The End Was Only The Beginning
LIVING WITH CANCER
In the spring of 2006, Mary Alice was growing weary of her job at
Reinhardt College but couldn’t help but push herself too hard — typical of her approach to work. By this time I had developed an ability to feel her
emotions in my soul and could read the looks on her face like an open
book. Her eyes alone told me she was more than a little tired and stressed,
so I insisted we take a weekend getaway. Our destination was
the King and Prince resort on St Simons Island, one of the
Golden Isles off the Georgia coast.
A weekend of rest and relaxation helped, but simply delayed the visit to
the doctor she knew was in order. She had felt lethargic for weeks and wasplagued by stomach pains — the result, it turned out, of diverticulitis. Mary Alice had never had a big appetite, and as she went on a course of
antibiotics it dwindled to almost nothing. All she could get down was a
small serving of fruits and vegetables, and the lower her energy dropped
and the longer her stomach pains continued, the more concerned we
A second course of antibiotics failed to quell the pains, and her doctor
suggested a CT scan. After the radiologist reviewed the scan he called us
with the last words we wanted to hear: “You may have a problem, and
you need to get to an oncologist.” Mary Alice immediately called Gwynne
Brunt (a radiologist and a friend of her and her former husband), and
Dr. Brunt wasted no time in recommending Matt Burrell, an OB/GYN cancerspecialist who had a great reputation throughout the Southeast.
Our trip to Dr. Burrell’s office confirmed our worst fears. Mary Alice was
yet again diagnosed with cancer, this time ovarian cancer at stage three.
Crushed, we spent that night in bed holding hands, praying and crying.
Neither of us had any idea of what to expect, and the uncertainty made the
horrible news all the worse. Ovarian cancer carries with it a high mortality rate, in part because it is usually diagnosed at stage three or later.
After her appointment with Dr. Burrell, she was scheduled for surgery on
the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. We both wanted to get the operation over with as quickly possible — and in typical fashion, Mary Alice not
only expected the most aggressive treatment but was eager to get started.
Our nights together were filled with prayer, tears and anxiety, but I tried
my best to stay strong for her. After surviving breast cancer six years
earlier, she was determined to beat this... but lurking in the background was
the mortality rate of women with ovarian cancer.
When the day of the surgery came — May 26, at Northside Hospital, Dr.
Brunt found me in the waiting room and sat with me for over two hours. Dr. Burrell then cameout of the operating room and gave us the grim
report in full. I listened numbly as both doctors consoled me, and couldn’t
wait to see the love of my life.
But I had no choice but to wait... and for an hour and a half. Awake but
groggy, Mary Alice was finally pushed on a gurney into a private room. At this point she was too medicated to feel pain, while my heart ached over
the hell she had been through. This normally tough little fighter seemed so
frail I felt like a parent who wants to ease the pain of a small child. In
truth, I could do nothing but be there for her, even if she had no idea I
was by her side. Silent prayers and positive thoughts raced through my
mind as I watched her sleep. My soul mate was hurting, and I felt her pain
She spent the next two days in a fog, sometimes summoning a weak voice
to ask for ice or a drink of water — but mostly just sleeping, waking every three or four hours to press a button activating another pain-relieving
infusion of morphine. Her pain had to be agonizing, but she never
complained. All I could do was sit by her bedside, hold herhand and be
there when she needed me, which frustrated me no end. I later learned my feeling of utter frustration was common for caregivers trying to aid loved
ones suffering from cancer... but knowing this didn’t make it any easier.