We went together to see the oncologist and I then understood what the follow up appointment was for. It wasn’t for me, not really, I thought. It was so the doctor could explain to my family what was wrong and what to expect. Jon sat patiently in his chair, holding my hand, and listening attentively. When the doctor had finished, Jon nodded his head and then asked when we could begin treatment. The doctor looked at him and then glanced over at me as if to ask whether he’d made himself clear. I stared at my hands and Jon asked again with growing impatience.
“Perhaps I didn’t explain the situation thoroughly enough. Mr. Bongiovi, your wife’s cancer has widely metasticized and isn’t treatable at this point. We’re here to discuss what she’s going to need in the future as the disease becomes worse. I know she seems relatively healthy right now, but this type of sarcoma is very aggressive and the lump that you found was not the primary source. It will only progress…” he tried again.
“Not if you just simply remove it” Jon interrupted.
“Jon, it won’t do any good. It’s already spread and the lump is only a secondary symptom. Please, listen to what Dr.Vasquez is saying” I tried to persuade him, but Jon was having none of it.
“If you aren’t gonna treat her, then we’ll find someone who will!” he exploded, rising to his feet and pulling me with him.
“Mr. Bongiovi, please, treatment has no real chance of success here and she’ll only suffer more from it. Your wife really needs your support” the oncologist tried again.
“And she’ll have it! I’m gonna be there every step of the way and we’ll find a doctor who won’t just give up, dammit!” Jon insisted as he dragged me out of the office along with him.
“Jon! Stop it! You’re embarrassing me! The doctor was only trying to explain the reality of the situation” I protested, but Jon wasn’t listening.
He was outraged that the doctor wouldn’t even discuss options or even try some form of treatment. His reaction was almost understandable in one sense as I didn’t have many symptoms, at least none that he saw. My breast was just a bit tender and he was infinitely gentle when he touched me, so I wasn’t really experiencing any pain. What I noticed, but Jon didn’t, was that I was having some difficulty breathing at times and I was beginning to feel tired more quickly. I had also been losing weight.
“C’mon, Trish, I’m booking us a flight to the Mayo Clinic. I’ll bet they won’t tell us there’s nothing they can do” he said adamantly.
“Jon, it’ll be Thanksgiving soon and I wanted to go see my sister. She’s expecting us to come for the holiday and I need to tell her goodbye” I argued.
“We’ll go to the Clinic on the way down, babe. Trust me, you’ll see” he persisted and I relented. Maybe the doctors there could convince him.
Jon had moved Heaven and Hell to get me an appointment at the Mayo Clinic on the day before Thanksgiving, but the prognosis was just the same. When he began voicing plans to look into clinics in Europe, I put my foot down.
“For the sake of the Goddess, please stop it! Enough! It is what it is, Jon. I’m going to die, with or without your permission!” I said harshly. “Baby, I need you to be here for me and to accept this. I’ve made my peace and I need you to make peace with this too. Jon, I can’t do this without you. Can you be there for me?” I said a little more softly.
Something broke loose inside Jon at that moment and he fell apart. He wept uncontrollably and I instinctively reached out and pulled him against me, holding him close while his body shook with the force of his sobs. I’d never seen him so out of control and there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t have done if I thought it might ease his pain. If he wanted me to have chemo, or radiation, or surgery, I would have agreed. But he didn’t ask it. The one thing he asked me was the one thing I couldn’t do.
“Baby, don’t leave me!” he wailed over and over. “I can’t go on if you’re gone” he pleaded.
“Jon, it’s okay, I’m right here. Baby, I’m here” I said over and over, knowing it wasn’t enough.
When he finally stopped shaking and raised his eyes to meet mine, I knew he’d come back from the dark place he had gone. The brilliant blue eyes that looked out at me from above the rosy cheeks stained with tears were those of my husband and not those of a child. He raised my hands to his lips and spoke in a steady, calm voice.
“Trish, Goddess, forgive me. I know I’ve abandoned you when you needed me the most and I’ve been so selfish. I’m so scared of losing you that I’ve pushed you away instead of holding you close and being the one you could lean on. But I swear to you, baby, it won’t be like that any more. You call the shots and I’ll follow. Whatever you want, whatever you need, I’ll be right here” he said with the faintest ghost of a smile.
It was my turn to fall apart now. I needed him so desperately to be strong so that I didn’t have to be. Now that he was, I let myself go and I felt all the feelings I’d kept locked deep inside. I’d barely cried since the day I had learned of my diagnosis and then when I did, it wasn’t for my sake. I cried for Jon. I couldn’t let myself feel my own fear or feel my own grief until I knew Jon could handle it. Now that he’d turned the corner, my levee burst open and he was awash in the flood of my tears.
“I’m here, baby, I’m here. Let it go. Let the rain come” he whispered softly, cradling me to him just as he had when I’d grieved for my cats and then later, my parents. Now it was time to grieve for myself.
During December, my condition deteriorated quite rapidly and Jon was amazing. He rarely left my side and no matter how often I seemed to doze off, when I woke up he was always there smiling. I remember one day in particular when the pain wasn’t so bad and I’d found the strength to get up and wash a few dishes while I waited for my tea to brew.
“Darlin’, don’t worry about that. I’ll take care of it later” he offered.
Jon didn’t want me to waste any energy on the mundane and yet there were times when I craved it. There was something almost sacred about doing the dishes as it represented a piece of my life that felt normal. It reassured me that I was still here and for a moment or two, there was something in my life I could manage.
“I want to Jon, really. But you can help me” I smiled and he joined me at the sink and we finished the dishes.
That small accomplishment felt like an enormous success, but it had effectively drained all my energy and I sat down heavily at the kitchen table with a satisfied sigh. Jon brought me my tea and I sipped it gratefully. I was still able to taste it and the warm liquid was soothing on my sore throat.
There was no question these days that I was sick. I had my good days on occasion, but mostly they were bad. I slept as often as I could since it helped ease the pain and when that didn’t work, I had medication. Hydrocodone had become my best friend since there was no reason to worry about addiction at this point. Hey, at least I wasn’t on morphine, I rationalized to myself.
My sixty-sixth birthday was approaching next month and Jim and Cherie were coming to celebrate. Richie and Carla would be there too and even Tico and Eva were flying in for a few days. I was glad Jon would have some support as he barely saw anyone and rarely left the house anymore. We needed our friends.
Jon helped me move to the couch in the living room where I could sit in front of the fire. When I wasn’t sweating, I was cold and I shivered visibly from the chill. I reached for the blanket that was draped on the couch and Jon covered me with it before he sat down beside me. Little Richie and Jovi were my constant companions and they took their spot on my lap.
“Jon, we need to talk, love” I began, but he shushed me.
I’d been trying for weeks now to get him to talk about final decisions and practical matters, but he just wasn’t ready. I took a sip of my tea and peered at his face over the rim of my cup. The lines had become deeper and his hair was quite gray, but he was as handsome as ever and for a fleeting moment I felt the stirrings of desire. It was a rather cruel thing, really, as making love had become too painful these days and it was too hard to breathe.
“There’ll be plenty of time for that conversation, babe” he assured me, but I knew better.
“Would you bring me my laptop?” I asked and he nodded, shaking his head.
I’d begun keeping a journal ever since Jon and I first met that day in the sauna. I don’t know why I started it; maybe to remind myself it was all real or to remember it all when it ended. Over the years I’d kept it up and while I didn’t write every day, I wrote fairly often. It had become a good way to process my feelings and it had become a chronicle of our lives together.
Jon didn’t know about the journal, or rather the book, as I liked to think of it now. It was the one secret I kept and the only thing that was private. These days I’d written a lot as my mind drifted over the past twenty plus years. It was comforting now to remember it all; even the struggles, as they reflected the love that we felt for each other. When I was gone, it would be there for Jon, to help him remember and know how much I loved him. I guess you could say that this was my verbal scrapbook of my life with Jon and I was getting ready to write the final chapter.