Thursday, July 21, 2016

Cancer Changes Everything

This  blog post, like "Married Without a Spouse," is a different type of entry. This blog post was prompted by me breaking down so hard on Sunday that it brought me to my knees in tears. This post is prompted by my hatred of cancer. To put it mildly, cancer sucks. Cancer is one of the most awful, dreadful, confusing, heart wrenching diseases and on July 1, 2014 cancer changed our lives forever.

I have been doing well. In fact I was doing really well. I still miss Seth, that goes without saying, but I have been living my life fully and honoring him all the while. I started exercising semi-regularly and it is such a stress relief for me. I went on a vacation, although I did not take one single picture. This was the first time taking a vacation without Seth. This year I didn't think my time spent at the Cape was worth chronicling. Without Seth, it simply was not the same. I've been to Pittsburgh again and I created a team and designed shirts (with help from family) for a sarcoma run/walk. Team #SethStrong had at least 40 participants! I was doing really well.

My parents came to visit me this past weekend. It was great having them here to visit, but deep down inside of me I felt a void. Seth should have been here. My parents came for a specific reason, they planned to go with me to purchase furniture in PA. Seth and I picked out this furniture shortly after we got married. We went to buy it last October until Seth received bad news and then we canceled the order. Seth thought we shouldn't spend the money. He would say to me, "you will need this." It was heartbreaking that he needed to worry about that. He was always so selfless too, worrying more about me than himself, even in the face of cancer.

The last three nights that Seth and I were in our house together, before he was admitted to the hospital for the very last time, we slept in the basement. Seth slept on the couch and I slept on the chair. He was too tired to walk up the stairs and in too much pain. One afternoon he hallucinated that there were people in the basement with us. He asked, "what are those men doing over there?" He immediately came to, but it worried me none the less. When I addressed this he vehemently refused for me to call the doctor. He did not want to go to the hospital. Imagine the conflict this created for us. We got into our very last fight that day. I was so angry at Seth. He didn't understand that I was scared to be alone with him. I was afraid if something happened that I would no longer have the emotional capacity to hold it together. It had been a long 19 months and I was terrified. But how could I argue with him? He had so little control over what was happening to his body. We both struggled with this conflict. On one hand we both knew he should go to the hospital. On the other hand it was a one time incident and he had a doctor appointment two days later and would talk with the doctor on the phone the very next day. Reluctantly I did not argue anymore. I knew Seth needed to have some control and Seth knew I was not really angry with him. He knew that I was scared. We were both scared. 

Since I have returned home I hate going into my basement. Seth was such a creature of routine. We spent every single Friday we possibly could catching up on DVR, watching movies, and eating pizza downstairs in our basement. We rarely went out on a Friday night and we preferred staying in together over making plans with our friends. We loved relaxing with each other on Friday nights, it was our thing. Since returning home I rarely get to relax. I make plans constantly because it is a coping mechanism of mine to stay busy, but it is exhausting. I want to stop being so busy, but at the same time I thrive on it to keep me distracted from being in the house without Seth. 

A home is supposed to be a retreat. I am incredibly lucky to own a house and to be able to keep it even with the loss of one income. And although I am grateful for this, I also hate it at the same time. As I have said before our house no longer feels like a home. When I go into my basement I can picture Seth laying down on the couch in pain and discomfort. I can hear his voice and the fear when we were arguing about what to do when there were "men in our basement." When I go into the basement it brings me to tears that the very last memory of that space is of Seth suffering and not of us doing our regular Friday night routine. It breaks my heart that we argued down there during those last few days in our home together. I absolutely hate the basement. What was once a retreat for us to relax with each other and catch up on our favorite TV shows, is now a space that I find incredibly lonely and sad.

I bought a new couch for the basement. I thought it would help me if I made a change. I got the house painted. The painter completed all of the remaining rooms that Seth and I never got to because he became sick. When my parents came we went to PA and I purchased the hutch and the matching buffet cabinet that Seth and I picked out to go with our dining table. Seth and I picked out all of the furniture and the paint colors too. We were slowly getting to the painting room by room and we had finally saved enough to buy the basement couch when he got sick and he did not want to spend the money. Last Halloween, even after Seth got sick the second time, he was doing incredibly well. He defied the odds when he responded to chemotherapy like he did. We felt like we could be positive. We felt that it was very possible that he would have a future and that he would beat the cancer. We went to Lancaster, PA together to purchase that furniture for our dining space. We started doing all of the things that we had planned to do in our house when we first bought it but had put off because of saving for our wedding and then because of cancer. Cancer changed everything but we thought we were finally taking back control. We were wrong.

The complicated thing about losing your spouse is that in one instance you believe what you are doing to cope is good for you and yet immediately thereafter you feel you have made a huge mistake. I was so excited about the new couch when I bought it, but this was a great source of anxiety for me leading up to the delivery. All of a sudden it broke my heart to get rid the old furniture and to replace it with something new. The bad memories of Seth and I in the basement were still memories of Seth none the less. In my mind I was erasing all of the good by making these changes. I originally bought the basement furniture for my first apartment. Seth helped me to pick it out and I can picture him in the store sitting on the over-sized chair with his legs on the ottoman. He said to me, "this will be my chair." I always gave him a hard time about this because as it turned out he always wanted to be the one to get the couch and I had to sit on the chair. He didn't care though, he just smiled when I brought it up. All of a sudden getting rid of the furniture meant getting rid of all of those memories. 

It has been some time since the new couch arrived and I have moved on. I am no longer feeling guilty for replacing the furniture and I realize that these changes I am making do not replace Seth or erase my memories of our time together. Naturally I have not yet found a person that wants to buy my old furniture so now I have enough seating in my basement for 20 people and it is just me, the dog, and the cat. Seth would just go nuts if he saw the basement in its current state, it actually makes me laugh. As for the dining furniture, I am excited for that! I wish that Seth was here to see it in our house, because I know he would love it. The furniture that Seth and I picked out together is absolutely beautiful. But it is the memory of that October day that Seth and I originally went to purchase the furniture that makes me look forward to getting it. It was the very last time we took that drive to PA together. We got iced coffee and took off on the road for a ride. I loved our car rides together. It was like our life just slowed down and all we had on our minds was enjoying our time with each other. That day, after we confirmed all of the furniture purchases, we spent the afternoon in Lancaster going into shops. On the way home we stopped at Primanti's for dinner. For those that do not know, it is a Pittsburgh favorite and finally they had built a restaurant somewhat near us. Seth was so excited to go to a hometown favorite, we both were. That memory brings smiles to my face.  I loved that day. I wish Seth could have been with my parents and I last weekend too. He would have had fun. 

After my parents pulled out of my neighborhood last weekend, I broke down. I was taken aback because I have not cried uncontrollably in a long time. I miss Seth terribly, but I have been living on auto-pilot and there is no time for crying. When your spouse dies, whether you are 31 or 91, life still goes on. People constantly tell me that they are amazed by my strength and how I carry on. But the reality is, life does not care. The bills need to be paid and the dog needs to be fed because the world does not stop for a grieving widow. In fact much of the world forgets that I am a grieving widow. Not to mention, there is no other healthy option for me. Cancer changed everything. Life without Seth is not what I had dreamed of for myself. But a life spent grieving is not what Seth wants for me either. I remind myself of that every single day when I make a choice to get up and live life fully. By making this choice I know I am honoring Seth, although it frequently makes me feel guilty for enjoying moments without him. Is the theme starting to become clear? This roller coaster of emotions is exhausting.  

Although I am incredibly strong, what people don't see is that I do have my moments. The poor saps who do receive my rambling text messages in those moments must think I am going crazy.  But the truth is these "moments" have been infrequent. I work my ass off every single day to make Seth proud and I know I have been doing a good job. It takes so much energy to do well. It would be easier to sleep all day, gorge on ice cream, and to feel pity for myself. I even think I would have less guilt if I lived like that. Then Seth would really know how much I miss him, right? When I broke down after my parents left it was both dreadful and surprisingly good. Every now and then you need a good cry to remind you that doing well does not mean you have forgotten those who have passed. On the flip side, after having a few days of struggling you start to feel like a failure and you begin to wonder if you will ever rally again. The grief from this past Sunday spread into Monday and then into Tuesday. This grief got me thinking...Cancer changed my life. 

A few weeks ago I turned 32. This was also the 2nd anniversary of the day that Seth was diagnosed with cancer while we were on vacation. What most people do not know is that Seth and I had planned to stop taking measures to prevent from having a child when we returned from our vacation that year. We had planned to start trying for a family. It was only days after Seth was diagnosed that we learned we would not have biological children of our own. We grieved this loss, but we grew from it too. Our goals changed from having our own biological children to Seth surviving cancer. We became grateful for what we did have because cancer taught us that life is precious. Shortly after Seth went into remission we started actively exploring adoption. We quickly learned that no agency would work with us unless we had a doctors note saying that Seth would have an "average" life expectancy. His doctor could not write that note. Yet again, cancer changed everything and we stopped looking into adoption. We were reminded that we should be lucky for what we already had and that having each other was enough. When Seth died, cancer changed that too.  

When I broke down after my parents visited it was because this time they were not leaving Seth and I. This time, they were leaving me here all by myself. This was the first time my parents came and left and I was all alone. I realized, this is my life now. Cancer changed my dreams. Cancer took Seth's life. And although I remain grateful for all that I have learned of myself and of life, I was heartbroken. I am exhausted from these constant changes in my mood and from working so hard to live this new life. I am angry that the plans I thought I had for my life, which included Seth, are no more. I know my life will move forward and I know that is what Seth would want. I know that the possibilities are limitless and I cannot predict what will come for me. I assume my life will end up well but I cannot imagine this without Seth in it. I had plans for my life. Seth had plans for his life. Cancer changed our plans. Cancer changed everything. I hate cancer. For a few days I could only stop crying to go to work.

On Tuesday night I went to yoga. I needed that. Not only were the preceding days emotionally draining, I was also experiencing significant pain from arthritis. Yoga provided physical and emotional relief. Yesterday I went to a financial planner. This is the greatest relief I have felt in almost six months since Seth passed away. I have been worried about money and I have been living like I still have two incomes. I knew at some point this needed to stop, but emotionally I was not ready. If I wanted to book a million flights this summer to go to Atlanta, Nashville, or Boston, or Portland, or Seattle, then I was going to without regard for reality. Emotionally, I knew I needed these vacations. I do not regret this and I still plan to go to California next summer. However, I have also been feeling incredible angst knowing full well that at some point I needed to be responsible. When I left the meeting with the financial planner I felt as though a weight was lifted off my shoulders. Finally, I was taking a step in the right direction. I was making a plan and even if it meant hard work and picking up extra shifts I knew I would be okay. 

Cancer took away Seth's life, cancer is still fighting with too many other people that I cannot even count, and cancer changed my life. I hate cancer. But as the financial planner and I discussed my goals I realized I could still have a future. There is still a life for me and I am so incredibly lucky for that. My life will not be measured by my furniture choices, it will not be measured by the changes I have made in my house or the number of times I cry or do not cry over Seth. My life will be better because of Seth. My life will not be what I had envisioned when I married Seth. Cancer took our life from each other. I will always remember Seth, but cancer changed everything and my life will go on. Yesterday I felt really good about this, what a relief.

On the contrary, today was difficult. This was so disheartening because I really felt I turned a corner yesterday. When I was driving to work and as I felt defeated this morning I was reminded of a meditation session I went to at a Buddhist Center following Seths death. There was something in the lesson that day which really resonated with me. We learned to be patient with ourselves. We learned we are hardest on ourselves but we need not to judge ourselves. Tonight I decided to write. I decided I will be patient with myself. I will not pass judgment on how I am doing coping. I know that I will have my bad days for months, maybe even years to come. But I know I am capable of good days too. Cancer changed my life but I have the opportunity to change it as well. I will be patient with myself and only God knows what the future holds. Cancer changed everything and it took Seth, but it cannot shatter my hope. Tonight I will go to bed peacefully remembering Seth and tomorrow I will wake up with hope for a better day.


"Don't give up. Don't ever give up." ~ Jimmy V.

"You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and the manner in which you live." ~ Stuart Scott

Seth Jacob Budai Caring Bridge Page

"SethStrong" in Vietnam ~ Photo courtesy of Sarah Greenemeier
"SethStrong" in Vietnam ~ Photo courtesy of Sarah Greenemeier
I did take one picture Cape Cod after all. This is a picture of our wedding day in the ice cream shop where we took photos. Our photographer Neal Ernstrom sent this to the ice cream shop and I found it up there this summer!
Team "SethStrong" at Pittsburgh Cure Sarcoma 5k

Team "SethStrong" goes to the Pittsburgh Pirates Game!

"SethStrong" in Pittsburgh at a Pirates game.
"BudaiStrong" in Spain at the foot of a cross ~ Photo courtesy of Paige Bourne
"BudaiStrong" in Spain at the foot of a cross ~ Photo courtesy of Paige Bourne
"SethStrong in Toronto, Canada at a Bluejays game ~ Photo courtesy of Kaitlin and Barrett
"SethStrong" in Toronto, Canada at a Bluejays game ~ Photo courtesy of Kaitlin and Barrett

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