I am a widow

From the editor: Todd and Cas Anderson were a missionary couple with Guyana Adventist Missions and Services (GAMAS). Todd was a missionary pilot, and they were back in the states on leave late 2015 when they were told Todd had cancer. These are portions of Cas Anderson’s moving blog about their journey of struggle, loss and faith.

December 2015: 

Todd was texting and I was halfheartedly playing a game of Sudoko on my Kindle. I was glad I thought to grab it. I was also glad for the free Wi-Fi in the emergency room. 

There had been a slew of nurses and other people in and out of our room and we sat and waited for the CAT scan results. Blood work had already come back clear and so we were hoping that the scan would show a small enough kidney stone to pass without needing a procedure. 

Todd’s pain level had gone back up so they had given him some morphine to help the pain. 

The door opens and I looked up from my Kindle. A no-nonsense woman entered and identified herself as Dr. Something or other. She strode into the room and stopped mid-stride. 

“Who is with you?”

A pause. 

“This is my wife.”

I climb up in the bed and sit next to my husband. 

Dr. Something nodded her approval and headed to the computer to pull up Todd’s chart. 

“I have some bad news for you,” she said still typing on the computer. 

Todd and I half smirked. 

“Nice opening line,” I thought. 

She looked at Todd, then me, then back to her computer. 

“We found cancer in your abdomen…” 

More words followed and kept coming. Technical words, words I didn’t understand. They filled up the room and made it very hot and very cold at the same time. 

My hand clasped Todd’s.

“I don’t know what you’re saying,” I interrupt her. What did she just say? I can’t remember. 

“Sarcoma. It’s the type of cancer.” 

More words. I couldn’t make them out though.  

A feeling hits my chest. This didn’t seem like a joke. But it didn’t feel real. 

Dr. Something is trying to explain something. Probably something important. Probably something I should know. But for some reason I just can’t make out what she is saying. 

Finally the words stop. She leaves. 

And we are left there in the hospital bed together. Crying. Staring. Thinking. Silent. 

By the time Dr. Something came back, hours had passed…. Again the chart was pulled up and again all the words. 

I could comprehend more of what she was saying this time; a mass has grown on Todd’s psoas muscle. It’s crushing his ureter - the tube that carries fluid from the kidney to the bladder. That’s why his kidney were hurting so much. It can’t drain. 

So many words. They are so heavy. They are crushing me. 

Todd woke up this morning and cried. He had been hoping he had a bad dream and would wake up and it would be all over. But, it’s not a dream. 

I picked up the kids from my friend Jenny’s house this morning. I faked this normal, cheery voice when talking to them. But I don’t feel normal or cheery. But they are children, so I need to act like everything is normal or cheery, right? How am I supposed to act? I don’t know.

Todd has slept most of the day due to the narcotics he’s taking for pain. I have spent the day bouncing from peeking in on Todd, checking the zillions of notifications that continually pop up on my phone, and trying to be normal for the kids.  

The kids now know that Papa has “cancer” although that doesn’t mean too much to them at this point. They know he has a tummy ache and is taking medicine. They know he’s going to have surgery to try to take out the “cancer” in him. 

January 2016:

2016 isn’t quite starting out the way I expected. This year was going to be the year we moved back to Guyana. We were building a house in Paruima Village. We were hoping to adopt a child this year. Things aren’t what we thought they were - but we are at peace with it. Most of the time…. 

Today was actually a good day, even though we had a rough patch. I got a funny email and went to tell Todd. I found him on the bathroom floor, curled up. My heart went to my toes. Then, I heard him. The sound no wife ever wants to hear. The sound of my husband sobbing in a despair I can do nothing to ease. My dad’s words played in my head - “You need to be strong for him now.” I wanted to cry with him, but instead I just held him and rubbed his back. I prayed. I wondered when our hearts will heal. But I didn’t cry.

Trials. The Bible says to rejoice in them. Have you ever rejoiced in your trials? I haven’t. I don’t even know what that means. How can you be happy about a trial, especially when it’s ripping your life and your heart apart?

The night we were in the ER, my life changed. All I could see that night was darkness. Sometimes if I would squint into the darkness, I would see the light, waiting for me to run to it. But mostly it was just a scary, dark night…. 

The other night I went to a friends house to pick some things up, and on the way I talked to Jesus. I’ve been praying; it’s been more of the groaning, wordless kind of prayers. I haven’t known what to really pray. But that night, I was able to find the words to tell Jesus that I feel scared and that I needed Him. 

One thought that I would have expected to have, but I don’t, is, “Why us? We are missionaries and gave our whole hearts and lives to God, so why us?” 

Why not us? 

We gave our whole hearts and lives to God. They are His. While I’m scared at the thought of losing my best friend and my partner in everything, he’s not mine to keep. I want to keep him, and I’m praying I will, but he belongs to God, just like I do. Like my kids do. 

We are missionaries. We’ve poured our lives into serving this God of love. What God is most concerned about is saving the lost, so that’s what we’re most concerned about too. If God can use this situation to somehow show His love to, say, 4 people who then chose to follow Him, then we’re ready! If taking my husband’s life will save even one person, then we freely give it! 

I feel so unworthy that God would choose us for the honor of this hard task. I kind of feel like Abraham and I’ve been asked to offer up my precious husband. I’m willing. It’s hard. But I’m willing. And oddly enough, I’m rejoicing in this trial. Still not every moment, but more and more. As the sunshine warms my face and my lungs fill with fresh air, I find more joy in each breath. 

I am yours, Lord. I trust You.

Life just keeps going on. 

The children get hungry; the truck needs gas; the trash needs emptied. 

All around us are people who are living lives that go on seemingly without any weightiness in their hearts. 

And we’re still in a holding pattern. 

Todd’s biopsy was rather uneventful. They did it quickly and we spent most of our day watching HGTV and eating hospital food. The nurse in the recovery area was in every 30 minutes to check Todd’s vitals. She checked his incision. She made sure we knew where the bathroom was. 

We made a last-minute decision to leave the children with Aunties Lisa and Joyce. I spent the whole day amazed that I had planned on bringing them along and realizing what a disaster that would have been. 

Instead of chasing kids, I held Todd’s hand and made inappropriate jokes at every given chance. The valet parking guy was trying to be sympathetic, but I was cheering because chemo patients get free parking. 

Who does that?

Underneath the jokes, the busyness, the “strength” that people see, I’m still left standing alone in the rain, wondering if my husband will live or if he will die. 

It’s a very lonely place to stand, no matter who is around. I smile and even laugh at the appropriate times in conversation. I make the appropriate small talk. I do all the things that seem like normal things people would do. All the while, still wondering…. 

Will we grow old together? Or will I be a single mom?

I’m at peace with all the questions, most of the time. I have them, but I have faith too. Faith that no matter the outcome, I won’t be alone. Faith that in the hardest moments Jesus will hold me tight and hold my heart together when it feels like it’s breaking. Faith that goodbye isn’t forever. 

I have faith and I am blessed. No matter the outcome, I am blessed. 

April 2016: 

I am a widow. 

The word doesn’t want to come out of my mouth, but it’s a word my brain keeps playing with. 

I keep thinking back over the last 3 weeks. I sat in the hospital next to his bed for more hours than I can count. 

Before he was intubated, I would lay next to him and beg him to just breathe. 

Just keep on breathing…

His lungs were destroyed so fast. I am what his doctors call an “excellent patient advocate.” That means I asked questions like my life depended on it… like his life depended on it…

The doctors were very kind and patient and were good at showing me the progressive scans and X-rays of his lungs. I’m no doctor, but even I could see that what was happening was happening very, very fast. 

One of the chemotherapy drugs he was given - a lower dose than usual - caused a devastating toxic reaction in his lungs that happens so rarely it’s never been studied. When it does happen, there is only a very small percentage that doesn’t respond to the steroids… 

From when the toxic reaction began until death was about 10 days. 

Ten of the longest, shortest days of my life. 

And there was nothing anyone could do. 

We said goodbye, just in case. He made the decision to be intubated. I was both thankful that he made that choice so I didn’t have to, and devastated that he chose to. We all knew it was the last chance he had to live, but we also new that chance was only a whisper. 

We laid in the hospital bed together, whispering our last words. 

We have a little thing we’ve been saying to each other for almost 15 years. He says the first line and then I finish it with my part. I can’t tell you what we say because it’s our secret. But we both knew we were saying it for the last time. 

As the doctors and nurses bustled around the room preparing for the intubation, instrumental hymns played from Pandora. I watched the doctor unpack the emergency kits and give orders to the nurse. 

My husband and I gazed into each other’s eyes for the last time, and I was asked to sit in a chair away from the bed. I wanted to scream at everyone to leave him alone and to get out. I wanted to scream at my husband to not give up. To not leave me. I wanted to run back over and so he could hold me one last time. 

The doctor came over and we had to discuss if they would resuscitate him if it didn’t go well. The decision was made that they would not. 

The roughly 48-hours he was intubated there were moments when we could communicate to him. He would nod or shake his head, or give a thumbs up. He tried to write to me a few times, but the only word I was ever able to read from him was, “HURT.” 

His lungs continued to deteriorate so quickly. First a hole in one lung, then one in the other. The medical team worked around the clock to try to keep him stable. Friday morning it was apparent that they no longer could. He was likely already suffering brain damage from the low oxygen levels. Because of the lack of oxygen, his heart was also beginning to fail. 

There was no more chance. No more hope. 

The children arrived around 10 a.m. Amelia sobbed like a child should never, ever cry when I told them that Papa was going to die. I explained what was going to happen. I reminded them what we believe about the Christian hope we have after death. I wept with them. 

We all went into the room and surrounded him with all the love in our hearts. Both our families were there, and my best friend. 

The tube came out and he continued to breathe on his own for about an hour. And then, he didn’t. 

He slipped quietly into the deep sleep of death as I clung to his side. 

My heart. Oh my heart. 

I never imagined I could feel so dead inside. 

Yet, despite all the sadness and pain, it doesn’t feel dark to me. Instead of what I was expecting - a dark shadow to consume me - I instead find myself wrapped in love and light. 

Maybe the darkness is still to come, but for now, I am comforted knowing that my husband can rest until Jesus calls for him to wake up and go to heaven. I am comforted knowing how much love is being poured out for our family. I am comforted by looking into my children’s faces and seeing him live on. I am comforted with the knowledge that he ran his race well, didn’t stop until the end and finished with grace and love.

To read all Cas’ blogs, visit http://www.athomewithmillieandsam.com. If you’re interested in helping Cas and her two children, you can donate to their family at https://www.youcaring.com/todd-and-cas-anderson-519889.