Anthony married late in life, but never imagined he would have so little time with the woman he loved.
We had a great marriage. Caitlyn worked on Wall Street and was an athlete and attacked everything in life with a passion that was endearing and overwhelming. We met on a blind date when I was 51 and she was 42 and hit it off instantly. Fifteen months later, we were married, and after 5 years of trying, managed to get pregnant with the help of IVF. We had a lot of terrific times together, the two and then the three of us.
But then, she started to feel bloated and went to see her doctor. They couldn’t tell right away what was wrong, but eventually, she learned she had stage 4 ovarian cancer. The day she was diagnosed, we were supposed to attend a party at my office. I didn’t want to go, but Caitlyn said, “Why not?” I don’t want to sit around and cry and be unsociable. Let’s go.” It was such a statement about how she was not going to give in even though she knew the news wasn’t good.
The first couple of weeks were excruciating. It was so stressful trying to find the right doctor and sort through the numerous recommendations from well-meaning friends. You feel so vulnerable at a time like that. We agonized over that decision, but once that was made, it was more like, ok, what now? What’s the plan?
A Pillar of Strength
She had surgery and then chemo that continued throughout. It wasn’t pleasant, but she would bounce back after a day or so. And we made a habit of going out to our favorite restaurant on the day of treatment. She was getting steroids with her chemo and always felt good those evenings, so we took advantage of it. Throughout treatment, she was a pillar of strength. She lost her hair and sometimes would wear a wig, sometimes not, but she would never let our son see her depressed. She was so strong willed and physically strong, so she carried on a pretty normal and happy life for almost five years.
We didn’t cry around each other very often. We had one conversation towards the end when both of us lost it, but I tried to keep it together for her. My job as her caregiver was to make sure she had what she needed, not just the best care, but the support that would feed her strength and determination. But, we knew the severity of her illness, and we knew there would be tough times. I couldn’t help but have a feeling of hopelessness. There was no cure, so we were facing an inevitability. You struggle with impossibility and false hope.
Following Her Lead
Most of the time, our focus was on our son. The school was very helpful — they had a very good psychologist who helped him and us. And Caitlyn and I discussed how she wanted me to raise him so he wouldn’t become morose after her death. When she started to be truly ill, the question was when and what to tell our son. By that time, he was 7. You can’t hide these things from a 7-year-old. But the goal was to do everything I could to help foster the environment she created even after she was gone. It’s difficult to predict the quality or length of life. But when you have a child, you have to be responsible for that life too. I didn’t want to get into a funk and not be able to care for him.
She had a gradual decline and we were sort of oblivious to the incremental growth of her tumors. I was in denial. I knew from day one what the results would be, but I just followed her lead, as I did in everything in life.
Focus on Our Son
The last couple of months were very challenging. When her pain became unbearable and there was nothing further the doctors could do for her, we tried to do hospice at home. But the visiting nurses were not helpful and couldn’t be counted on to address her pain in a timely way. I hated that, to see her suffer like that. So, I moved her to a hospice hospital, and she was there for the last month or so. I was with her every day and brought our son when she was well enough to receive him. She died in my arms there.
Caitlyn wanted me to marry again — she made that clear. And I think in the long run, I need to be married. But I want to focus on our son and make sure he doesn’t get depressed. So, I try not to be, but it’s not like everything is roses.
I don’t see friends as much as I used to. It was unpleasant for them when Caitlyn was sick, and even after she died. So it’s somewhat isolating. But I am not unhappy. I appreciate that I had 12 years of a wonderful marriage, and I have a terrific son.