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Chapter 08 - Dancing Beyond Cancer - Homecoming

Chapter 8 -------- Homecoming

The trip from my house to hers was only several miles, but it was still one of Danielle’s first trips in the car since the trip from Phoenix. We hadn’t needed to leave for treatments because the Doc would bring everything we needed to the house. Danielle particularly liked this because she didn’t have to be seen in public, even though I thought she still retained such radiant beauty. She maintained a beauty that few people could even explain other than it seemed almost otherworldly. Now that she was home, she glowed even more. Her home was a place that brought her much happiness and pride.

It was great to finally get her back in her house, which meant so much to her. It was where she taught dance for the past seventeen years, but to her, it was far more than that. It stood for all the struggles and hardships that she faced to keep the dance studio open. It also stood for the independent woman that she was. She bought it herself and had worked her heart out to keep it open through the recession.

Danielle decorated her home masterfully. Beautiful artwork graced the walls, cool artifacts, and unique antiques she would dig up in her second-hand shopping adventures made her space divinely unique. She didn’t need new things because she would see the beauty in many discarded items. It says something about her general character because she would also see the gold in the people that society discards. Her house stood for more than just dance; it was a complete expression of herself.

Danielle’s was happy to be home, but we faced some immediate challenges. First, we had to figure out our sleeping situation, and our options were limited. We had a single bed that met Danielle’s quality standards, but it meant that I would be a little crowded sleeping next to her. The other bed in the house was old and included some broken springs. Danielle even mentioned it might have had mold. The only other thing would have been a memory foam mattress to lay on the floor. We decided that the floor was a really bad idea, and the mold was out of the question. Leaving only the single bed as the best choice.

I could manage the discomfort because it felt more comfortable always to sleep next to my wife. I couldn’t leave her alone, no matter where she would sleep. I could endure if it meant we were doing what was best for my wife. The tight squeeze just created more intimacy, so it wasn’t all bad. It was just a matter of time before I would bring up my queen size bed in storage up from Tucson.

The second challenge was adjusting to the new surroundings. We didn’t have access to the main bathroom because technically, the second roommate was still there but hadn’t been home in a month. Considering the roommate left her bathroom filthy, we weren’t about to start using it yet. So we had to make do with the little spare shower located in the laundry room. It was a far smaller shower than at my house. I found a tiny stool that she could sit on in the shower while I would hold her hand for support.

At some point, during the shower, she would request that I remove her stool and she would sit on the ground for the remainder of the shower. I worked it down to a science. I could almost predict when she would ask me to turn up the temperature. I would then bundle her up in two or three towels and get her to a warm bed. During the autumn keeping Danielle warm and comfortable was never an issue. Sedona has such beautiful warm weather for eighty percent of the year, which is what led to one of the biggest problems we faced living at Danielle’s.

As December approached the temperatures in the evening began to drop significantly.

Danielle had lost a lot of weight and was far more sensitive to the cold. She would even spend afternoons in the Sun to keep up her body temperature. Danielle realized that being cold was not good for her recovery. It was better to keep her bundled up, which was not a problem unless she had to use the restroom. Danielle’s home, like many in Arizona, didn’t have central heating.

Built in the ’20s the house’s electrical system hadn’t seen an upgrade in several decades. Danielle had almost lost the house to an electrical fire if it weren’t for the dog bringing a small problem to her attention. After repairs, the technician informed Danielle that she couldn’t use high wattage electrical heating elements. Leaving us with only two small heaters that met those standards. Danielle also made sure that we only had one heater plugged in per circuit breaker. I made it work by running some extension cords through the house so I could easily move the heaters to where we needed them. I would use them to warm up the bathroom before we had to use it at night, and also would bring both in the room if Danielle was too cold.

My final challenge was moving out of my old rental and into our beautiful home. Between shifts and running errands for my wife, I was able to grab most of my stuff over the following two weeks. Due to the circumstances, my roommate let me out of the lease a month early so I could handle treatment expenses. It was such a blessing, and I am still grateful for that.

The first week settling in was a bit overwhelming for me but eased by the convenience of my new job. The restaurant I was working at was less than a quarter mile down the street and directly across the main road that runs through the Heart of West Sedona. It took me less than a minute without traffic and three minutes with heavy traffic to drive to work. Normally if I worked that close, I would walk or bike to work. I always drove, concerned my wife would need me, and I wanted to be able to get home quickly.

It was at this point that Danielle also started connecting with more people. It had been about five weeks since the surgery, and she was now able to walk and move on her own. She was more confident now that her health was improving. There was a lot of personal pride that Danielle had that she wanted to maintain. On top of that, the opinions and comments of the Spiritual Community had Danielle angry and in fear.

Danielle witnessed ignorant comments people would make about Cancer, and that the person invited it into their lives. Danielle was upset by this way of thinking, as her cancer wasn’t something, she intentionally invited in. She knew she wasn’t the cause of her cancer, and positive thinking was not going to make everything go away. I am reminded that positive thinking guru Dr. Wayne Dyer also passed from a six-year battle with cancer. Cancer is nothing people consciously bring into their lives. It is an attack on the weakness of a person. The weakness could be from trauma, toxins, or a multitude of other sources. It is in this that each person’s journey is different.

Humility is something I gained in this process. I needed to respect my wife’s journey even though I would have done many things differently if I were in her shoes. I even had to learn the hard way why it is important to keep our opinions to ourselves. It was hard for me to realize that pushing my beliefs on my wife was violating her free will. So I had to start respecting her decisions if she was also going to start respecting my opinions about those decisions. No matter how much I wanted to help my wife if she didn’t see my actions as helping then I really wasn’t helping her. Despite me believing that I was being helpful all the time.

One of our first interactions with someone who was rather oblivious to others, was when the last roommate came to the house to clean her room and the bathroom. We were expecting her arrival because she had been texting Danielle about paying the last bit of rent. The roommate was made aware that Danielle was facing serious health issues. So we didn’t need any explanation there. However, it was her first response that sent Danielle through the roof.

The roommate commented that Danielle had lost a lot of weight. Danielle was absolutely beyond offended by the remark. I actually didn’t understand her offense initially but realized quickly why it was so inconsiderate. Danielle at the time was trying her best to gain the weight she lost during her recovery. As much as the comment was made in good intentions it was received as a sign of her failure to return to normal. The last thing she wanted to hear was she was looking thin when she was trying to get back to her ideal weight.

I realized quickly how incredibly rude it was to comment on the appearance of someone sick or recovering. We shouldn’t point out problems that may be causing serious stress to that person. It is almost like squeezing a lemon in an open wound. I maintained an extreme cool during this time, and the roommate said nothing and went to her room to start cleaning.

After finishing, she tried to apologize by saying she didn’t realize that would upset Danielle, because she would be happy if anyone told her that she lost weight. It was a big wakeup call for her to realize that sick people might not want to be called skinny. I helped calm the tension between Danielle and her roommate with the highest level of calm. I then told the roommate it was time for her to leave and thanked her for cleaning. My wife was impressed at how I handled the situation.

It was a huge improvement compared to how I had handled Danielle’s sister. I only wish I had half the grace and elegance I used at this moment. Immediately I stopped the conversation saying it is clear that both parties are upset. I noted that we were thankful that she was sorry and that she needs to be more mindful of her words, next time. I told her that it was best for Danielle if she just accepted the lesson and left us alone. I thanked her again and sent her on her way. Sadly, not all encounters ended this smoothly.

By far, the most upsetting visit for Danielle was a parent who just made a surprise stop by the house. For the sake of her involvement in the rest of this story, I will refer to her as Narcy, because of her extreme narcissism. I was sadly at work when she unexpectedly showed up. Otherwise, it would have been a much different interaction. I had previously threatened to excuse people from the property for not behaving properly. My wife’s health was more important than another person’s needs, even my own.

I would never wish a Narcy into anyone’s life, but she still plays a very important role in the story. Narcy brings awareness to behavior that is truly harmful to others. Sharing this encounter will help more people recognize the behavior and protect themselves from it. I couldn’t protect Danielle from Narcy, but Danielle did share how hurt she was by her.

First, Narcy used her daughter to force a visit while I was out. Not only was Danielle having a tough day, but she wasn’t in a place to take visitors. It was a serious sign that some people have zero respect for other people’s boundaries. Danielle was not allowed to decline the visit either, as the child was used to gain entry.

This parent also broke every single rule that you could during her visit. Narcy questioned all of Danielle’s treatment decisions, she even said, “if the treatments don’t work, you are going to try chemo, aren’t you?” Truthfully, I think, it is this exact behavior that made her constantly question whether she did the right thing. It upsets me the most because it was a pattern that she repeatedly dealt with from her family as well.

Danielle constantly faced people who didn’t support her decisions. I even learned Narcy questioned all of Danielle’s ideas about returning to teaching dance. Considering the performances were something that stressed Danielle out more than any other part of her job. Danielle thought it would be best for her health to stop recitals for a while. Narcy did not like this because the recitals were for the parents. She was stating in her opinion that Danielle must put on the performances. It seemed that Narcy could not do anything but push her wishes and desires.

Narcy also made some inappropriate comments about me. Danielle had a picture of us taken during our wedding on the table, and Narcy thought it was okay to make a slightly sexual comment about me. Not in words but in the way, she said it and insinuated. I’m not sure exactly what was said, but it was done in a tasteless fashion. Narcy’s lack of concern threw Danielle over the edge. Danielle stuffed her reaction due to the child being highly sensitive. Danielle seemed to garner jealousy in many forms.

Another neighbor, while doing a walk up the street, said she was jealous of Danielle’s situation. After explaining her condition and the wedding that also happened along with the hell she was going through. The woman still said she was jealous. I understood where this woman was coming from as she gave a brief explanation. Stating, “How lucky Danielle was to have found someone who would do everything she needed.” Again, like her roommate, Danielle did not want that in her life. She wanted to be healthy and to contribute equally to the relationship.

Danielle was so mind blown that someone would say something so thoughtless. Danielle couldn’t imagine why someone would say they are jealous of someone who has cancer. These people assume that because they wish their life could be one way that all people want their lives to be that way. Also, in no way shape or form did Danielle want to be dependent on someone. It humbled her being forced to count on me. Although it upset her that she couldn’t help me more and made her feel inadequate knowing she couldn’t work and contribute. My wife wanted to be a productive member of our relationship. In no way did she want someone to take care of her. It offended her for someone to think that of her.

Danielle and I were plagued by people who never thought before they spoke. I can say that it was made worse by the situation we faced. The tragedy we faced made people uneasy and nervous. I too find it hard to control my emotions when faced with uncertainty. It was a perfect storm for people who are ill-prepared for expressing their emotions. I learned a lot from navigating that storm in myself and through watching others. It would be in the positive examples that I would find my strength.

One family that came over truly leaving a positive imprint because of their presence. One of Danielle’s students was Church of Latter-Day Saints, and she was a very gifted and longtime student of Danielle’s as well. Her family had planned a visit with Danielle, and I didn’t know what to expect. The one thing I did notice when they entered was that they were all emotionally positive. None of them showed the pain or sorrow that I knew they all felt. The same pain and sorrow that so many people showed to Danielle.

This family did not behave as so many others, and they held the highest space for my wife. They prayed with my wife, even though my wife was not someone who believed their faith, she loved their prayers. The whole experience left my wife filled with joy, with happiness, and with something no one else had ever brought to her before. It was something special, and I will never forget their kindness. It was such an honor to witness a good example for support. It is rare to meet people who know how to behave when someone is sick or dying.

The main culprit I identified was that most people are completely unprepared with how to behave in highly stressful or emotional situations. The lack of experience means that many people behave as if like a child getting angry for the first time. They don’t know how to control their temper, and as a result, their behavior can be quite offensive. Most people have little to no experience helping people through the death and dying process, this means that the emotions that come up are very new to most people.

Expressing emotions poorly often happens when people are overwhelmed. Witnessing a loved one suffering is one of the most overwhelming experiences to endure. When people are not prepared, their suffering is greatly amplified. Rather than focus on the suffering of the sick person, most people start to deal with their own suffering. People end up dumping the emotional overflow on everyone around them. I’m guilty too.

When we are suffering, it is hard to ignore it. It is a survival response versus a compassionate response. However, sharing our suffering with others creates the same biological response in all parties involved. The leading science is showing this happens when we watch TV and listen to music — proving that sharing suffering is one of the most selfish and destructive things you can do to some who is trying to heal. It takes compassion to set aside our suffering while we attend to the suffering of others.

Sadly, most people couldn’t leave their emotional baggage at the door and left it all with Danielle every time. Danielle couldn’t hide it either, and I always knew when she had a draining encounter. It was obvious every night she didn’t sleep. Danielle pushed many people away because she recognized the problem too. Which led us to not having the support we needed.

Danielle felt many friends abandoned her in the process, we had a big show of initial support, but few people continued communication. Danielle felt the people she showed up for didn’t do the same for her. It was devastating for Danielle. She had hoped to have someone else in her life that was capable of being there for her. Someone to support her in all the decisions she was making and keeping opposing opinions to themselves. The opinions of people who visited upset Danielle the most.

People loved to share their opinions without ever knowing the truth or special circumstances Danielle was facing. The problem with opinions is they rarely are valid for all people. If people were more concerned about the needs of others versus pushing their opinions, we wouldn’t have seen so many problems. This behavior is why Danielle decided to withdraw from society. People can be unconsciously cruel these days in an attempt to feel better about themselves.

I see it more and more throughout our society, people who feel bad about themselves and put others down to feel better about their circumstances. For Danielle, it was as simple as dwelling on all the problems she was facing. Many people wanted to know everything that happened to her, without realizing it was all at Danielle’s expense. I don’t feel people are doing it intentionally but intentional or not; I feel the behavior needs attention. In my opinion, there is no excuse for this type of behavior, and I hope this story conveys that message.

It didn’t change the fact that many people that Danielle had hoped would reach out didn’t. I’m not sure if it was because I was in the picture, but the lack of support was bizarre. The people that were reaching out were people that she didn’t want to be around, or they were asking to bring their children over. Danielle wasn’t having any students over because she found children were ill-equipped. The few students that had come over had proven this to her.

Another reason she avoided having students visit was to keep up her image. Danielle didn’t want to subject her children to the suffering she was going through. Many parents and students didn’t understand this, causing added stress when Danielle had to explain. It may have been a little superficial, but it was also her choice, and it wasn’t anyone else’s decision to make. It wasn’t easy to accept for many people. I didn’t always agree with her either, but I knew I had to support her decisions.

The only people in Danielle’s life that were supporting her decisions completely were the Doc and me. Since the Doc was in charge of her treatment, it was clear he was on board for everything we were doing. After educating myself on the treatments, he recommended, I felt confident in his recommendations too. It couldn’t have been easy for Danielle only to have two people on her side when it came to beating cancer, especially since Doc and I were having a tough time too.

The Doc and I were both emotionally taxed by the situation. The Doc had lost his wife to a chronic illness not long before. Danielle and I both knew it was still very hard on him. It isn’t easy to lose a loved one, and it feels even worse when you feel like you may have failed that person. Danielle told me that Doc did everything he could to keep her alive. She said it wasn’t his fault, he likely kept her alive far longer than she would have if she hadn’t met him. It was clear he still felt the loss.

Danielle was a hot button because we no doubt triggered his own experiences. Danielle and I could see he was having a tough time. We could tell it was becoming increasingly difficult for him to be there for us, as we started seeing him less and less. He started having more frequent times that he would need to disappear to regroup. Danielle could feel the stress of it all too.

I too was feeling a bit stressed and overwhelmed by everything that was happening. It didn’t matter to me because I knew that I had to stay strong. I made sure to do everything that Danielle needed of me. I did all the cooking, shopping, cleaning, and driving her to most of her doctor's appointments. I always had to assist with all showers, including taking the dog for several walks every day. With a full-time job, I was pushing the limits of my endurance. I didn’t feel overwhelmed because Danielle always seemed to have it much worse. She gave me the strength to endure the stresses.

Before Danielle, one of my biggest stresses was around money. I have found the more money I’m making, the less stress I have in my life, but the stress increases exponentially the less money I have. For the first decade of my adult life, I was financially stable because I always worked at successful restaurants. The abundance I had experienced for so long didn’t prepare me for the stress that being broke would bring.

Before meeting Danielle, I had spent the past several years attempting to get myself back on my feet financially. Due to many choices I made, that I don’t regret, but also wouldn’t repeat. I don’t regret those choices because I learned so much from them. Danielle and I were finally in a place to rebuild before our lives drastically changed. Since the day of our wedding, we had become increasingly concerned about covering all of the expenses. I had to make more money.

I would never have supported us if I had stayed working at the Marijuana Dispensary. However, my new restaurant job wasn’t quite as lucrative as I had hoped. We were not as busy as I was hoping. If the restaurant was busy, it would have easily covered our basic expenses. I still decided to stay at the new job, even though I wasn’t making as much money as I wanted. Other perks made it an ideal option for me.

Primarily, I did have a lot of flexibility in my schedule. Also, because it was often slow, I could take nights off or even close early. I felt more inspired to be with my wife versus work all the time. The restaurant was also facing hard times and needed some experienced help to keep things running. I still don’t know how they would have done it had I not showed up. I was scheduled six days a week, but my schedule was unique.

Besides waiting on tables most nights, I also did cater deliveries for the restaurant most mornings. Since Danielle and I were usually up at sunrise, going to work at seven a.m. wasn’t a problem. I often would deliver both breakfast and lunch to different locations. It was one or two hours of work for each delivery. I made fifty dollars per delivery, creating a far more consistent income. The final reason I stayed was that I could easily run home. It was never a problem in-between shifts to take care of Danielle and Andora. It worked for the schedule that Danielle needed me.

I would usually get an hour or two in between shifts to spend with my wife. After I finished the chores, we would usually cuddle. We spent many afternoons just holding each other and talking. If she wasn’t feeling good, I would give her a medicinal foot rub. Things had started showing some improvement. She even started to give me back scratches as it was something I truly enjoyed, and it made her feel like she was giving back in the relationship. Plus I would never let her do it long or to the point that it was making her tired. I only allowed it when she was doing well because I do also feel that it is important to be active to aid in recovery.

We continued to discuss the concept of how Gabby Gifford’s husband forbid people to show any negative emotions after someone shot her in the head. I completely understood the importance of this factor in our current situation, and the problems were that many people in her life weren’t respecting those boundaries. Most visitors often acted the exact opposite of proper behavior. People expected the same relationship with my wife regardless of her condition. This expectation was very stressful and exhausting to my wife. Since we both had to pay for it at night, we tried to manage stresses the best way possible. The one area where I had practically zero control was with her family. I stated my opinions, but that still never stopped the interactions.

For over a month, I had dealt with Danielle getting upset with her mother regularly, which typically led to arguments with her sister about the issue at hand. Often, it was about their mother bringing up chemo, but other times, it would be a cold or rude comment. I understood the importance of family because we needed all the support we could get, so when they offered to come out, I figured it was a huge opportunity. Danielle and I were both concerned about the visit. Her mother planned on coming out for a day while her sister was going to come out for the weekend with their son, who was being deployed in the Navy.

Danielle, before they even came out made it abundantly clear, that if their intention to visit was to talk her into chemo, that they shouldn’t come out. She asked that they don’t bring it up anymore and that while they are visiting it not become an issue. It took a little planning on their part because her sister couldn’t take any time away from work and her mom was going to take the train. Danielle’s nephew was going to pick up her mother from the train station and visit too. Finally, a real show of support for Danielle from her family. I was relieved but also a bit concerned about how the interaction might turn out.

Her mom and nephew arrived first for less than twenty-four hours. Her mom could only stay for a very short period, not any good excuse other than she had to get back home. She did brag about the other people she visited along the way and was her usual self for the day. I ended up grabbing some lunch with both her mom and nephew at a local restaurant. It wasn’t an organic menu, so I knew we couldn’t take anything home to Danielle. I was impressed that her nephew picked up the tab, which was very generous of him.

Her mom ended up leaving that afternoon to go back to Philadelphia, but I’ll still never forget the last thing she told Danielle as she was leaving. I should give you a little background before I tell you what she said. Danielle told me that her mom, for many years, had been caring for an individual as his caretaker. Danielle told me the relationship was also more complicated. I don’t know all the details, but the fact is that she had spent many years taking care of this man. So it blew my mind when she was in the front yard, and she told Danielle that she was tired of being a caregiver. To say that to a daughter who is recovering from Cancer not only seemed heartless, but it was just plain cruel. Her mom made it crystal clear that she didn’t want to help.

I believe her sister arrived later that day with her husband. We spent the evening talking and after everyone left her nephew returned to talk with us. He was very respectful and inquisitive. I thought the conversation went well, and we talked about the options that we were choosing as treatment. We were aware of the concern that the family had, but they weren’t considering the circumstances that led us to our decision.

The reason we decided against chemo was because of Danielle’s specific situation. Many nurses told us off the record that there was no way they would ever do chemo, especially if they had my wife’s diagnosis. We knew what we were doing was right for Danielle, it may not have been the right choice for the average person, but for Danielle it was. I supported her, her other Doc supported her, and Danielle supported her own decision. We talked for over an hour before he went back to Flagstaff because he was being deployed the following week.

The next day I worked the entire day, it was a Saturday and one of my longest days of the week. I had three shifts, a breakfast and lunch catering delivery, and I had to work that night at the restaurant. I worked the morning shift and came home to check on Danielle. She was getting ready to meet up with her sister, but I only had an hour. I came back later that afternoon for another break. Danielle was out and about with her sister.

At this point, I took the garbage out that had piled up over the weekend. I also cleaned up the kitchen. I had been cleaning all week to prepare for Danielle’s family, or at least in the extra time, I created to make it happen. No one had lifted a finger all weekend, and I couldn’t believe it. Then Danielle informed me later that they did nothing but complain it wasn’t good enough. Thankfully I finished everything and took a rare moment for myself.

I returned to work that night, and after I got off, I called Danielle because she wasn’t home. Danielle informed me she was staying at her sister’s hotel. Danielle had taken them on a sightseeing trip around Sedona, and she was resting. Her sister, after all, hadn’t been to Sedona in the 20 years that Danielle lived there. It blew my mind that they would think my wife was capable of such a big adventure. I was a bit concerned about how the evening would go.

Danielle was already having a healing crisis when I arrived at the hotel, so I didn’t stay very long because Danielle’s pain was through the roof, we had to take three showers, and she was completely miserable the entire night. I still remember how hard that night was for her because it made me so angry. It upset me that her health problems were the result of interacting with her family. I, as usual, had to work at seven a.m. and eleven a.m. the following day, but still made it home just in time to say goodbye to her sister.

Danielle and her sister had gone into our room to talk privately. Within several minutes Danielle came storming out of the room screaming at her sister. She had decided to bring up trying chemo. At that point, I lost it. I got in her sister's face and started yelling at her. I told her to quit acting like “A Fucking Child.” She was completely out of line, and her emotions were all over the place, she was a complete emotional mess.

I could tell that her sister lacked any emotional strength and her behavior because of that was usually horrendous. At this point I had only dealt with it over the phone but now to see it full-blown, I wasn’t about to stand for it. However, my reaction to the situation ultimately didn’t help the problem. I made it much worse by getting involved.

I excused myself from the encounter quickly, avoiding everyone until they left. I stewed in a moment of pure rage outside. I never thought at that moment how destructive my anger could be. As much as I wanted to believe I was protecting Danielle, I had no idea how I had the opposite effect on the situation. It was becoming harder and harder to control my emotions, and my emotions out of control can be a force of harm. I resorted to my medicines and smoked myself out of an anxiety attack, just in time to be there for my wife.

After their visit, my wife was livid. She couldn’t believe their behavior explaining how selfish they were. She was mind blown that her family would treat her so poorly, although, it didn’t surprise me after observing present actions. Danielle’s stories from the past just confirmed this to me. I started to see the vile person that her mother was. I didn’t need any more convincing, and it was clear her sister was toxic too. I couldn’t stop Danielle’s desire to have a better relationship with her family, so I tried to support healthy interactions as much as possible.

It was a tough couple of weeks getting back to normal. Little did I know that expressing my anger through yelling would have such serious consequences. I would have to make many more mistakes before I would realize the full gravity of my situation. My mistakes were adding up, and Danielle was keeping track. However, my continued support outweighed the mistakes — the support she so desperately needed.

Danielle and I were left very much on our own at this point. The Doc was coming over less and less. Our families were unwilling to offer the support we needed. However, we weren’t asking for help either. Danielle and I both were victims of our pride. Only when we both started humbling ourselves did we find the answers we were looking for all along.

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