Sunday, September 9, 2012

My Other Half, and His

This is the first entry I am writing without knowing if I will ever post it. When Brian wakes up, I’ll ask him to read it, and if he’s OK with it, I’ll hit publish. If not, it will stay on my computer, still having given me the therapy that I needed this morning.

Last night, for the first time since I was diagnosed, I fell asleep bawling my eyes out in my husband’s arms. I actually don’t even remember falling asleep. I just remember the crying – the uncontrollable, could-barely-catch-my-breath-crying, as the rain pounded on the air-conditioner outside of our bedroom window. Brian just held me. It was dark (and I didn’t have my contacts in) so I couldn’t see if he was crying too. But he just let me cry, telling me I should cry, I should let it out, I have every right to feel the way I do. That he loves me. And I just kept telling him that I love him so much. Because I do, which is exactly what makes this whole process so scary, and so absolutely necessary at the same time.

When I woke up this morning, I had no idea what I would write about. When I saw the collection of tissues by my bed and remembered last night, I decided to write about my husband. But certainly there’s no blog or book or song or poem that I could write about Brian to do him justice. In fact, between that last sentence and this one, I have sat here for 45 minutes brainstorming how I could best describe my husband. I’ve come up with so many ideas, although almost every one keeps coming back to the same theme – that while everyone who meets Brian knows that he’s something special, they still only see a small portion of how incredible he really is.

For instance, the outpouring of support from the hockey community in the last few weeks has been nothing short of amazing, and I know it’s because Brian is such an exceptional coach. I have to admit, I know very little about hockey. I spend most of my time at Brian’s games chasing my children around the rink, buying Gatorades and pizza, taking Teddy to pee at the most inconvenient times, fetching mittens and pucks from under the bleachers, and hoping that the red light behind the other team’s goal lights up. Nonetheless, I’ve picked up clues along the way that Brian is really good at what he does (and I have no shame in bragging about it!). One clue came when the Boston Globe named him Division 2 Coach of the Year after his team won the state championship in 2010. No doubt I was overflowing with pride for my husband when the team won that year. But whoever at the Globe picked him for that award did it without knowing anything, or at least very little, about how much he really deserved it. I knew, however, that even if Canton hadn’t won a game that year, Brian deserved Coach of the Year recognition. Let me explain.

I remember the pride that I felt for my husband as I watched his team celebrate on the ice at the Garden back in 2010. I remember the music, the ice angels, and the kids throwing their equipment in the air as I tried to make sure Teddy (who was two at the time) didn’t tumble down the numbered stairs. Like any loyal fan, I secretly kept my eye on the one I cared for most, and so I watched Brian shake hands, hug his players, and admire their medals. I watched him beaming at the achievement for which he had worked so hard, even through his calm, cool, and collected manner (that is sometimes a rare sight in the hockey rink). As the kids headed for the locker room and the ice started to clear, I noticed Brian pacing back and forth, clearly looking for someone in the stands. He already saw us, so I immediately knew he was looking for Scotty’s family. Scott Herr, who played for Brian the year prior when that team set the stage for the 2010 championship by reaching the State Finals, was killed in a tragic car accident just months before this championship game. I knew right away that Brian was not going to leave the ice before he saw them. When he did, he took out a puck from his jacket pocket that he’d held there since Scotty’s passing. It had a white round #5 on it. Brian held that puck up for Scotty’s family to see. It was his way of saying more than words could express – that Brian knew Scotty helped them earn that win, that Brian’s inspiration that year and every year after would be from Scotty and his family, and most of all, that Brian would give up that win and every single other win for Scotty to be there with them now. Maybe only Scott’s family and I caught that moment. But that is the moment that convinced me there is no better hockey coach than my husband. Because no one could possibly care more about the well being of his players and their families than he does.

I could write about thousands of other examples, and you’re probably desperate for others that won’t leave you in tears (sorry, my teary disposition is contagious these days). I could talk about how Brian’s as good of a teacher as he is a coach. I could go on and on about Brian as a Dad.

But finally, I want to talk about Brian as my husband.

I’ve yet to write about Brian and my meeting with the fertility doctor, which took place only a few days after I was diagnosed. My oncologist referred us to this specialist to talk about our options if we wanted to have another biological child. To make a long story short, we were told that my reproductive system is going to weather quite a storm with the cancer treatment. As I’ve mentioned before, I will take Tamoxifen for five years after all of my other treatment is complete, and Dr. Bunnell said I should definitely not get pregnant while on that drug. That means that if all goes well, I will be around 38 years old when my treatment is complete. Teddy will be ten and Annabel will be seven. The doctor explained that there’s a chance I could get pregnant at that time (essentially, if my eggs have been able to survive the storm) but it could prove to be difficult. (And truthfully, it terrifies me to think that the hormonal changes in my body during my pregnancies could have contributed to my cancer growth, but that's me pretending to be doctor again.) So the real doctor casually (far too casually in my mind), explained our best option – right after my upcoming surgery, I would take some hormones, she would extract my eggs in a small surgical procedure, and with Brian’s help (I’ll spare poor Brian a joke about the specimen cup they gave him as a souvenir), a team at the Brigham would make embryos. They’d freeze the embryos, store them (offsite after 3 years), and when we were ready, we could choose a surrogate mother to carry our child. Gulp. Deep breath. Keep breathing.  

It was an awful lot to hear in the span of a few days that I had cancer, that I could have passed a mutated gene onto my children, and that we’d have to start planning now if we wanted other biological children. But there we were, with all of that shit piled on our plate, sitting in a windowless office of the fertility doctor, holding hands and wanting to disappear.

Needless to say, we both thought that meeting with the fertility doctor felt like torture. Luckily, we left that appointment with four tickets to the Boss waiting at Fenway's Will Call. I’ve already written about that concert and the spirit that I felt through the music that night. But I didn’t tell you about how I fell in love with him (my husband, not Bruce, well, OK, maybe both of them) all over again that night.

Since Annabel was born, I have thought about adopting our third child. Every few months, I casually ran the idea by Brian. Brian’s a thinker and a doer, not so much a talker, so I knew that his limited response to my idea meant he was undecided. I completely understood, and didn’t feel any need to pressure him.

As we held hands walking from the Brigham to Fenway, we talked about that terrible appointment. I told Brian that I had a bad feeling about the process the doctor had described, especially the part about injecting me with hormones while my body was recovering from surgery and preparing for chemotherapy. While I am so grateful that these options are available, and so thrilled that I have seen them work so well for parents desperate for children, they didn’t feel right for me. It was just my own instinct talking again, no science or logic or judgment on anyone who goes that route.

I had no idea how Brian would respond. He’s talked about having other biological children, so I knew that appointment could have crushed him. But he didn’t sound crushed at all. Instead, he assured me that we would never do anything that could possibly hurt me. He agreed it didn’t feel right for us. He told me he loved me. After we climbed the ramps to our seat level, we stopped, the over-priced snack bar on one side and the Boston skyline on the other.  And naturally, calmly, and confidently, Brian told me that he would love to adopt a child when all of this is in our past. Like has happened so many times as I try to gather my thoughts here, words can’t express the emotion of that moment – the overwhelming love, loyalty, and hope that Brian gave to me when I needed it most.

My husband is truly an amazing guy and everyone knows it. But they don’t even know the half of it, which is what makes me the luckiest woman in the world. Because I do.


Also, I thought this Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quote was a great one for this post:

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.


  1. What a beautiful story. There are many that you've written that can be classified as such, but this decision really shows something that can be called true love.

    My husband is adopted (he joined his new family at 2 weeks old). I had never really gotten to know someone who was adopted, or their family, until I met him. Of course when he disclosed the information to me on our first date, I peppered him with questions. I have come to realize that although it is a part of him, and he's proud to admit that he's adopted, it is virtually irrelevant otherwise. He is adored by his parents and his siblings, and he's never even had an so much as a desire to find his birth family; his adopted family is just that, his family.

    Through your blog I have gotten insight into who you and your family are in your less public moments and it is so obvious to me that this will be the exact same situation for you when you adopt. For when you do, it will be the luckiest day in that child's life, just as it was for my husband. Stay strong, and when you can't, let the love around you pull you up, just like last night...

  2. Tara, we are all thinking of you and cheering for a great result on Wednesday. You are so brave to write daily as you do and we appreciate being kept up to date with how things are going. We're sending positive thoughts in the direction of the great care team you have at the Faulkner! Much love from your wide fan base at Ropes.

    Anne O.

  3. Tara,
    That was a beautiful blog- my favorite so far b/c it was so heartfelt and genuine. You are right- Brian is one of a kind and I even remember someone at Westwood saying "all the kids love him"- it's not hard to see why. You are lucky to have him and even more- he is lucky to have you...

  4. Dear Tara,

    I am a former student of Mr. Shuman. To this day, he is the greatest teacher I have ever met. The impact he had on my life still inspires me today and I think you are one lucky girl. Even though you don't know me, I am praying and thinking of you every single day.
    Much love, hope, and light
    Alli Shortt

  5. Wow this is so powerful! We are all rooting for you!