When I was asked to write about my wife Colleen and her battle with Breast Cancer I didn’t really know how to approach the subject. Colleen was the love of my life so I see this as a monumental task, also I see myself as a guardian of her memory. I do this out of my love for her, and to make sure that our two children know of the incredible woman who was and is their mother. How can one convey such an amazing woman in words? Anyone who knew Colleen knows that she can not be summed up in a brief article, but I will try.
First let me apologize ahead of time for my strange use of tenses. I often refer to Colleen in the present tense because she is still a part of me and my life.
Colleen was a powerhouse. Her presence is so strong that she is unforgettable. After her passing I would hear from people I never knew who were her friends from years ago. They would talk of Colleen as if she had just visited with them. Grade school friends wrote to tell me how they remembered playing with Coll with the same vivid memory as her work friends would relate events from just months ago. To say she was someone special is an understatement.
I fell in love with Colleen for so many obvious reasons. She was so cute with her bright smile and those Irish eyes that twinkled and betrayed just a hint of the mischief that boiled under the surface. Right away I knew that she was not only kind, but possessed a deep wisdom as to how to live a good life. She had so much to teach me.
I knew that I would marry Colleen after our first unofficial date. We sat and talked at a restaurant after work and everything meshed between us. Our first real date found us finishing the evening (actually very early morning), sitting on the floor of her parents living room talking about books. When she told me she treated each book as a trophy, as I did, and would never dog-ear a page or bend back the spine of a book, I knew my soulmate was right beside me! Our whirlwind romance started in 1999, two days before Valentine’s Day (no pressure), and by August 17th I asked her to marry me.
Wedded bliss is not a good enough description of our life together. We were so alike in many ways and the small differences were just enough to make life interesting. Everything was an adventure with Coll and you needed to keep up or get left in her dust! Luckily I am almost as crazy as she was.
It may sound strange, but one of the things I miss most was the way we would mercilessly tease each other. We had so much fun goofing off together. One of the lines from the poem, The Desiderata, warns against negative people, as they are, “… vexatious to the spirit.” As we would tease back and forth I would dismiss Colleen’s barbs by saying “I’m not listening anymore, you’re vexing me”.
On a bright and sunny Saturday morning in August 2007 we were lying in bed relaxing as our two kids watched a cartoon in the living room. I can’t remember what we were talking about, but Coll interrupted me and asked if I could feel a bump in the middle of her chest. My stomach lurched towards my throat as I casually said something stupid about it being a knotted muscle or some other simple problem. We both knew it was not a good situation and so began the darkest journey of our lives.
The situation rapidly worsened as each seeming milestone was marked not with success, but with more dire diagnoses. We learned that Breast Cancer is actually a group of cancers and Colleen was to do battle with it’s most lethal form, Triple Negative Breast Cancer. In trying to come up with a simple way to describe Triple Negative to friends I explained it as “the Ferrari of Breast Cancers”. It is super fast and super aggressive.
Colleen fought this horror for two and a half years. When the fight began our children were two and four years old. We faced the problem head on with our kids and told them right away of the fight we all would need to endure. I can’t explain the pain of watching your small children‘s faces when you explain cancer, surgery, chemotherapy and the sickness that their Mom will be subjected to. Colleen and I basically needed to tell our children that there were, in fact, monsters and Mommy needed to do battle with them.
So two and a half years passed us by. Colleen and I laughed and cried. We told each other how much we loved each other and learned to live with appreciation for every day. We were blessed to have our families near, for as Colleen weakened she needed someone there with her and the kids while I was at work. Both sets of our parents were called upon to provide more help than we ever thought we would need.
I found myself kneeling on the floor in a hospital hallway on January 12, 2010 looking straight into the eyes of my six year old son and five year old daughter. Our candor with them allowed me to somehow explain that Mommy was very sick and would be going to heaven soon and that she wanted to see them. My kids are forged from the same metal as Colleen and were so brave as I brought them into the hospital room for what they could not realize were their goodbyes to their mother. Colleen too was amazing. Despite the pain, despite the drugs to help her, she beamed that beautiful smile at her two lovely children.
As I lifted my children so they could wrap their arms around Colleen I knew that my world was falling apart all around me. Colleen passed away two days later at 12:30 pm, January 14, 2010. I left the hospital forty five minutes later for I knew that she would want me to pick up our son as he got out of school that afternoon. In a two hour span I watched the only woman I ever loved pass away surrounded by her family, and then watched my son run across the school yard for a bear hug.
Now ten months have passed and my life with my kids is evolving from what could have been to what will be. Colleen was going to be one of the best mothers I could have ever imagined. She was born for the job, and now I must somehow act as an awkward fill in, providing both paternal guidance and maternal nurturing. Yet, I know she is still with me and will find a way to guide me through the many travails that lie before our little family.
For those of you who knew Colleen, you may have an idea of the loss that I am dealing with. For those of you who did not, you missed out on someone special!
I love and miss you Colleen,