Qualified Entry: Non-Fiction Category
By: Etta Schaeffer
On March 29th , 1990, my husband Don and I celebrated our thirty first wedding anniversary. We were living in the Long Island, New York suburb of Huntington, forty miles from New York City. Our son, Andy, who at twenty five, was living in an apartment in Jersey City, New Jersey. And working on Wall Street after graduating from Vassar College three years earlier. Everything should have been wonderful, but it wasn’t.Don was suffering from and being treated for, stage four colorectal Cancer. The two of us would come into New York City five days a month for him to have chemotherapy at Mount Sinai Hospital. A few days after our anniversary, on Friday, April 6, 1990 we were on the third floor in the cancer wing finishing that month’s schedule of treatment. We had a limousine service drive us to the hospital, drop us off, and then come back for us at a given time and location.
It was a grueling and tiring routine we followed every month. We worked very hard at being upbeat, trying to cover our fear of the inevitable. We made jokes with the hospital staff, and smiled most of the time. There was an unreality about our situation. A dying man and his wife fighting a losing battle and trying to keep each other from realizing the true situation. I guess what we were doing could be called living in denial. I thought of it as making Don feel more comfortable, less fearful and enabling both of us to live from day to day.
Each one of the chemotherapy sessions took about three hours, with Don lying back in a recliner chair and getting his medication through an intravenous line to a port in his upper chest. His veins could no longer support the frequent jabs they had received, so they inserted this line called a port, permanently, near his left shoulder. Our lives were one doctor’s appointment after another. I was working and took the time to go into New York City with Don so he wouldn’t have to make the trip alone. One month when I couldn’t get away, five members of the Huntington Business Women’s Club set up a schedule. Each day a different woman drove him in and stayed with him, keeping him company while he had his treatment. That was the kind of thing that really helped us make it through that period.
On this particular Friday, we were relieved the chemo was finally over for the month, and we could go home to relax over the weekend. On our way down we were rather quiet, not saying much, just holding hands and walking toward the exit where we were to meet the limo. As we approached the exit we saw there were double doors with glass inserts and a small foyer behind them. As we went through the doors and entered the foyer we realized there was a young man and woman in the corner holding hands. We also saw and heard that he was singing to her. He stopped almost as soon as we entered. We both started saying don’t stop, please keep singing. We told the young man we needed cheering up. The young man reluctantly agreed, but said he would continue only if we sang to them, next. We agreed. He finished his song, we applauded loudly and enthusiastically. Then without saying a word we reached for each other, started dancing and singing the song that had been played for us at our wedding, thirty one years before. We sang the first song we danced to as husband and wife, “Our Love Is Here To Stay.” We danced as we had thirty one years before. My eyes were closed, it was the most romantic moment of my life and took my breath away. When we finished I couldn’t speak, the young man enthusiastically asked us “Who made that record?” My husband simply said, “everyone.” Just then we saw our car at the curb waiting for us, and we bid the young couple goodbye. We left feeling a peace and a joy in knowing that whatever our future held we could make it.
We spent the next fourteen months fighting a fight we could not win. We went where we were told to go. Don took every treatment suggested, when a clinical trial was available he became part of it, and suffered through more than any human being should ever have to endure. He put up a great fight. On Friday June 7, 1991 at four a.m. in room 215 in Huntington hospital Don died. he had fought the fight for two years, I was with him all the time, yet his death was a shock to me, my denial was that great. I had even told him earlier that last evening that I thought he could give up, end the struggle, that we loved him and thought he had fought long enough. When the phone call came it started a cascade of tears that didn’t stop for a very long time.