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Until Death Do Us Part ... Really?

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After a long and successful career in broadcast journalism in Houston, North Texas and Oklahoma, Judy Overton joined MD Anderson in 2008 as a senior communications specialist. Her husband Tom was treated at MD Anderson for renal cancer. He died in April 2007. Judy's occasional posts will cover aspects of the cancer experience from the caregiver's perspective. Write to her at jboverton@mdanderson.org.

The Caregiver Chronicles, Part 1
By Judy Overton

Each time I visit my husband's grave, I can't help but zero in on the date of his birth - November 2, 1953. Tom died a little more than three years ago at the age of 53. My eyes then pan to my name and date of birth: February 23, 1955.

I'm 55 years old. My next thought is, "What would I do if I knew this would be my last year on earth?"

For one, I've always wanted to share Tom's and my cancer experience with others by writing a book. In fact, the title I've given this blog is the one I planned to use for it.

I often talk to my closest colleagues about my husband and our experiences during our more than 30 years together. Of course, sometime when I share moments of his diagnosis and treatment, my pent-up emotions can't help but surface. Recently, after such a conversation, a colleague suggested that I contribute to the Cancerwise blog in order to share my experiences with other caregivers.

Caregivers, my heart goes out to you. 

A family member once corrected my use of the term, insisting it should be "caretakers." My immediate thought was, "Doesn't she know! Caretakers don't take anything, but we give everything we've got."

It just seems appropriate that I'm writing this just a few days before the beginning of Caregivers Week here at MD Anderson.

In truth, my husband was an ideal patient who so appreciated my efforts. Toward the end of his life, Tom would often say, "You're an angel." But I never could accept it, and would flinch at the thought, because I knew how imperfect I was. My curt answer would be, "No, I'm not!"

I felt I was falling short in so many ways.


The "Birth" Date


empty trackTom's diagnosis occurred six years ago, in 2004, during the Labor Day weekend. He casually told me on that Sunday morning that his urine was mainly blood. I was a little stunned, but since he wasn't experiencing pain, we agreed he would make an appointment with a physician on Tuesday after the holiday passed.

Still in shock, I consulted a medical diagnosis book. Under "urinating blood," I was led to information about prostate and renal cancer.

Cancer? Could it really be that? We were enjoying our first full year of having an empty nest. Our younger son, Matt, was now a sophomore at the university where Tom worked, and his older brother Nathan had been in college for about three years.

Things were running so smoothly, and we were now connecting at a much deeper level than ever before.

After my consultation with the medical books and sharing the unsettling news with Tom, I went for a walk at the high school track.

(We both would walk at the track on weekends, but we always went in separate cars. Tom liked to cruise the small town where we lived before he began his walk. I preferred to get right to the heart of the matter. In fact, people didn't know we were married, because we wouldn't walk together.)

During the walk, I remember thinking, "I could be a widow before I'm 50."

I shed a few tears, then decided I really ought to wait for a professional diagnosis before burying him!

And as I looked across the field to where Tom was strolling, I wondered what was going on in his head, too.

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