Posted on July 31, 2012, 4:34 PM
By Dawn Case
One could speculate that life is a series of firsts. A first birthday, the first day of school, first love, first heartbreak, a first child. There is perhaps no greater happiness than to share a first while in the presence of others, creating a first memory to be treasured, a gift shared by all. I didn’t realize the depth of a first true love until I met Brian, my husband, my gift. His story could never be summarized, although I will outline some of our experiences.
Brian had a history of stomach issues, so nothing seemed too drastically different when his symptoms started acting up again. He went in for testing just a snippet in time after our first child was born. Our baby girl, Madison, was a mere ten months old. The hospital advised against taking an infant to the hospital, so I had to be on a conference call with Brian and the doctors when they told us the diagnosis. Stage-four stomach cancer. I remember it well, sitting on the edge of the bed, feeling completely helpless. My mother rushed over to watch Madison. I fled to the hospital. As I walked into Brian’s hospital room, I could see his profile staring out the window. He slowly turned to look at me, his eyes dazed…he was far, far away at that moment. The embrace that ensued felt everlasting. We didn’t want to let go. It was a feeling of complete sadness and powerlessness, the first of many.
Looking back now, there were many blessings that transpired during Brian’s illness and treatments. Friends and family became such a support team. The love was undeniable, as they too experienced the illness alongside Brian. He fought harder, for they gave him strength. It was also a blessing for Brian, Madison and I to spend quality moments at home together (amidst the hospital stays, infections, blood clots, fluid taps). At that time, we cherished the firsts with Madison. Her first words, first steps, first birthday. We even drove from our home in Arizona to Disneyland and the ocean – Brian wanted to be the first to introduce Madison to the waves. Ironically, some of the happiest moments of our lives occurred during the worst experience of our lives. I can remember Madison bringing Daddy her toys after chemo and putting a blanket over him. She wanted him to feel better, just as badly as I did. I believe it taught her the true meaning of love and the tribulations of life. It was a first for us… to experience this awful disease called cancer.
Brian passed when Madison was two-and-a-half years old. Grieving is a very long process, and this is my first experience with it. It is all encompassing. I find it hard to get past the memories of the sickness itself. The haunting images that convolute my thoughts create a barrier. I know there will come a day when my memories will be of the many joyful, fun and loving times we spent together. Until then, I am focused on raising our daughter … a wonderful little piece of Brian, left behind.
What would a life without cancer be like for me? Brian would be with us today, and not have passed at the age of forty-one. He would not have had to endure twenty-four rounds of chemotherapy. Madison would have her daddy. Brian would have enjoyed the many firsts that have transpired over the years since his passing: Madison’s very first day of preschool…and her first preschool graduation… her first day of kindergarten this fall… her first hair cut… her first swimming lesson… the first time she rode her bike…the first time we went to the movies… her first plane ride. We would have joy for every holiday… every birthday… every day…
Madison and I are moving forward. We do find joy and laughter. Every first that Madison experiences brings me joy. Although, I can say that with every event, with every moment that I look at her and see him, my heart feels that familiar tug and my smile fades ever so gently. The reminder of the bittersweetness of destiny emerges. I know there are many more firsts that will be experienced along the way. I know that Brian will always be with us in our hearts. The sadness is that he can’t be here with us, sharing those firsts with us.
We love and miss you, Bri.
Dawn Case is a graduate of The University of California, Irvine. She currently runs her own business, which Brian and she started in 2006. Dawn’s wish is for Madison to grow up in a cancer-free world. Team Case is currently underway on SU2C to help make that wish come true.
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