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 “When Troubles Come in Battalions: Cancer”                       

My husband, Dan, was scheduled to go into Mass General, for diagnosis, a hospital we’d chosen since my brother, a neurologist, was on staff. The only problem? When Dan’s admission time came, my brother was on vacation. That meant: We were on our own.

The Sunday afternoon we arrived, in July, we’d just dealt with the flood in the basement and his friend ducking out of his offer to bring us to Boston, due to that friend’s illness. Now, I had to drive.

After settling Dan in his hospital room and staying, to help him ward off his nervousness, I left for my own challenge: navigating Boston’s Rt 128 corridor which was under construction. I retrieved my car from an empty parking lot and proceeded on my journey home. The headlight glare of opposite traffic and the narrow path delineated by tall Jersey barriers reminded me of legendary Jedi warrior Luke Skywalker, of “Star Wars” fame, steering his spaceship through a narrow corridor of assault. I was terrified.

My plan was to go home, and prepare for the week ahead. I’d return to Boston in the morning, by bus; my sister would come down from Maine to lend support; I’d stay in a hotel for the remainder, while he and I awaited diagnosis.

In the days ahead, we’d learn that Dan did, in fact, have lung cancer. Unfortunately, his cancer was not in a resectable section as was the case with both his parents. It was right in the middle. They’d had surgery, years earlier, and survived.

Three days later, more tests confirmed his cancer had spread to the bones (metastasized). When he asked how long he’d have, doctors answered “Not multiple years.” When I asked them privately, they told me “6 months to a year.” He was advised to get his things in order.

He was 50 years of age; I was 38.

It seemed so cruel. We’d just gotten through an 8-week recovery from his heart attack, only to face this new horror. Doctors devised an aggressive protocol. He’d go to Roger Williams Hospital, in Rhode Island, where he’d undergo a monthly, in-hospital, 7-day, cisplatinum infusion drip. I’d take on a new role of sole support in this, along with my other usual responsibilities (Dan had no family).

So, after 4 days and with the plan in place, we left the hospital and fumbled along city streets to the bus station. In a bizarre twist, I summoned the memory of my trying, as a child, to keep up with my Mom along Providence’s streets, in winter, as starlings screamed against the stone buildings. The birds protested the cold. They only wanted comfort and warmth.

I only wanted peace and safety…. for my girls and me.

On the bus ride home, I sobbed quietly, disbelieving my own precarious situation.

School would start in a few weeks. I knew that I needed to prepare for a year that would challenge me as no other.

Did the outside world suspect how bad things were? Maybe. Oh, there were signs, like the time, shortly after, when I was in the teachers’ cafeteria (we had our own cafeteria then) at school. I’d gotten my tray and gone through the line, selecting my food. Then I got a soda can from the machine. I popped open the top and the liquid exploded, fizzing all over my tray, bathing my meal in Coca-Cola.

While standing, I began crying uncontrollably.

I put the tray down and left.

Yes, there were times when the public probably suspected.

But they’d never know the true scope.

Only 3 of us would know that.

#domesticabuse #cancer #RogerWilliamsHospital

****Why do I write these posts? Many of you are going through tough times. I write of my experiences to give you hope that no matter how things seem to rain down, unabatedly, you can get through it…get through it and go higher.

 How do I know? I’m living proof.







  • September 16, 2021

    kirsti svendsen

    You are such a wonderful writer, Colleen, pulling the reader right into your situation, situations.

    • September 16, 2021

      Colleen Kelly Mellor

      I realize my timeline is a bit skewed…going backward, as I am doing, Much of my truly difficult “stuff” happened by the time I was in my early 40’s, but there’s still plenty that happened after, too.

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