Butterflies and Runny Poop

I remember in college, when I would feel the need for sexual release as an explosion that needed to take place, my destination of choice was the baths.  I would arrive driven, nervous, with butterflies in my stomach.  My first destination, after paying the fee and getting my towel and locker key, was the bathroom, where my intestines would explode with a complete emptying of my bowels.

Today, so many years later, there is not much that can get me so stirred up that I feel the need to empty my bowels in an explosion of runny poop. I pride myself on my steadiness. As my wife fights for her life against a cancer that has spread from her abdomen to her lungs, with debilitating pain and more debilitating chemo treatments, I have emerged as the person that my son and the majority of her family looks to for guidance on her treatment, steadiness and strength.

My son, my wife’s sister and her parents are not able, because it is just too hard emotionally, to ask the hard questions about the details of her illness and the prognosis for recovery.  It is simply too difficult for them to hear that the chemo treatments my wife is now undergoing has a very small chance of helping her, and that she likely will die within the next year.  Her brother, on the other hand, who has a good deal of knowledge about cancer, is well aware of the odds of her survival. It seems that he has already determined that she is going to die and has stopped looking for any answers that could help in her survival. While I know the odds of her survival are stark, I have not given up looking for a silver bullet to help her survive.

As I imagine the year ahead, I expect it to be one of the hardest of my life.  Over the next year we are likely to be faced with my wife’s continuing decline, increasing weakness, and ultimate death. We will have to make the difficult decisions about when to stop treatment and move her to palliative care. When can she no longer care for herself, do we bring round the clock care into our home or do we move her into a nursing home facility or hospice to die? And then what? Where does she want to be buried? I show know after all of our years together, but I do not. How soon do I close down and sell our house? How do I decide on which possessions to keep and which to sell or give away? Through all of this I will need support the mourning of my son and her extended family?

I have not given up hope but at times the outcome seems clear and the burden too great.  I am grateful for my partner of the past two plus years, who has been a constant source of support. Our time together is sweet, tender, close, supportive and sexual.  His sweetness and emotional support gives me strength. I am sad that we could not move forward and move in together, as we had planned, but I am also sure we made the right choice. If we had moved in together, he would by necessity, have been drawn into everything I am going though in a much more direct way, taking away from the goals he has for his life over the next year.

The title for this essay came from a conversation we had last night as we lay in my bed embracing, naked under the covers, and talked about those moments in our life that can still get our stomachs a flutter and cause us our bowels to explode.  I work at holding it all together.  I try to power through the challenges I am in the midst of.  There are moments where it all seems too much, but mostly I steady myself by continuing to take the lead in my wife’s health care, talking to doctors, reading journal articles about her particular cancer, searching about potential clinical trials that might help and learning as much as I can so that I can help guide her care.

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