52 People You Need To Meet: #4 Angela Heckard

What I Wish I Knew Before my Husband was Diagnosed With Brain Cancer.

January 5, 2011 my husband, Todd, was diagnosed with Grade III Anaplastic Astrocytoma of the Left Temporal Lobe.  He had suffered a seizure exactly one month prior, just before leaving the house to watch Sunday football with the guys.  My husband passed away on August 12, 2012, shortly after turning 47, always believing that he would beat this monster, always having hope.

His face cradled in my hands as he took his last breath… a moment, a sight, a sound, the most devastating pain that I will forever carry with me.  Those are things that I can never escape as his final breaths often invade my thoughts without warning, without mercy, and very often publicly, leaving me to seem an unstable woman, tears streaming, as my brain favors the rewind button.

I miss my husband more than I can ever explain to anyone, whether they knew us or not. Todd was my husband, my lover, my personal comedian and singer, my best friend and sometimes worst enemy.  The following are some of the things that I wish I knew before Brain Cancer devastated our lives.

I wish I knew, truly knew, to the extent that I do now, how lucky I am for those that I have in my life.  My friends are not merely friends, but family, maybe not by blood but my family nonetheless.  They have supported me, stood by me, and helped me in ways and times when I didn’t think I could be helped.  Some sat with my husband while I grocery shopped, many had provided food and cooked meals, when eating was the last thing on my mind.  Some were there for moral support, to take a breather, to laugh with their silly antics or have a glass of wine, sometimes bottle, late at night when the house was quiet.  And then there were some who at the most critical of times, never left my side.  Drove me to finalize arrangements and choose the options they knew we wanted, even though I could not verbalize them myself.  The one who dressed me, fixed my hair and makeup and found the things that I would constantly misplace, except for that key.  Only Todd knows where the key is hiding.  And then too, the Warrior Women, that wonderful group of ladies, that embrace and support those of us affected.   The love and support of my friends, to this day, continues to humble me to my very being.  I will be there for them as they have been for me, although I pray for them that it is never needed.

I wish I knew the phrase “Let me know if you ever need anything” is such a cop out.  Until this beast affected my family I may have used those words.  Now I know better.  Now I know that I need to look at the individual, take in their struggles, access the situation and jump right in and provide what is needed.  What I know is that those of us struggling will never ask for help, we will keep struggling, keep fighting, against better judgment, because maybe, just maybe, asking means giving in, giving up.

I wish I had known that the phrase “God will never give you more than you can handle” is something that someone made up along the way to comfort those experiencing the harsh realities of life.  You will be given more than you can handle, some more than others.  Try to overcome the desire to slap this person.  They mean well and to their credit, may have never experienced what we have. Those of us left behind.  The wives and husbands, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, nieces and nephews and friends, we understand that we will constantly be challenged.

I wish I knew that all of these years together we were not living life, we were merely existing, going about our days as we had each day before.  One night we sat talking, Todd and I, and he discussed all that he wished he had done differently, and the choices he made that he would have changed.  Less time working after work, more vacations as a family and less side jobs done while on “vacation”.  He would have spent more time with me instead of the guys, he would have spent more time with our son instead of beers with friends, had he known what beast was within.  I came to realize that we went through the motions of every day as we had the day before, the mapped out course of our lives, I have forced myself to step outside of my comfort zone, that safe refuge that I had resided all these years.  Maybe it is only in baby steps but I’m doing it, one step at a time.  Fear of heights put aside, I went zip-lining.  And there were butterflies; butterflies were everywhere, just like the day we laid him to rest.  I learned to ride a motorcycle.  Just before taking my test I was nearly in a panic because I hadn’t had that confirmation, it appeared: my butterfly.  I think he is showing his support and smiling down on me for these tentative steps.

I wish I had known that brain tumors are so devastatingly deceiving and that the decline can happen so quickly. Often those with brain cancer do not appear unhealthy.  I didn’t know I would hear “I didn’t know he was so sick.”  I also didn’t know that last week, those final days, I would have to say goodbye.  Two weeks before. Three weeks before. Yes, there was decline, but I didn’t know.  I didn’t know that my love would be gone in a blink of an eye.  I wish I knew that my thoughts would flood, often without warning, of all our years together.  I wish I knew that I would break down in public because of a song that is playing.

I wish I knew that I am a warrior, not Xena, just a warrior.  That I actively engaged in war, on my home-front.  A war that I had never imagined that that I would have to fight, nor was strong enough to endure.  I promised Todd that fateful day in January of 2011 that I would slay dragons for him if I had to, and in his memory I will continue to fight. I fight in the memory of my Hero Angel.

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