It Started with An Earthquake: A Cancer Journey

It Started with An Earthquake: A Cancer Journey

I t    S t a r t e d   w i t h    A n   E a r t h q u a k e


Thursday, January 3, 2013, 5 am.

I am awakened out of a deep sleep to the sound of Lou’s voice, rather urgent.  The room wasn’t shaking. It couldn’t be an earthquake.  “Babe, you need to wake up.  We’ve got a problem.  I think you need to go to the hospital with me.  I am coughing up blood. “

I jumped out of bed in a hurry and thought:  “Ok, let’s go see what’s going on.  Probably nothing, but you have to check.  What did I have going on today?  It was too early to call in to work.  Wonder how long they will keep us?”

So began the terrible journey that would forever change our world.

… In the ER on a gurney for two days.  Blood Tests, IV’s for an infection, CAT Scans of the chest, the head, the throat, the abdomen, then more specialized tests of the lungs.  They were able to get in touch with the lung specialist who was never in this area this time of the week.  He immediately came to the hospital.  He ordered a bronchoscopy of the upper right lobe of the lung and hung around after to evaluate and report for Lou and I and our daughter, April.

What he said wasn’t good.  They couldn’t even see into the upper right lobe.  What had been diagnosed as pneumonia in December was a huge mass. It completely filled the lobe and was growing out into the bronchial tubes.  He was surprised there hadn’t been a lot more evacuated blood.

By the middle of the first day, Lou asked the radiologist and the lung specialist if it was cancer and both said “Yes”.    So, there we had it.

Photo Courtesy of iStock/Madjuszka


Logic set in quickly.  Lou could live just fine without one lung or partial lung.  I used to work for Thoracic and Vascular Surgeons.  I had met lots of patients who did great on one lung.

The first step into grief began in that Kaiser Hospital on Sand Canyon.  For me, it was shock.  It was impossible to wrap my head around this.  I was a problem solver and one who comforts and consoles.  I pray for others all the time with great confidence that God will hear and take care of their every need.  This was not a problem with an obvious solution and there were no shots for me to call.

I needed comforting right now as much as I needed to comfort.  And I clearly didn’t understand a thing that was happening.  I am too intelligent for empty platitudes and so was Lou.  I would not do that.  We had to know more.

We were admitted to the hospital, but couldn’t be moved because there were no beds available.  We were 14 down on the list and that proved to be a wait that never turned into a bed.  The best they could do was locate a spare gurney for me about 4 a.m. so I could lay my exhausted body horizontal.  I was close enough that we could hold hands, in a room too bright and noisy to sleep, with all the monitors beeping and IV’s of strong medicines needing changing every hour or so.  I cried most of that night, silently so as not to disturb Lou.  I found out later he heard it all and was crying too, but for me, not for himself.

Photo Courtesy of iStock/Nico_Campo


I knew, without a doubt, we would not be alone in this.  Looking back, God never left us for a moment.  Friends and family, even strangers came in tight around the edges.  But right there, in that ER, it was literally a dark night of the soul and it wasn’t shaped like anything that remotely fit with our plans for the future.

So began my journey of grief.  It was an earthquake.  …about a 9.5 to be exact. It literally shook my world and the rubble that remained around me was just starting to be sifted through…

Grief and loss are part of the human dilemma and I will continue to tell my story in posts to come, but now I want to hear from you:

For those of you who have faced shocks and life-changing moments like these, how did you handle the news?

Do you recall that first moment when you got your bad news? What was your first reaction?

Molly Keating
Molly Keating
Molly grew up in and around funeral homes her entire life. In 2009 she began working for O'Connor Mortuary and found a bridge between her passion for writing and her interest in grief and bereavement. In 2016 she earned Certification in the field of Thanatology, the study of Death, Dying and Bereavement. She is honored to be able to write about these taboo topics with knowledge, compassion, and a unique perspective.


  1. Lori says:

    You sure know how to tell a story. After reading this, I feel like I was with you at the hospital. Tears fell as I thought of your love for Lou, and his for you. Both of you crying, but not wanting to disturb the other. Complete and total soul mates. I admire and envy your love story. It is a rare and precious find.
    My first earthquake came when I was five years old and too young to process it. As you know, that is when my father took his life. There are snapshots of that day that are still so hard to think about. What I have learned is that the most difficult day of my life prepared me for where I am right now. I can FEEL with families because I have experienced loss. The best thing we can do with our hurt is minister to others in their time of need.
    I know you will do this, my sweet friend. You have been ministering to me practically from the first day I met you.
    Love you so much!

    • Anne says:


      It didn’t take me long to minister to others again. It happened all through Lou’s illness. People would come by and then it would be too much for them to handle, so shocked were they to see the ravages of Lou’s illness. My tough Lou getting and looking so weak. I would end up having to comfort and pray for them.

      I was four and five when I lost my mama and daddy.We don’t stay 5 years old, thankfully, nor will I stay in this state I have experienced over 2013. Some people see their difficult experiences as an excuse to not progress. Others use them as stepping stones to help others who experience similar pain. We cannot teach what we have not traveled.

  2. Anne,
    I so admire your courage to talk about this experience in your life. I think so many of us are aware peripherally of tragic situations like yours but we rarely get insight into the pain, chaos and grief that the first-handers experience. Whether that’s because we don’t want to know or just because our society tends to be closed about these things I don’t know but I so applaud your willingness and compassion to share this story and begin connecting with others as well as create for yourself a sense of tribute as you write out Lou’s story.

    I’m confident I will have a lot to learn from each of your blogs.


    • Anne says:

      Writing this was like cutting myself. Just like a cut, it took a few days to heal from writing it. It is good that I don’t need to do the next segment immediately, now that I know what it did to me to write this one.
      Yet, I believed, and still do, that I should write about this to some extent. Some of what one goes through, no one would want to read, but there is something redeeming in sharing difficulties.

  3. Becky Finch Lomaka says:

    Wow. Anne, you have such an amazing way of capturing emotion through words. An earthquake is such an appropriate way to describe the feeling of panic, grief, and anger that happens in a blink of an eye when you hear devastating and life-changing news. When I got the phone call about my brother’s accident, I think my first reaction was shock and disbelief but then I automatically went into my familiar and comfortable role of caring for the others in my family. I love how you talk about being thrust into a new role of needing to be comforted after being the comforter for so many others. It was a foreign role for me to allow others to offer their support. Now life is about picking up the pieces after the earthquake and learning to live in this new world.

    • Anne says:


      Suffering is universal and pain over things out of our control seems so heavy at times. I am learning it is important not to stuff it. We know how to comfort others. I am learning how to let myself be comforted. I am learning better to say what I need. Sending hugs.

      Part of your local disaster relief team.

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