An Angel in your corner

This post is very difficult to write and not what you would expect.  And not what I would expect.  I’m not even sure where to start; so I’ll start with an end—the end of my marriage to the man who is the father of my two children.

People are usually surprised when they learn about the family dynamic between me and my two husbands.  Although “friendly divorces” are more common these days, our situation has been unconventional.

Maybe no divorce is really final when you share children. The truth is that a marriage might be over but feelings can remain—and friendship does, too.

I can’t say we haven’t had our differences and disagreements; but I can say that we’ve always remained a partnership, with our children as the focus.

Howard never remarried;  I’ve been married for 17 years to my second husband.   Howard has been an integral part of our lives from the beginning.  When I remarried and moved with the kids from Los Angeles to a new community 300 miles away, Howard stayed in our new home with the kids while we went on our honeymoon.  At times when we were all in the same place, my current and former husbands became golf buddies.

Less than a year later,  I got cancer.  I would fly to Los Angeles for chemo; Howard would fly up and stay in our house with the kids.

I fully expected that someday he’d be raising them when I was gone.   What I never expected was how the tables could turn—and it would be my turn to support him when he had cancer.

That happened 5 years  ago when he was diagnosed with lymphoma.  He decided to go for treatment at MD Anderson in Houston; I didn’t hesitate to offer to go along;  my husband didn’t hesitate to encourage it.

No words exist in the English language for these relationships which are so common today.  How do you describe the relationship between my current husband and my ex-husband?  And what do I call what my ex-husband’s girlfriend is to me?

Howard describes her as an angel that dropped down out of  heaven.  And for him, that’s totally accurate.

They met during one of his periods of remission—a time when not many women would begin  a new relationship with such an uncertain future, especially a woman who had lost her own husband to cancer a few years earlier.

It hasn’t been a long relationship—I was married to him four times longer than she has known him.  Though they had a brief period to enjoy their time together, most of their relationship has centered on his health.

She stuck by him when lymphoma kept coming back, despite multiple courses of chemo, radiation and a stem cell transplant.  Ultimately his doctors gave up and said they had nothing more to  offer.  He didn’t give up; and neither did she.

She’s lived her entire life centered around a healthy lifestyle,  believes strongly in eating organic, taking very little medication—and she influenced Howard to follow her lead.  Surely her greatest contribution was  finding and urging him to seek out a doctor who cured him of lymphoma. “Cure” is not a word I use lightly— but that’s the only way to describe it.   Once Howard started on this new program, his lymphoma disappeared.

Life seemed promising again; until they discovered a short time later  that the chemotherapy and radiation had caused  him to develop Myelodysplastic Syndrome, known as MDS, a precursor to leukemia, that damaged his chromosomes and has led to the precarious life-threatening state he is in now.

Howard has been heroic about all this; and so has she.

There isn’t much research or effective treatment for MDS.  Anyone who has been in a similar situation knows the constant frustration and hopeless feeling of dealing with an illness where there are no answers and a medical system that doesn’t produce results.

It requires someone to be a combination of a pit bull and a saint.

Howard’s girlfriend proved to be both.  With no previous training or expertise,  she dove into research, becoming incredibly informed on the condition, all the scientific studies and experimental treatments; finding  options even his doctors haven’t heard of.  She does so much research, I think she’s on the computer more than she sleeps.  She manages his medications;  by now she knows more about the particulars of his case than his doctors, or Howard himself.  She’s relentless, somehow getting through for consultations with doctors  and experts impossible to reach.  She’s also relentlessly optimistic, refusing to cave in; refusing to allow either of them to feel like victims.  She lives more than an hour away so she can’t be there on a daily basis—but she’s up to date electronically—the phone attaching him to her has become his lifeline.

He would say, and I would agree, that she saved his life and bought him more time.  At this point I would say his life depends on her being in it.

As unconventional as his medical treatment was at times, so was the ongoing unconventional situation we found ourselves in—two women who both care about the same man, sharing  in his ongoing health and welfare.

To be completely accurate; she has done all of the heavy lifting; I’ve played a very minor supporting role.   But it’s still been unusual.  I often wonder what the nurses think when either one of us is likely to show up with him at the infusion center where he goes almost daily now for blood transfusions.

As difficult as it has been while his condition has worsened,  knowing she is there has brought his family a level of comfort we could never adequately express. His spirits and his energy seem to improve when she’s around.

Which leads me to this:

In all the unexpected twists and turns that have been part of a life where I ended up calling my blog I never signed up for this, I don’t think I ever could have imagined a scenario where an ex-wife would be writing a tribute to her ex-husband’s girlfriend.  But  I am; and here it is.

In a sense I’m also writing this to honor other people who are undaunted by all the roadblocks life sends their way; to honor those unsung heroes and caregivers who make a huge difference in so many lives, one by one.

What I would wish for anyone who gets cancer, including me, is to have someone like Howard’s “angel” in their corner.

A few years ago I became a member of the Blogger Advisory Council of the American Cancer Society, which had just adopted its slogan, Creating a world with more birthdays.

I’ve worked with this  organization that does so much for people with cancer;  including a recent partnership with Tiny Prints, which is helping fight cancer with its exclusive collection of birthday cards inspired by the way the American Cancer Society saves lives.

 

It was the obvious place for me to go to create a card for Howard’s girlfriend, whose birthday is this weekend.  The perfect way to personally express the gratitude I feel for all her contributions.

We remain hopeful that Howard will see another birthday; still, she has already given our children so much—including the opportunity to celebrate more birthdays with their dad than would have been expected a few years ago.

 

So Happy Birthday to you, Dina—-with deepest admiration, appreciation,  and gratitude for doing so much to help  create a world with more birthdays.

 

This sponsored post was written in conjunction with the American Cancer Society/Tiny Prints card collection launch.  Click here to see the collection.          

Also posted on the Huffington Post

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. marla wentner says:

    I loved this post on so many levels. I have an incredibly good relationship with my ex-husband, the father of my only child. We live near each other in the Bay Area, and we are all (my ex-husband, his wife, their daughter, my guy and me) going to Los Angeles to celebrate Thanksgiving with my (our) son.
    When I read your post, it brought tears to my eyes, because there is so much love and caring in it. There have been so many times in the last 35 years when I could not have made it through without my son’s father. He is, after all, the only one who truly understands “our” child the way I do. He is always there for me, and I am there for him. I think that’s the way it should be when there are children involved in a divorce. Unfortunately, it usually isn’t the case and the children are the real victims.
    You honor Dina, as you should. She has given you and your children more time with their father. She is an angel, that’s for sure. And the card you made for her is lovely — I am sure she is very pleased with your gift to her on her birthday.

    I wish all of you the best, and am rooting for more and more time for Howard.

    • Marla, thanks so much. I loved your comment on so many levels, too. Especially appreciate you sharing about your own relationship with your ex-husband. What you said is very real and poignant—the fact that parents share a bond forever; that you are the ones who understand and love your children the way only parents can, whether they’re still married or not. You and your son are lucky to live so close by; the distance has been challenging for us but Howard always traveled here all through the years so he would be in our kids’ lives. And I always have felt the same as you do—that we are always there for each other. It’s an amazing gift–not only for the kids but for us. I only wish all kids who go through a divorce could have the “friendly” experiences you and I have had.
      I also appreciate your thoughts on Dina and wishes for Howard; so glad i had this opportunity to honor her in some small way. We’ll all be together in Los Angeles for Thanksgiving, too—hope you have a wonderful, wonderful holiday.

  2. Judy Brooks says:

    Beautiful beyond words, Darryle.
    I look forward to seeing Howard over the Thanksgiving holiday and hope I’ll have the opportunity to meet Dina as well.
    There are no other words. Thank you for taking the time to write this particular blog. Dina and her caring deserve to be known by more than your immediate family and you’ve done that.

    • Dina surely does deserve to be honored for everything she has been for Howard; and though as you know this was a hard post for me to write, in that way it was also very rewarding to be able to share this story about Dina. I know Howard would love seeing you over Thanksgiving, and hopefully Dina, too.

      I would also add that when I had cancer, and you repeatedly dropped everything in your life to come and be with me and my kids, you were the closest I had to my own “angel”–and you know I am forever beyond grateful.

  3. Linda Cosmero says:

    I hope you know that your words have healing powers. Than you for this blog. It has healed me many times. Love to your family always.

    • Linda, I’m so touched—truly—to think anything I’ve written here has helped heal anyone in any way. The truth is that although I do hope to make contributions to others, many times, writing posts has been very healing for me—I’m really honored to think it’s meant something to you, that you take the time to read, and especially the time to tell me. Thanks so much and love to you and your family.

  4. Deborah Rothman says:

    It’s true–it takes a village–and a lot of maturity, both of which you have, Darryle. Please give Howard my best, and wish Dina a very well-deserved special birthday.

    • I will definitely pass on your thoughts to both Howard and Dina; thanks so much, Deborah. And yes it does take a village and maturity—and definitely took me time to develop what I have today in the way of both—and always remember your contributions and conversations which helped me do that. So thank you for that, and for commenting.

  5. This is a beautiful post, Darryle. Would that everyone who was going through something like this was lucky enough to have people like you, like Howard, and like Dina in their corners. Angels, all.

    • I know Howard feels incredibly lucky and blessed to have found Dina—and I too wish everyone having any challenge was that lucky. I believe that if we are there for others, reach out to people who need us in some way, it not only feels wonderful to be able to give, but hopefully what goes around will come around.
      thanks so much Melissa.

  6. My heart is so touched. Thank you Darryle for sharing your life, your family’s life, and your wisdom. Love, Ruthie

    • Truthfully, Ruthie, this was a hard one for me to share, but having done so, I already feel it was so worthwhile in so many ways—including for me. I so appreciate your comment.

  7. MICHAEL ROSENTHAL says:

    Darryle, as always, your posts and writing both warm and amaze me. You are a unique human being who can find the embraceable in barbed wire. But this situation you describe is so intricate and complexly interrelated that only the mature love and respect you have for each other could make it possible, let alone plausible. The human heart can find ways to soften and lubricate the most painful and threatening situations. You are blessed with immense capacity. I hope only that all concerned emerge whole and healthy once again. My best to you and yours always, Michael.

    • Michael, I only wish I could find the embraceable in barbed wire—I love that phrase, and love what you said here with such eloquence. I think so much of the relationship we’ve been able to have is due to the respect and maturity of both of my husbands. Life is quite a journey, and I agree there’s nothing that can fortify it like the human heart. Thanks so much for your comment and wishes; and best to you, too.

  8. Judy Brown Tollner says:

    One of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever read, and beyond touching!! Blessing to you and yours… Happy Birthday to an AMAZING woman who indeed sounds like she dropped out of the sky! I’m honored to know you, thanks for sharing this story, Judy

    • Judy, how great to hear from you. I do feel sometimes that Dina dropped out of the sky just to be here for Howard; it makes you really believe in some kind of higher power. I’m truly honored by your very sweet words. Thank YOU for reading; and for sharing your appreciation and thoughts.

  9. Tom McMcMurrain says:

    What a beautiful tribute to an unlikely relationship. Howard is very fortunate to have two such caring people in his life.

    • Thanks, Tom, I have to say one of the most wonderful things about life is finding these unlikely relationships in such unexpected ways. Also, that Howard is fortunate that he has more than just two caring people in his life. And his gift to us is knowing how much he values and appreciates all of us who care about him.

  10. D/

    I have had a unique vantage from which to observe the heroic way both you and Howard have courageously dealt with some of life’s harsher realities. The silver lining has been the modeling that you both have passed on to your children – rising above circumstances and convention to live lives of hope, love and contribution. I think this has gone a long way in shaping to the depth of character and compassion that both your kids possess. And, I also think that Dina’s angelic contribution to Howard and you, extends to the kids as well. You have given them the capacity to appreciate beauty wherever they might find it and, with that, they have been able to more fully appreciate the gift that Dina has been, to not only Howard, but also to the lives of anyone who cares for Howard.

    Love,
    V/

    • I’ve also had a unique vantage point to observe the way you and Howard have dealt with each other over the years—and how both of you have made it possible for us to have the relationships the 3 of us have. I admire and appreciate that more than I can say.
      Also, no one knows better than you how hard it’s been for me to see my children suffer, while we’ve dealt with life’s harsher realities and challenges—It’s been a hard but incredibly valuable lesson to see how that’s contributed to making them the amazing people they are today–including, as you say, their ability to appreciate the gift that Dina is to all of us.

  11. Dina Gribben says:

    There are no words to describe what I am feeling after receiving your heart-felt tribute and the beautiful birthday card. Tears are streaming down my cheeks…you have touched my heart. During these last four years, since meeting Howard, I have been embraced with a tremendous amount of love, not just from Howard, but from you, your wonderful family and Howard’s sister. I love you all dearly. Together we surround Howard with love and support…which is the way it should be.

    Love,
    Dina

    • There’s something surreal about this whole experience—writing this and now reading your comment.
      Dina, your comment is so thoughtful and so YOU—to turn around the gifts you’ve given and see them as gifts to you—
      I’m especially glad you mentioned Howard’s sister, who we all adore. Though this is written as a tribute to you, I could have written a similar post about how remarkable and moving it’s been for me to observe the love and care his sister has shown every single day.
      I’m glad you enjoyed this little birthday surprise, I’m so rewarded to be able to touch your heart in any way to reflect the way you’ve touched the hearts of everyone who knows Howard, and now many of those who don’t. I hope you can see that Howard isn’t the only one who thinks of you as an angel.

  12. Darryle,
    I was fortunate enough to find you on Twitter today…and WOW! What a powerful blog to stumble on to. Thank you for being so candid and sharing your family with this world of patients, survivors and caregivers.

    Hugs,
    Tory

    • Thanks so much Tory; I’m so glad you found me too! Sorry it took me so long to find this comment but I’m sure you would understand how it is. I’m really glad I was able to share Dina’s story—which I know represents so many other “angels” out there—and thank you for being part of that world of patients, survivors and caregivers which touches so many, many lives.

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