatever it will be. We took strength from each other. I took extra strength in the only way I knew how — I prayed.
May 4th came, his CT scan happened. The next day the hospital called to say they had the results of both biopsy and CT scan and to please come next week to see Dr. Chovanec, the head of the ENT department. For the hospital to schedule Adi with the head of the department gave us a sense of foreboding.
So now we’ve come full circle to May 12th, when it was confirmed Adi had chondrosarcoma in his nasal cavities. The ultimate question then was, what now?
My husband, in his understandably dazed state, only remembered few things the doctor told him. He said he was told he needed surgery, stat, to remove the tumor and then later he would have to go through proton beam therapy to make sure the cancer cells are eliminated.
Every surgery comes with risks but this one comes with bigger ones like blindness, infection, bleeding — the list is awfully long. The procedure is called craniofacial resection. The name alone sounded ominous to me. It’s a major surgery that’s done by incisions through the skull and on the face to gain access to the tumor. He will also have a long incision in his right leg where the surgeons will get fats or tissues to “cushion” his brain. Dr. Chovanec told him straight, without mincing words, that he might die during the procedure, but he might also live to tell his tale.
If you were Adi, what would you decide to do? Get the surgery with the risks it entails, or choose to live the remaining days, months, a few years of your life to the fullest before succumbing to cancer?
If you were me, what would you do?
We spent that weekend in denial and in fear. One of my greatest fears, him leaving first, seemed to be happening before my eyes.
Four days later, we found ourselves in Dr. Chovanec’s office. Adi was still undecided about having the surgery so I tagged along to meet his doctor and would be surgeon. I also wanted to feel if I could entrust my husband to him in case he’d opt for the surgery.
Lucky for us, Dr. Martin Chovanec was the perfect balance of straightforward and sympathetic. He was also very patient answering our questions, especially mine since I was mostly the one asking. We felt his sincerity to help which, unfortunately, is lacking in many doctors these days. Other doctors treat you like you’re just one of the statistics, just another one of the many that they see everyday. They seem to forget that to them you may be just one of the ants, but for other ants you are one of their own. You are special, you are loved.
Adi already felt comfortable with him from the very beginning. In tough situations, I listen mostly to my instinct. My instinct told me here is someone who doesn’t bullshit us, who sticks to the facts and is committed to saving lives. Surgeon, checked.
Still we wanted to weigh down our choices. “How much time does my husband have without surgery?,” I asked. Dr. Chovanec answered:
“Two, four months. Maybe two years. But he will be in extreme pain and his character will change. He’ll be irritable, depressed. There might also be a change in appearance, like his eyes would literally bug out because of the tumor pushing them.”
I looked at my husband and my bestfriend. Eleven and a half years of happy married life flashed before me in a quick montage. I cannot see him hurt. I cannot see him in so much pain. But I’m afraid for him to also take the risk of having his skull be opened. He might die on the operating table. Worst, he might come out alive from the surgery with major impairments or disabilities. Ultimately, I knew it’s going to be his decision and not mine.
Dr. Chovanec saw we were struggling with our choices. He scheduled Adi for an MRI on May 19th and told us to meet him again on the 24th for our decision. He then asked us to follow him to meet a patient he operated on five days ago. This patient had more or less the same radical surgery that Adi would get.
And there she was, sitting in her hospital bed, browsing her phone. Her head was partly shaven where the long stitches were. Imagine yourself wearing a headband, that’s how the incision ran — from ear to ear. Her left eye was bruised and swollen but if you’d cover her head, she could pass as someone who just had a bad fall.
She stood up to meet us, shook Adi’s hand and mine. Adi asked a few questions not wanting to tire her. She answered and assured us it will be okay. I was in tears through it all. Here is the living proof that there is hope for Adi. If this lady made it, Adi would also make it. Thank you, God, for showing us it’s possible.
A week later Adi confirmed to get the surgery. Dr. Chovanec scheduled it on June 7, 2016.
CHAPTER 5: Before The Day
By now you’re probably wondering how much is the cost of the surgery. Better yet, how much is the expected cost for all the hospital visits and treatments? My answer is I don’t know. Not yet, anyway. I’m thankful to the Czech healthcare system for eliminating the financial problem in the equation. Except for some medicines, our insurance is covering most of Adi’s medical expenses. I don’t know what would be left of us if we still had to worry about the financial side of this story.
It’s June 6th now, one day before the day. Adi is admitted at the hospital early in the morning. There’s nothing for me to do except try to do the mundane at work and get a hold of my nerves as much as I can.
His parents, who live two hours away by car, offer to keep me company at home especially for tonight. I know they are beyond worried as I am and I don’t want to add anything to that by being needy so we agree for them to come after the surgery to see him. For now we all deal with our fears in our own separate ways.
At 5pm Adi sends me a message that he’s just hanging around the hospital with nothing to do. I take the subway straight from work to visit him. It’s a sunny spring afternoon, so opposite of how I’m feeling inside. I feel numb and disembodied but also hopeful. Hours of praying have given me hope.
We talk by the hospital entrance. Adi reminds me what to do if the smoke detector at the apartment goes off in false alarm again. He asks if I always carry my pepper spray and tells me to always have my phone in hand in case I need to call someone for help. While he’s going through his list of reminders for my safety, Dr. Chovanec passes us by on his way home. He wishes us good luck for tomorrow and tells me he’ll call me right after the surgery.
At home at around 9pm, I get a call from Adi. He says that a nurse already shaved his head. He is about to shave his chest and right leg. They also gave him a pill to help him sleep. He’s thinking of taking it in an hour or two.
In the complete silence of our apartment I think of how we’ve both come at this moment together, of how this could be our last. I feel no bitterness nor anger. We love and we are loved. In essence, Adi and I have everything that sums up living.
— To be continued.—-