Dear family, friends, and loyal TBCTRFSCIW (my easy-to-remember acronym for Tara Beats Cancer: Total Recovery. Full Stop. Checkmate. I win) blog followers,
My wife is amazing. By simply following her blog, you can see some her many incredible qualities. Strong, funny, thoughtful, compassionate, gifted. And, she is also trusting. A few days ago, she asked if I would enter this precious place that she created in the blogosphere and write a post updating everyone on her big day. I was honored. And fucking scared out of my mind. (Sorry, I usually don't' swear, as my hockey team knows.) I have never felt this much pressure to “not screw up” something in my entire life (oh wait, besides parenting. I want to get that right too… for the kids). Like you, I have followed along with her journey here online, and I too know how she has created a space for all of us to laugh, to cry, to support one another, and to be inspired. I promise you, she’ll be back soon, and better than ever. So, between you and me, let’s make a pact that even though what you are about to read is not even close to Tara’s gift of writing, you will remain dedicated followers of her blog. Yes, I’m talking to you, Netherlands. We want all of you to stay on board.
This morning in the Shuman household was in many ways like most mornings: Teddy watched his Cat in the Hat Knows a lot About That episode (that show is PAIN-ful) and refused to get dressed, while Annabel barked orders that were disguised in the form of questions. “Pappy?” (Where the hell is my pacifier?). “Blaybie?” (Fetch me my blanket!). “Mo waffo?” (Get off your ass and get me more waffles!). But, we all know that today was not like most mornings. The impending double mastectomy in six hours was on both of our minds, bringing a strange mix of relief and nerves. The beautiful weather outside seemed to both of us to appear even more beautiful, which we took as yet another omen of a sign of good things to come.
We dropped the kids off to school together, which was a welcomed treat. As we pulled into the parking lot, both of our eyes swelled up with tears as we noticed the sign outside: “It is checkmate day. BHMS supports Team Tara.” Hell yeah, Blue Hill Montessori School. That was awesome. Emotional hellos to teachers and goodbyes to the kids followed. Then it was home to start the big part of the day.
I barely remember the rest of the morning and the trip to Faulkner Hospital. I was a bit distracted… by the unsettling notion that I really don’t have a decent second running back for my fantasy football team. I’m joking. I was obviously distracted by the enormity of a day that I have been both longing for and dreading at the same time. Tara’s entourage (me, Mom, Dad, Rachel, and eventually Sean) reached Faulkner around 11, and after parking the car, I threw three pink bags over my shoulder (I’ve become MUCH more secure about my pink clothing and accessories, by the way), and it looked like I was about to check into a Holiday Inn for the week. We entered the lobby together, and what I would hardly consider a coincidence, but rather fate, we immediately ran into one of our many angels in this road to recovery, Carole. A nurse at the Faulkner and mom to Tara’s former students, Carole guided us to our destination and offered comforting words along the way.
Eventually, “Tara’s crew” made its way to the surgery wing, where another angel was waiting for us. Kathy, an incredible nurse in the OR and an even better mother to two of my hockey players, greeted us with big hugs and smiles. I cannot even begin to explain how much she has meant to us through this whole process. I know she thinks we are crazy, but simply her presence alone makes us feel better and stronger. “Thank you so much,” Tara and I kept saying to her. “This is what we do,” she replied. I find so much comfort in those words.
Soon (very soon, actually… thanks to Kathy), Tara was brought back to prepare for surgery. The wait was difficult for Anne and I. Even though we know and LOVE so many of Tara’s caregivers (like Rachel said, “Do you guys know EVERYBODY here?”), we still find it difficult to leave Tara. For me, I feel safer and stronger when I am next to her. As you all know, she is a uniquely wonderful source of strength and hope in the face of this “invader” we fight.
While Tara was meeting her team, we waited. Finally, Kathy gave us the “go sign” to head back and see my wife. T's family went first, and I caught a glimpse of Anne hugging Kathy and crying. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to watch a daughter go through this. A few years ago, Teddy needed ear tubes for his chronic ear infections. It was maybe a 10 minute procedure, but I had to go back to the operating room with him, and they "put him under" before my very eyes to prep for the actual surgery. Watching my son in his little hospital gown, on a hospital bed, with a mask on that would knock him out was excruciating. But, it pales in comparison to what some parents have to face, I know. And it pales in comparison to what Anne felt at that moment, hugging Kathy. I can’t even imagine.
Then, it was my turn to go back. My heart was pounding. I didn’t want to say goodbye. A team of four, maybe five or six, nurses and caregivers stood around Tara’s bed. We both tried to be strong for one another. We both told each other it was going to be fine. We kissed each other. We hugged each other. Then we cried. It was time to say goodbye, albeit for just a few hours. I physically hurt when I turned away.
I left Tara, and several nurses grabbed me and told me things would be fine. I believe them. As I headed back to the waiting room and crossed the hallway to the operating room, the surgeon, Dr. Nakhlis, walked right in front of me. I thought to myself, “We only met once. There’s no way she will remember me.” She looked at me, stopped, and said, “Hi Brian. How are you doing?” Amazing. Truly amazing. How many patients has she met? How many spouses? I was beyond impressed, but I was most certain that she was going to help my wife beat this thing. We spoke for 10 seconds, and Dr. Nakhlis told me things were going to be fine. It was only 10 seconds, but it made all the difference in the world.
It’s past two o’clock right now, and I am sitting in the beautiful family center at the Faulkner. Tara has been in surgery for an hour. Just typing that gets me all emotional. This blog post was exactly what I needed to get me through the first half of her surgery. Thank you for letting me share today’s journey with you, through my eyes. Thank you for letting me add my thoughts to a truly special space. I’ll be sure to add an update later on tonight. I hope my post offered just a small fraction of what Tara's words give you everyday: strength, love, hope, and inspiration. And remember our pact that we made earlier on. I want to see you all back.