“The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That’s the deal.”



C.S. Lewis’s memorable quote summarizes my life as I write these words. My thirty-year marriage ended when my wife succumbed to ovarian cancer. The initial surgery proved a success and the routine check-ups offered no cause for alarm. For many years the cancer simply remained a background noise and we lived as if nothing had happened.

That abruptly changed when the last seven years of our life became a slow motion disaster. Cancer screamed in the background of every discussion but screeched even louder in our quieter moments. As the disease advanced, our conversation progressed from cancer to cures to spirituality. I don’t know which proved harder, the sleepless nights providing care with the hope of recovery or the sleepless nights providing comfort care with no hope of recovery. Throughout the cancer journey, the goal posts for remission were constantly moved and that specific moment when our consciousness finally accepted that her days were numbered became very blurred.

Once, I woke up in the middle of the night to find her staring at me, and through my sleepiness I heard her say, “I love you.” My half-opened eyes saw the unbearable sadness in her face, and my ears heard the reluctant resignation in her voice that conveyed a deep despair. That unnerving moment had quietly arrived when she finally realized exactly how her life’s journey would end and started her goodbyes in the only way she knew how.

Our conversations never focused on the morose. There were no dramatic emotional outbursts or breakdowns. It was a remarkable moment when we finally realized that her life’s dreams and aspirations were gone, poof. There would be no more planning, no more scouring the Internet for the next cancer breakthrough, no more doctor appointments or distracting movies to watch. All of that had been replaced with an eerie calm that filled the air.

A deep sadness filled my very soul as I kept vigil over my sleeping spouse. I couldn’t believe the wedding vows I had taken so long ago were coming to an end. Months later I felt privileged to witness her last breath and she would die holding my hand. This is her story and how she faced the last full measure with more class and grace than any character in a Hollywood movie.

James Sesnak

The book "Soldier On" is a memoir of Barbara K. Wilson (Kath). It is told from a 3rd person point of view. It tells how her previous life experiences before the cancer diagnosis influenced her "being" after the diagnosis. The book is not about me, but about Kath. As a 40 year nurse with decades of critical care experience, I was able to intervene in her medical/nursing care when I found it to be deleterious to her and confront the caregivers but I also recognized good care when it occurred. Unfortunately, I saw her "end of life train" coming down the tracks long before Kath did. That weighed heavy on me. I met my current wife, 4 months after Kath died. My family thought it was "too soon". What they didn't understand was that I was grieving long before Kath died and, as stated in the book, Kath explicitly encouraged me to "not be alone and find another". After her funeral, I took a 4 week "solo pilgrimage" up highway 1, from San Diego to Vancouver Island, to get my head together and returned to Sedona determined to follow Kath's advice. Dating was a whole other story, as I hadn't done that in 30 years. Fortunately, for me right now, my life is so good, it's scary.

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