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'Will he live a long life or die tomorrow?' What it's like watching your husband go through cancer.

When the doctor told us my husband Brandon had a cancerous tumour, we decided to name it. Its name was Arnie, and he was a jerk. 

We met Arnie on a Friday afternoon in the Emergency Room. Only hours before, Brandon had gone to his GP for a check-up due to a lingering cough. 

We sat in a dank room with staff buzzing like a swarm of bees. They shaved patches off Brandon's chest, hooked him up to heart monitors, IV tubes and other contraptions I cannot name.

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We looked at one another and laughed out of nerves and confusion. We thought he must have pneumonia. He'd get a bag of antibiotics and we'd be on our way, back to our normal life. 

After a while they rolled him out of the room, and I was left there alone. Staring at the dirty floor wondering where they took my husband.  

A long list of worries bounced around my head rendering me useless. I couldn't even play a game on my phone, which would have been a welcome distraction. 

Relief washed over me when he was finally rolled back into the room. Grabbing his hand, I looked up at the doctor hoping for a quick response. He avoided eye contact as he turned a monitor toward my husband and me.  

We held hands as he pointed at a six inch mass in my husband's chest. I asked him, “What are the chances that it's cancer?” The doctor just stared at the floor in a silent way of affirming, yup it's cancer. 

A few moments later, Brandon was brought up to the Oncology floor, and that is where we waited to learn exactly what we were dealing with. 

No one tells you that this process takes over a week. We only knew it was cancer, not what kind of cancer. We also didn't know the prognosis; would Brandon live a long life or die tomorrow? That was a heavy load to carry for a week. 

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The uncertainty was lifted when we learned he had an inoperable form of cancer, Large B-cell non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. 

Treatment for this kind of cancer was five days inpatient 24 hours a day chemotherapy, followed by 14 days home then another round. We had to do this six times. 

To save his life, we had to start immediately. He was in a dire situation.

That first round of chemo was rough. Brandon slept a lot, and I just watched him lay in the hospital bed. 

Many nights I cried, fearful of what I would do if I lost him. He, being true to his personality, stayed stoic. 

But when I wasn't there, I later learned he was asking his friends to take care of me if he died.

Brandon in hospital. Image: Supplied. 

Time moved slowly. When we finally returned home after the first treatment, we thought life would be back to normal. 

But we could no longer have friends in the house for fear of the germs they would bring. 

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The process of knocking down his immune system to kill the cancer turned out to be training grounds for this current pandemic. 

We kept to ourselves, cooked at home, and watched a lot of television.

Since we knew his appetite would be leaving once on chemo, we started a tradition of going out for dinner the night before. This, we called, Chemo-eve. It usually consisted of cocktails with chicken and waffles. 

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The next round of chemo started with the doctor coming in with a large needle to drain the excess fluid out of Brandon's lungs.

He took this like a champ, but I had to leave the room. Just the sight of that needle made me squeamish. To avoid seeing this massive needle plunged through his back into his lung, I decided to take a walk.  

Out in the hallway, a family gathering was taking place. People were holding one another and crying. A man with two children whispered to a woman "Can you take them home? I'll stay until they take her body." 

I looked into this man's eyes, seeing a deep sorrow, and was struck that this too could be me. I rushed back to the room just so I could see my love. When the doctor finished with the needle, I hugged Brandon with everything I had.  

Brandon and me on New Year's Eve. Image: Supplied.   

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With each treatment, he got a little better. After the third round, they stopped needing to drain his lungs. He took more and more frequent walks, and we laughed a lot. More than you would imagine. 

Not because this was funny, but because we were nervous, and this was all we could think to do instead of cry.   

Each week Brandon got skinnier and lost more hair. By treatment six there were a few eyelashes and a stray chest hair here or there. That was it. He looked like an entirely different person, but he was still with me and still fighting.

The sixth and final treatment came to an end with a ring of the bell and rounds of hugs from nurses that now felt like family. 

We both cried as we exited the hospital. Gone were the days of endless support for me. Now we were on our own. But hopefully, Brandon was cancer free. I thought, this is where the pain ends, right? Wrong. 

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Chemotherapy is only step one. Now we had to wait a month to find out if the treatment had worked. 

We had to enter a new phase of our life that was clearly nothing like the life we had left behind that day we went to the Emergency Room. 

The next six months were filled with physical therapy, counselling for both of us, doctors visits and disagreements. 

We worked hard to find stability in this new life. That was a challenge because he was weak, frustrated and had chemo brain fog making him forget things he previously knew in a snap. It was hard to watch him struggle. 

The day he received all clear, there was a sigh of relief. He is doing well now; strong, funny and handsome. But fear that Arnie could come back never leaves. Hold tight to your loved ones, your life could change at any moment. Enjoy it.

Maren Higbee is currently running for “Woman of the Year” at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. To make donations to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society to support her campaign, please check out her pageShe has also made a humorous series called Confessions of a Caregiver that covers her struggles through her husband's chemotherapy. You can find it on  YouTube.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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