I’ve got a pretty dramatic story to tell in this post, but before I start, know that I am not making light of the horrific situation the world is in right now. The loss of lives, businesses, jobs, and the long-term health complications of COVID patients are on an unimaginable scale, and the toll it keeps taking on everyone’s mental health will be another tragedy we can’t even assess at this point.
But I think we have all looked for the smaller but relevant silver linings of the Coronavirus: things like more time with family, the re-emergence of the family dinner table as a practice, a less hectic schedule, and maybe an organized house after watching everyone’s new obsession, Get Organized with The Home Edit, top most lists. I have experienced all these “silver linings” too, but I have what I would probably call an 18-karat lining: a COVID test literally saved my husband’s life.
Let me start from the beginning because I realize that is a bold, and perhaps surprising, statement.
If you were ranking our household on how we dealt with lockdown, I would give myself a B to B plus, but I would give Brad an A. The kids and I nicknamed him “the COVID cop.” He still went to the office some, even traveled for work a couple of times when absolutely necessary, and was about letting businesses reopen, but he was obsessed with our risk mitigation. When things started to open back up in June, I was ready to book my hair and nail and facial appointments and he looked me in the eyes and said, “You are not doing any of that until there is a vaccine.” I, of course, threw my head back and laughed like Cruella de Ville. I mean, we had been married 21 years! Did he really think I was not highlighting my hair for an entire trip around the sun or more? He did – and in fact, he colored my hair at home once in the summer himself. (I do not recommend that, by the way.) I finally broke his rules in early September because I could see the freight train coming that you’ll read about in the next few paragraphs.
Just like everyone else, we watched almost all of our summer plans get cancelled. The one thing I still had on the books was a beach trip with my college crew. We’ve done this trip every other summer for two decades and this year was probably going to be the last time all the kids made the trip since many would be in college two years from now. Brad wanted to cancel, but I dug in my heels and went on what Brad called “my reckless beach trip,” with five total families, four of which lived in the same house. At the beach, Brad stayed outside or far away from everyone and often wore a mask when indoors. We never go out when we are there, so the inability to visit restaurants or attractions didn’t really change the trip for the rest of us. We basically sit at the pool and the beach and that is about it. When we returned, he went to get tested for COVID out of an abundance of paranoia on July 14, and that is where this story all begins.
Brad’s test was negative, but it was followed by nose bleeds, what felt to him like a persistent low-grade sinus infection, and some not-at-all-normal stuff coming out of his nose. My college friends and I have now named it “the reckless beach trip that saved his life.”
To make a very long story shorter, on August 18th he finally went to an ENT. After a month of scans, doctor’s appointments, and a biopsy, we found out on September 17th what we had feared: he had cancer. Para-nasal sinus cancer, to be exact, of which there are about 2,000 American cases a year. To make it even more rare, he had it in his ethmoid sinus, which accounts for just hundreds of cases a year, and placed his walnut-sized tumor a millimeter or two away from what he likes to call his “big beautiful brain.”
Every time we meet with a new doctor and they recite how “rare” this tumor is, he politely asks them to call it “exceptional” instead. His stated goal throughout this process has been to make every medical professional he encounters laugh – from the person working the night shift checking him in for a scan, to the Ivy League-serious neurosurgeon. I can confirm this has almost always happened. He cruises into the clinic and loudly proclaims to the clerk, “I am the man you’ve been waiting for,” or he queries surgeons about their current levels of professional fulfillment. After surgery, through the fog of anesthesia, he riffed catheter jokes that cannot be printed in a family blog like this one – but they kept the nurses in stitches. It turns out that humor is good currency in cancer wards, and in high demand.
Everyone has also been amazed at how early we found the tumor. This tumor is usually found when it is the size of a human fist, and at Stage 3 or 4 – basically the stage when it is too late. Brad’s was found at Stage 1, without having metastasized to any distant body part. A seven-plus hour surgery using a video-game style knife, controlled by CT-scan-driven GPS software, scraped the visible tumor out of his head. That aggressive, paranoid COVID test in July literally saved his life.
The timing for this cancer has not been optimal; Brad’s career is linked to elections and the fall fashion season is my favorite and why I normally spend a lot of time on the floor this time of year. If you are wondering why I have been completely missing in action from the stores, this is why. Luckily, our team at The Hive and The Shoe Hive is so good and has pitched in so selflessly that I doubt I am missed. Rest assured I am still working: I’m still choosing new inventory, planning winter events, and evaluating sales, but cancer has become my job and getting my children through this my purpose. I was a teenager when my own mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and I know all too well what this does to a kid.
Throughout this process, the one thing my husband has refused to do is to alter our kids’ opportunities. So, they both still play diamond sports and go to school in-person, in N95 masks all day. For now, we wear them in our home if Brad is on the same floor as us and we have a medical-grade air filter and fans going in our common area. Clearly, COVID-19 and recovering from respiratory tract cancer don’t mix – and we are taking responsibility for mitigating that risk ourselves.
If you want to read more about Brad’s journey in his own words, you can do so here – it’s a guest column that was published in The Hill as I drove my husband to Johns Hopkins last week. Brad’s driven by public policy and felt compelled to put his uniquely American experience in context for others.
I can report that the “exceptional” tumor is now in the hands of the NIH for its second career as a subject of vital national academic study and we are still figuring out if radiation is necessary as the next step for Brad. Our lives will now be filled with lots of doctors and scans and for two years, we will live in a constant state of fear and anxiety that this comes back; the common knowledge that any recurrent cancer comes back with a vengeance is now what hangs over us. The following three years, we will be like Tom Cruise in the movie Top Gun: living in the danger zone, but I am hoping maybe it will not consume my thoughts as it does now.
Heard the buzz? The Shoe Hive & The Hive are a pair of luxury boutiques in Old Town Alexandria. Featuring both big name designers like Rag & Bone and Stuart Weitzman and smaller brands like AGL and L'Agence, our unique selection and impeccable service are what set us apart.
The Shoe Hive The Hive
127 S. Fairfax Street 301 Cameron Street
Alexandria, VA 22314 Alexandria, VA 22314