The Day that Hell Came to Stay

Throughout my relationship with Heather, I would have described our union as about as equal as a couple could get. We both would work hard and play hard. Our life together was in order. Organized. That was attributed to Heather’s ability to be on task. To manage. She clearly was great at managing our life together. By that, I don’t mean that she did all the work that needed to be done (although, anyone that knew her would tell you she was most certainly capable). But rather, she was the conductor and choreographer of the beautiful life we had together. We rarely had a disagreement. It’s kind of hard to disagree on something when you share the same taste and view on almost every conceivable topic. Friends would often comment on this observation they had of our life as a couple. Many have literally said, “I wish I had what you guys have”. We heard this as a validation of how we felt and because of that, we would never take each other for granted.

Beginning some time in early 2011, Heather became gradually more and more less organized. What had taken her only minutes to do, was now taking half an hour to an hour to complete. Just trying to complete her shift change in the oncology floor she worked on as an RN was taking an increasingly amount of time. Heather would visit a few doctors (psychologists and psychiatrists) in search of figuring out what was going on in her head. She wondered, was it depression? Anxiety? ADD? It was clearly starting to affect our relationship as this behaviour was so uncharacteristic of what each of us knew about Heather. Then the headaches started.

I can remember Heather nearly falling to the ground in pain – just getting out of bed. She even once told me some time in Fall that same year, that she was worried that “something was really wrong with her head”. I jokingly agreed, “Yeah, I’ll say” after she forgot for the second time that week what time our son’s (Paulie) school started and delivered him late.

On the evening of December 22, 2011, it was like every other night. We ate dinner together and talked about the plans we had for the next week as her mother would be flying in the next day to spend Christmas with us. Heather said, “I scheduled a CT scan for first thing tomorrow. That way I can get it done and time it so I can get directly to the airport to pick up my mom”. This was not a test that brought me any concern. We were just simply checking the next box on the list of things to try.

The following morning, Heather and I got up and went about our routine. She left with Paulie and headed directly to the hospital for the test. I went to work in my home office and was eager to sew up some last few details before taking a week off for the holidays. It was sometime just before noon that I received a voicemail from Heather. I can remember her voice telling me. “I’m at the airport. My mom’s plane landed. I can see her coming down the escalator smiling at Paulie. Paul, I just received a call from the radiologist. It’s a mass object. We’ll talk when I get home.”

I think my ears were ringing so loudly that I had to turn the sound all the way up on my phone as I played it again. No. No! No NO NO NO!! This was NOT happening! I convinced myself that this “test” was somehow flawed. She would get another test and it would be ok. No reason to panic here.

Heather had her mother drive the car back home from the airport. I waited by the front door for their arrival. As soon as they got out of the car, she asked Paulie to go into the house to retrieve something from his bedroom. Once inside, she went into more detail about what she had learned. Her mother, Brinda, was hearing the news for the first time as well. We wrapped our arms around each other and wept.

In that moment, I was lost. Nothing looked or felt the same. Paulie ran out of the house shouting with much excitement, “Here it is! Your Christmas stocking, Grandmom!”

The juxtaposition pierced deeper. How do we navigate from this point?

To be continued.


paul-schillingPaul was a loving husband and father when he was thrown into the world of cancer in December 2011. His wife Heather was diagnosed with a brain tumor and he proceeded to travel the journey as her primary care giver, an experience that changed him profoundly. Heather passed away in June of 2013 and Paul has had to adjust to life without her as an individual and as a parent. In this blog, he shares his experiences in life on the other side.


One thought on “The Day that Hell Came to Stay

  1. Thank you, Paul for sharing this intimate & moving journey you & Heather shared. I’m deeply sorry for your loss. I’m currently walking the cancer journey with my sister diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I encourage family & friends to donate to the American Cancer Society. We NEED a cure!!

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