It takes two

A few weeks ago I was talking with a friend about our blogs. She said that she never writes about her husband; some readers didn’t even know she was married. I don’t directly write about my husband Clarke often. I’ve written endlessly about his mother Barbara’s sudden death in a car crash in 2009 (if you want to read more about her, please click on the tag “Barbara” on the lower right of the page) but not about Clarke. Clarke is private, and I respect the fact that he doesn’t want to write or discuss topics that I do.

Clarke wrote a piece that I treasure. In 2009 he nominated me as a “Brave Chick” for a website that celebrated women who had tackled adversity (www.onebravechick.com). The interesting thing to me as I re-read the essay now is how much more has happened since then. We’ve had many medical and emotional challenges since this letter was written. I like to think that the seeds of strength were sown during some of these experiences.

I am re-posting this today not to celebrate myself, but rather to celebrate my husband. We are a team in this thing called life and I couldn’t do it without him. I hope I will get him back here on the blog sometime to write about some more of the issues we have dealt with; I think hearing it from his point of view might be helpful for some readers. But for now I will let his words sing, and hopefully honor him by doing so.

 

…………………………………..

“The bravest sight in the world is to see a great man (or woman) struggling against adversity.”
-Seneca

“Let us do our duty, in our shop in our kitchen, in the market, the street, the office, the school, the home, just as faithfully as if we stood in the front rank of some great battle, and knew that victory for mankind depends on our bravery, strength, and skill. When we do that, the humblest of us will be serving in that great army which achieves the welfare of the world”
-William Makepeace Thackeray

My wife Lisa and I met for the very first time at the George Foreman / Evander Holyfield fight in the spring of 1991 when, in a scene straight out of Rocky, a forty-two year old Foreman went the distance with the undefeated Holyfield. We met again at a Halloween party later that year and began dating. We got engaged in 1995 and married in the summer of the 1997. Over the course of our 18 years together and in particular the last three, it has become clear to me that my wife possesses more than her share of courage.

As with any 18 year period we have had our ups and downs together but mostly it has been up. We have three beautiful and intelligent children, loving and supportive families and great friends.

In the grand scheme of things, our life together was pretty smooth which is why I think we were completely unprepared for what the last three years have brought us. In August of 2006 we learned that our five month old baby boy was born with a condition that required immediate open heart surgery. He also had complex problems with his cervical vertebrae and the muscles of his hands that would require a significant ongoing investment of time and energy in medical care and therapy.

Since Lisa is at home with the kids when I’m at work, the day-to-day heavy lifting of running the house and managing the often crazy logistics of our lives naturally fall to her. In addition, because she is the medically savvy one in our family (her father is a surgeon and her mother is a psychologist), Lisa ended up quarterbacking and supervising Tristan’s care which included (and still does include to some extent) coordinating treatment with four or five different specialists (neurologists, pulmonary specialists, pediatric cardiothoracic and orthopedic surgeons, etc.) in three different cities. Juggling all of those competing priorities was extremely challenging and time-consuming. It seemed like fate was piling on hardship in January of 2007 when Lisa was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer.

Lisa spent much of 2007 aggressively treating her cancer with a double mastectomy and chemotherapy. I’m sure many women who read your website are acquainted with the harsh reality of how tough a cancer treatment regimen can be on one’s body and, just as importantly, one’s psyche. I must confess that I wasn’t really prepared for what was to follow. Like many things, cancer treatment seems much simpler in the abstract or on television than in the messy reality of real life. It is a process where you are forced to make life-changing and often heartbreaking decisions while in possession of only limited information all the while dealing with the physical, mental, and emotional side effects of disease itself and the treatment. If adversity is the test by which character is revealed then I’m proud to say that my bride has passed her personal test with flying colors.

At least by the romanticized ideals of literature or history you don’t get to see real bravery very often when you live in Darien, Connecticut (braving the long lines at the local Starbucks doesn’t really count). However, there was something quietly heroic in how Lisa handled the myriad of issues she was dealing with in a thoughtful and calm (with some exceptions) manner all the while taking care of the thousand little details that go along with being a mom to a young family. No matter how much personal pain she was in, the kids’ lunches got made, their homework got done, their boo-boos got kissed, and their very real fears addressed and soothed even on the very worst days. Tending to young kids isn’t easy on your best day but being able to do so and face the world in the midst of cancer and chemo and all that implies is something else altogether.

Looking back, the amazing thing to me is how little impact the whole period had on our children; that speaks to how much of her energy and force of will Lisa put into ensuring that that was the case. We had lots of help from our families and our amazing group of friends, but at the center was Lisa getting up each day and doing her best to move forward with grace and determination (kind of like a 42 year-old George Foreman coming out of his corner, taking his licks and getting in some good shots of his own). In my book, that is all any of us can really expect of ourselves and defines what bravery is all about. When my test comes, I hope I do as well and face up to it with as much strength as Lisa did.

A friend whose wife had just gone through the breast cancer experience told me when I learned about Lisa’s diagnosis “the thing about breast cancer (pardon another tortured sports metaphor) is that you never get to spike the ball in the end zone and say you are done. There is always something else.” I thought I understood what he was saying at the time, but I appreciate it much more now. Although chemo ended in the summer of 2007 and her breast reconstruction finished shortly thereafter, Lisa has been dealing with the often frustrating regimen of drugs and side effects that come along with being a cancer survivor. While things are certainly better than they were, it has been a constant challenge and adjustment for both of us.

As I said earlier, one of the most difficult things about having cancer, even a cancer that is as common and well known as breast cancer, is that you really don’t have any idea what is ahead of you as either a patient or a spouse when you begin the process. There are reams of data and academic studies available but despite that fact, it is difficult to distill and digest all of that into a coherent picture as to what you as an individual (or the spouse of one) will experience.

As part of her life as a cancer survivor, Lisa has taken it upon herself to make understanding the long road of treatment, recovery, and being your own best advocate a little easier for women who will face the same challenges she did. She spends hours and hours speaking to women in our community who are just beginning the process about what she has been through in the hopes it will help them be prepared. As an extension of those conversations she began writing (and later blogging) about her experiences and feelings about cancer and posting them on the web. She sometimes writes clinically about the nitty-gritty medical realities of treatment and recovery which are based on her personal experiences, extensive research of the available medical literature, and her own conversations with her doctors.

Other times she examines the darker, emotional, frustrating, and deeply personal places that being a cancer survivor can sometimes bring you as young woman and a young mom. Her writing is often beautiful and poetic and is always thoughtful and enlightening. She puts it all “out there” for public scrutiny. She posts regularly under her own name to help her fellow women (our moms and sisters and daughters) understand and deal with a path that all too many of them will walk down at some point in their lives. I believe this is noble and selfless and courageous.

So as a very small and modest way of acknowledging her daily efforts and recognizing her achievements, I would like to nominate Lisa Adams (age 39), loving wife, wonderful mother, caring friend, talented writer, and strong cancer survivor to be a featured brave chick. I would invite those members of your community who are interested to check out her writing at lisabadams.com.

Thanks for your time and dedication to Brave Chicks everywhere.
Clarke Adams

July 7, 2009

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  1. Thank you so much for sharing this. It’s important to see, maybe not quite “the other side”, but the loving support that you have from Clarke. I truly believe marriages are a partnership. Some say that sounds clinical, but to me it implies strength, collaboration, and a shared vision. You and Clarke clearly have this, and I’m sure that in part, has helped through these challenging times.

  2. Ummmm, Clarke? I love you.

    Lisa, I adore this and can see the respect, love and courage pouring out of your fabulous hubby and into this beautiful portrait of you.

    xoxo

  3. Wow. I cry often when I visit your blog, and today is no exception. In spite of your struggles, you are blessed with a top-notch husband and family. Thank you for sharing this.

    I also enjoyed finding out that you met at a boxing match, because I love boxing. We try to catch it at the Naval Academy whenever we can. :)

  4. Wow – first time visitor to the blog (brought here by twitter) and what a wonderful tribute. It sounds like you have overcome so much that life has thrown at you with such grace and determination. Amazing.

  5. Lisa,
    Thanks for reposting Clarke’s piece since I didn’t get to read it first time around. You are strong and brave, as is Clarke, and his writing about you is a tribute to your love. I’ve been having a down time since last Friday, missing James, marveling at how much he loved and supported me during breast cancer and what a wonderful man he was. Yesterday, as I drove into town, I spent 20 minutes in the ugly cry, wondering how I would get through another health crisis, if need be, without him.

    I am a huge boxing fan!! For my 24th birthday, I received 2 pairs of heavy-weight boxing gloves. The only one who’d spar w/me was a girlfriend. We donned our gloves and started hesitantly, not quite sure “how far” to take this “play boxing.” However, when I landed a punch, I remember her eyes changed in a blink, and she struck back with hard right. At that point, we both broke out laughing, and that was the end of our match.

    Here’s a “fight blog” I wrote after visiting iconic sports photographer, Neil Leiffer’s gallery. When I used to photograph the Dallas Cowboy home games, he loaned me one of his fabulous cameras. Wow! I still have camera envy. http://bit.ly/jKdNC5

    XOXOXO,
    Brenda

  6. thank you for sharing this ` I am overwhelmed, to witness such love & appreciation… for this family to share and admit their fears, so bravely and with the added gift of humour – speaks of the love,light and hope in this world I believe that God( however you define this entity :) brought this family together to learn with gratitude and to teach and share by example.
    I love you . thank you

  7. Brilliant! You are very lucky to have Clarke as part of the team and we are lucky to have you.

  8. Lisa, thank you for sharing Clarke’s story. I love that you are in love and that you are best friends. Life gives us challenges every day. Some are mountains to climb. Having a solid foundation in our relationships is the only thing that will get us through our deepest and darkest days. I am so glad I married my best friend too. My love to you and your family, Jen

  9. Lisa, I found this through twitter also, and am a first time visitor to your blog although I have appreciated your thoughts on twitter very many times. I’ll be back to visit you. This is a lovely piece written by your husband, and it’s wonderful to see such love and such a partnership. I wish you and your family the best. Thank you for sharing this, and I hope Clarke will write more. Thank you!