March 2013 some got a call, others an email…. me? I got a short email message from Morgan, “Hey, so it turns out I might have cancer and I might have to go home they will know by tomorrow so I’ll let you know.” At the time, Morgan was on his mission in Australia and I was in China teaching English to kindergarteners. I got that message and thought “there is no way, that happens to everyone else, it doesn’t happen to us.” I wasn’t really that scared because I didn’t believe it was true. Until I got the message “They are sending me home.” It was exactly 1 year too early and Morgan was on his way home. I was sitting in a dorm room on a bed with plywood for a mattress by myself stunned. “this isn’t happening”.
At that moment, we were no longer Cancer Free and never will be.
Every person reacts differently to this information, I asked questions. Or tried to. There is not much by means of google searches in China when all the results are screened by the government and what results are allowed through is typed in mandarin. The spotty WIFI allowed for the occasional lagging facetime calls and the occasional emails. So, I was left in the dark waiting to hear what was going on by a game of telephone.
Sitting in a room in a foreign country after finding out the man of your dreams is being sent home with Cancer…..with no one else who knows you or your story leaves you feeling very very alone playing the mental game in the most dangerous way…. it’s you, and your thoughts. Buckle up, strap yourself in, welcome to the coping rollercoaster of your mind. I may have been sitting very still on that bed to any passerby but internally I was anything but motionless. Experiencing a wave of emotions, thoughts and fears in a whole new way. Eventually the tears would overflow, one by one slowly running down my cheek. A 20-year-old Utah girl living on the edge of The Peoples Republic of China trying to process what was going on.
I would be lying if I said everyone took this news in stride, In fact it would be more accurate to say more people panicked than those who stayed calm. It was my mom who grounded me and took the time to send me the research and facts that I needed to feel informed and somewhat in control. Morgan, believe it or not, was the calm within the storm. It was as if he had a crystal ball, he would say, ” I will need surgery and I think ill probably have to have chemo but then ill be fine” He had a feeling that was what was going to happen … and that is exactly what transpired.
What we didn’t know was that Morgan’s body had been giving him signs however they were all looked over as they were similar symptoms to much less serious conditions. Some of those included lower back pain or kidney stones that “disappeared”. It wasn’t until the lump that Morgan felt it appropriate to go to the doctor. It took overnighting the results to the University of Utah for him to get an answer which came to him over the phone.
“you are going home tomorrow”
Testicular Cancer was the diagnosis. Surgeries, scans, x-rays, blood tests, prescriptions, Dr. visits… all of it … It doesn’t stop. The chemo stops, the hair grows in, the strength slowly returns, and people congratulate you as if your trial is over. People forget and lives keep going. Some even ask you for advice or talk about that stage of life in past tense as if you have conquered the trial. What people don’t realize is that once cancer has left the body, you aren’t cancer free for 5 years. You are in remission and remission isn’t fun.
There are weekly test, monthly scans regular x-rays and constant check ups. The scans don’t just drain your bank accounts, they also drain their patients energy. It was a victory if we could make it out of there without Morgan vomiting. Juggling bills, insurance, work schedules and life as a newly wed… HA! Looking back now, I don’t know how we pulled through… but then again, maybe I do…
We had a good reason to be mad, to think of all the things that we missed, that we weren’t able to do because of the hand that we were dealt but instead, we chose to laugh. We laughed about all of it. Jokes about male anatomy became a routine subject, the cancer card was played when the dishes needed to be done and our new mantra became “well, at least we don’t have cancer” … instead of pity parties we had cancer parties.
Morgan’s First Cancer free anniversary was a surprise party with our closest friends at the time and it became a tradition. The second year we decided to invite family and friends and have a BBQ. The third year we don’t talk about because we ended up spending 10 hours digging 4 different vehicles out of the salt flats instead of our intended bonfire and shooting. Year 4 we learned our lesson and had a fun evening at TopGolf. Year 5 was the year we had been looking forward to since we found out he was in remission….
June 4, 2018. We talked about this day for our entire marriage. I had been planning a party for 4 years and I was determined to make this milestone a day to remember. I was not about to let this day be an ordinary day. It was Morgan’s 5th and final Cancer free Anniversary. He was finally going to be clinically considered cancer free.
We hijacked Morgan’s parent’s backyard in every sense of the word. My mom spent hours with me shopping and preparing decorations, it was a team effort and I was thrilled at how well it all came together and how much love and support Morgan felt by everyone who came to see him. I was not surprised that so many people turned up to support Morgan but what I didn’t expect was how emotional both of us felt after the day was over.
The highlight of the party was Morgan cutting the braid he had been growing since the day his hair started to come back. I joked about how much of a pain it was to have to braid or help him maintain but honestly, I miss it! Morgan still tries to move it out of the way when spitting out tooth paste or putting on a seatbelt. That thing was a great conversation starter, humbled the vocally judgemental, and inspired all those who cared to learn its purpose.
5 years was our long term goal, and we made it. But what we have learned now, that we didn’t know before was that we will never be cancer free. It is a horrible club to be apart of. If pushes you in the harshest of ways but just like any struggle, the lowest of lows become the highest of highs and we work every day to relish the highs and overcome the lows. Cancer has infiltrated our life and will remain there until we know it cannot come back. To be cancer free would require a cure and because of that, we can’t simply move on but what we will do and have been doing is – move forward and have every intent of doing so everyday for the rest of our lives.
Hear from Morgan, watch his Open Letter to cancer :
5th Cancer Free Anniversary :