6 years post injury, Graduation, Those Three Words and College


This year in June marked several milestones. 6 years since Toms injury.   Graduation from High School for Samantha, turning 18 and then off to college.  Also, those three words no one wants to hear:  “You’ve got Cancer”.

Lets begin with an update on Tom.  We were fortunate to have Tom’s dad and his wife Pat visit this summer in June for Samantha’s high school graduation.   Always good for Tom to spend time with his family. Tom has such a connection with his Dad and it was so good for them to spend time together.  Tom got to participate in many of the graduation activities and we were so happy that he could.   Although it is difficult for him to interact with a crowd, he seemed to be engaged and happy to spend the time with friends and family.  He still lives in his own “groundhog day”.    With only a 3-7 minute memory, he continues to require daily care and cuing up for daily activities.  From the moment he gets up to the end of his day, he is needing someone to remind him of daily activities, to provide meals and to ensure his safety.  He has no real motivation to do much, that stems mainly from the front lobe damage, but I am able to get him out for a short walk occasionally during the week.    I am very thankful to have found some care to come to our home 3 days a week to care for Tom and to give me some valuable and much needed time off.  Although we make the introduction every time she arrives, I know Tom enjoys her company and I know she cares for Tom and for our family situation and I can trust her and know he is in good hands.  It is so important to take some time off and have quiet time to refresh and prepare for the remainder of the week of caring for Tom.  It takes a lot of people, work, planning and preparation to complete a week.   It still makes me sad having to hire people to care for my husband, as this wasn’t the entire plan, but for now it is the best plan.


Graduation in June was the highlight of the summer.  Samantha worked so hard throughout high school for good grades.   She graduated with honors, and that wonderful smile on her face.  I could not be more proud of her.  There were lots of parties and celebrations going on all of June for these wonderful kids.  I am so thankful she has such great friends and a great support group around her.  I know she misses her Dad being a part of this big shift in her life, but she knows he would be more present if he could.   She has such a positive spirit, a fun outlook on all this life has  challenged her with and can make me smile just by walking in the room.   All summer I hated to think about her leaving for college.   I just couldn’t believe it was getting to be that time.  We took a trip to Oregon over the summer for Orientation and got a good feeling about the campus.  Still as a parent, you just can’t help but worry for them,  their safety, making the right decisions, their happiness, that they are eating their vegetables, making friends, and enjoying their new experiences.  Someone asked me the other day how it felt to be an “empty nester”.  I never really thought about it, as I don’t know that I qualify.  I had to think about it.  I don’t think that someone that is fully responsible for another adult, ever truly has an empty nest.  Our situation is just different.  My empty nest is not having Samantha here to talk to and laugh with.  But our nest is not empty.  I doubt that the  feeling of being an empty nest is even considered a part of our path in this life.  It just really doesn’t fit.  I always thought it would be Tom and I visiting Sam at school, playing golf and enjoying the rest of our life watching Samantha grow and create a life for herself.  The reality, is Sam and I will share much, I will watch her grow, achieve and we will know that we will include Tom but know that he won’t recall those special times and days, and the life we have created.    Although dropping your child at college is a moment of pride and triumph, I can tell you it is one of the most painful days I have had in quite some time.  I was so sad that Tom could not be a part of this path of her life.    Although she did say good bye to him, he doesn’t know where she is or what she is doing.  When I returned from dropping her at school is when I really felt such complete loneliness.  It just will not be the same.   I just know in my heart, that he would be very proud of her accomplishments even though he has no recollection of the events of these past few weeks.   But it is true sadness and worry that I have for our family at times.  Knowing that there is a tremendous responsibility to help Sam as much as I can, and make sure that Tom has what he needs.  It truly spreads my days thin.  There is personal sadness and anxiety that I have of of letting her go to have her much needed independence, and missing her before you walk out the  dorm door and coming home to seeing her room so empty.  It took me a week to even look into her room.  I felt so much grief.  Driving to the airport, I don’t remember having cried so much in a very long time.  A very hard day for us both.  I just couldn’t look back when she was walking back to her dorm.    We depend on each other.  Talking with her regularly helps us both as I know she worries about home but I don’t want her to, I want her to be free of the constant chaos and restrictions we have lived with since Tom’s injury.  She deserves the freedom and the independence from this challenge.   Seeing pictures of her enjoying a football game and with new friends makes my heart swell with joy.   In short, I always knew this phase would be hard. But I guess I never knew it would be this hard. A few weeks ago, I was melancholy down to my bones. Even so, writing this now, the fog has lifted somewhat. The range of emotions I feel has shifted away from grief and moved more towards excitement over what’s to come. A chapter has ended but another has begun. Nothing about parenting ever happens in a predictable fashion or as you imagined it, including the sendoff to college.

This October, I finally rang the bell at the UCSD Moores Cancer Center.  It is a tradition that when you do your last Chemotherapy treatment that you gather with all the Oncology nurses in the infusion center and ring the bell, signaling the last chemo.  Yep, go figure, who could possibly write this story.   Those three words you never think you will hear: “You’ve got Cancer”.    My doctor thoroughly believes a direct result of the stress that fills my days and that I probably had it underlying for a few years.  There is a really good reason when on a flight, that the flight attendant tells you to put your mask on first so you can care for those around you.  I think I skipped that part.  I was still working on the seatbelt.   I learned in December of last year that it was confirmed and have spent the last year getting Chemo every 21 days.   I can really say that it gave me a whole new focus and determination to change my daily activity to make sure I have some time for myself.   When you are 100% responsible for another human being that needs constant care, you end up not having a lot of time to ensure your own well being.   No matter what happens down the road, I owe it to Samantha wholeheartedly to make sure I am healthy for her.   And I owe it to myself.   But I also know now, after this year, that plans need to be made for the future for Tom and what care he will require that I will no longer be able to do.   Caring for him should not be my life sentence.    I will do my part, and I will guide the process, but also know that after this year, that it cannot be my entire future.   There will be help along the way and difficult decisions.   The San Diego Brain Injury Foundation has been a great resource and I know that I should feel complete and comfortable when the time comes for adjustments to be made in our care and lives together with Tom.   For now, our solution is some great in home care.    All I know is that in the end, I have done my best to keep with the promises made.  A lifelong commitment to another person is not always what everyone believes or thinks it is.   It sometimes isn’t all the great stuff, it is more of the hard stuff.  Tomorrow, I wish for Tom an easy day.  I know that it is only one minute, one hour and one day at a time for him.  No past or no future thoughts.  Maybe that is good.   For Sam, enjoyment at college and for all the joy her future holds.  For me, just keep me healthy.   I can manage the rest, as long as we have our health.  Take it from me, keep your oxygen mask on.  Breathe deeply.

Give the ones you love wings to fly, roots to come back and reasons to stay.  ~ Dalai Lama