While on our honeymoon we went to a steakhouse where Travis promptly ordered a 20+ OZ ribeye (rare, of course). I couldn’t help but laugh when the still-mooing slab of beef (which was easily the size of the plate on which it was delivered) arrived at our table. “You know,” I quipped “my first husband Travis used to eat steaks like that all of the time!” I can’t count the number of times I’ve reused that gem in one form or another over the past 5 years. Joking about your husband’s untimely death is pretty funny, until it’s not.
When your life is normal these types of jokes are normal—at least they were for us so I assume they’re normal for everyone. We’ve made jokes and had casual discussions about the type of funeral we’d want, who we’d date if the other one wasn’t around, and even how we’d go about killing each other if, you know, we were going to do that. (Ok, so that last one doesn’t exactly sound normal so I’ll just clarify by saying that conversation came after a day of binging episodes of Forensic Files and judging others for how bad they were at covering up their crimes.)
Our lives ceased being normal when cancer became a daily part of our conversations. At first I adapted by not making jokes, which is unbelievably hard for someone who comes from a long line of people who use inappropriate humor as a coping mechanism. But, reverting to living and talking as if nothing had changed didn’t feel quite right either.
At some point we had to get on with living our lives in the context of a new normal, and that includes returning to conversations that were once normal, and having tough conversations that often become uncomfortable. Ultimately, we seem to have struck a balance among all of the feelings of discomfort and awkward laughter, and the need to actually talk about the giant elephant/zebra in the room (both for sanity and practicality sake).
In the past 6 months I have written down the details of a lot of the conversations we’ve had for posterity (and because Travis initially suffered some short term memory loss so I needed proof/plausible deniability in some cases). I’ve summarized some of our more interesting/morbib/painful/enjoyable conversations below, all of which included a combination of laughter and tears.
Why am I sharing these conversations? Because, while it’s human nature to tip toe around the hard stuff, these are important topics to cover whether or not you’re facing a serious illness. When we’ve brought these topics up with family members and friends we generally get responses like “don’t talk like that, you have to stay positive.” And while we’re focused primarily on a positive outcome, the alternative cannot be ignored. People think that when you have cancer you just sit around having cancer. That may be true for a little while but then you have to figure out how to make life work around it. We can’t go very long without it being a part of our conversations, but we also can’t let those conversations consume us with darkness.
On Final Wishes/Burial
Travis: I know we’ve joked about it before but I really think the eco-urn is the way to go.
Julie: Oh good, way cheaper than a casket.
Travis: I just like the idea of being a tree. There’s something really…
Julie: profound about it…
Travis: Yes. That word. Do you think you wear clothes to be cremated?
Julie: I don’t know. If you do, what would you want to wear?
Travis: Maybe my kilt.
Julie: I guess… Seems like a waste of an awful lot of good fabric, though. I could make curtains…
On Moving On
Travis: Do you think you’ll get married again when… if I’m gone?
Julie: I don’t know. I can’t honestly say I haven’t thought about it a little, but all thinking about it does is tell me that I’m definitely not ready to think about it.
Travis: I guess. I’d want you to be happy though. That could be a long time to be alone.
Julie: Is it weird for you to think about?
Travis: I mean, I’ll be dead so… but I don’t really know what happens to me… I mean, I do kind of wonder if I could see you… moving on.
Julie: That’s a weird and unsettling thought.
Travis: And what about when you die? Are we all together? Double Husbands?
Julie: This is getting a little too deep for me. It makes my brain hurt.
Travis: Maybe you have a tumor.
Julie: You think everyone has a tumor.
Travis: But seriously though, I do want you to be happy.
Julie: Ok, then seriously, I would leave you right now for Adam Levine.
Travis: I’d leave you for Adam Levine.
Julie: Well this is a new development…
Travis: Not like, to have a relationship, I just think he’d be cool to hang out with.
Julie: Couldn’t we all hang out together?
Travis: No one likes a third wheel, Julie…
On Death and Suicide
Travis: If things go south and we found out that I wasn’t going to make it through this, I don’t think I could just wait around for death, but I also don’t think I could kill myself.
Julie: Well I’m not gonna kill you.
Travis: I wouldn’t ask you to do that.
Julie: I mean, I could, but I wouldn’t want to risk jeopardizing the insurance claim.
Julie: We can talk to someone about what it would be like when… if… ummm… we could talk to someone now if you want to… or then… if there’s a then.
Travis: I guess. But I was actually thinking I’d like to go out like The Shootist and I’m not sure that’s something that they could help me with. I’m also not sure if I have enough enemies that would consider going toe to toe for the chance to take me out. Also, we’d have to time it perfectly so I still had a fair chance in the fight, you know, before the tumor takes more of my tactical skills away.
Julie: Wow, you’ve really thought a lot about this, haven’t you?
Travis: I guess… I think about dying a lot and this is one of the least depressing ways to think about it. No one wants to waste away in a bed. I want to go down fighting.
Julie: Well, I guess the good news is that with the current political climate in America I’d say there’s at least a 75% you’ll be able to volunteer as tribute for the world’s first hunger games…