My Husband's Tumor

First comes love, then comes a brain tumor.

This is our story: a collection of snapshots and memories of love, brain surgery, cancer and life
I love your haircut, it’s so cute. You totally have the face to pull it off.

Woman at barre class I had never met before (score!)

Here’s why I’m a fan of giving people compliments as soon as they pop into my mind. This lady had no idea that Karen has cancer, that her short hair isn’t really a choice. And yeah, she’s right: Karen looks amazing and she does have the face to pull it off. She’s a straight-up Cancer Babe.

Don’t keep those compliments to yourself. Go ahead and make somebody’s day.

As a child, I hated my birthday parties because I was always fearful that I wouldn’t appear grateful enough for the gifts I’d received, and a part of me is just as fearful today that we won’t properly be able to thank all of the people who have done so much for us in just two and a half years. 

There’s a lot of power in the words “thank you” and nobody uses that simple phrase as much as they ought to, but even those words seem insufficient. The universe and its people have been so kind that some days, my throat could close up just thinking about it. 

We get texts and emails and Facebook messages, sometimes from total strangers. We get cards and surprises in the mail. We got surprise desserts on a night out at Borough and I literally cried at the table and then stuffed all those feelings inside with some really beautiful sweets that I ought to have Instagrammed first (no regrets). 

We got Ralph. We got a sweet little house and a Good Samaritan and a lot of luck. We got doctors and nurses who cared enough about other people that when they were choosing what to do with their lives, they picked “making people better.” Seriously if you haven’t full-on hugged a medical professional in your life, I encourage you to do it.

We went on a long-overdue honeymoon (apparently the radiation center “doesn’t count as a honeymoon”) because my company and Aaron’s company AND THE COUNTRY OF BELIZE just decided hey, you know who should go on a honeymoon? THESE GUYS. And they made it happen and yep, yep, my throat is closing up again.

It’s easy to be there at the big things. For brain surgeries and babies being born. People know what to do for the big things: you bring a hot dish, you say the rosary, you send a card.

We’re less sure about the in between, the day to day. So here’s what you need to know: there’s no such thing as a little thing, and we’re grateful every day for every single act of kindness the world has shown us. 

Life is not fair, it never was. But it’s as beautiful as ever. 

We’ve been planning to take a chemomoon since the day after our wedding, when we pulled our car into the hidden parking lot of the radiation center and watched the snow swirl gently down onto our windshield.

We’ll go when it’s over, we said, but it was never really over so we never got around to it.

We went lots of places in between chemo treatments and radiation and brain surgeries. We went to Lollapalooza and Disneyworld and New York City. We went to California and Arizona. We went up North. We went to small towns around Minnesota, down to Atlanta and back to New York.

They were happy trips, but short ones, jammed into the spaces of the Cancer Agenda.

I always looked down on beach vacations. Maybe because I’m too pale and Irish to look good in a bathing suit, or because I’m physically incapable of relaxation, but I told myself that tropical vacations are for the unimaginative, for the lazy.

And then Belize happened, and I had to take it all back.

Our eight days in Belize were just what our little family needed: a total break from the reality of March snowstorms and persistent brain tumors in a country so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes every single day. 

We spent four night at Sleeping Giant Lodge in the rainforest, and I half expected dinosaurs to come popping out of the trees like a lost scene from Jurassic Park. Instead, Bryan and Berta (pictured above) swept Ralph up in their arms and Purm and I drank fruity drinks and went on hikes and explored the Mayan ruins and were just like any other young couple who brings their baby to a luxury resort. Guests stay in their own cabins, and share meals in the restaurant at the lodge. It’s intimate and private at the same time, with just a handful of other blissfully happy families crossing in and out of your vacation orbit.

We wrapped up our trip with four days at Jaguar Reef, which looks and feels just like a post card.

Even though we’d pinky sworn to Aaron’s doctors that we wouldn’t do it, we snorkeled on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. I feel like it’s okay because I’m a former Life Guard and I made Aaron wear a life jacket, and also because being able to witness a stingray making his majestic way across the sea floor while singing Under The Sea with your husband through a snorkel is a memory you just can’t trade for anything.

We had eight solid days together to spend however we chose. Ralph experienced the ocean for the first time (not a fan) and had a drink at a swim-up bar (milk). We laid in hammocks and read books and at night, he and Aaron slept so soundly I checked their breathing to make sure they were both still alive and hadn’t died of happiness.

The country is as beautiful as you expect but the people. The people are beyond kind, beyond friendly. They’re so warm and open and loving that you’ll hand over your first born son to a stranger who offers to hold him while you order your dinner. They take you on delightfully unexpected detours to point out a waterfall they just found, or chop you a coconut because you mention that your son likes coconut water.

Aside from Minnesotans, they’re the most genuinely loving, kind people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, and I can’t wait to see them all again.

Belize 2015…who’s in?