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
Hello! I'm Molly and I run & manage the Blog here at O'Connor. I grew up in a mortuary with a mortician for a father who's deep respect for the profession inspired me to give working at a mortuary a try. Work at O'Connor has brought together two of my deep passions, writing & grief awareness. In 2016 I earned Certification in the field of Thanatology, the study of Death, Dying and Bereavement. I am honored to be able to speak on these taboo topics with knowledge, compassion, and a unique perspective. I want to sincerely thank you for following & reading the blog, I hope that this is a healing place for you.


  1. Anne says:

    Thank you Shasta, for sharing about your brother. With your situation there IS more Shock, because you don’t have a warning. By the time you know something is wrong, it is already final. That is the same for both of us, but with yours there was no chance to say what you would want to. What we went through seemed impossible to be doing, slow and at times excruciating with no rest coming, but at least we got to say all the stuff we wanted to, several times. I suggested to my niece and a close friend on Father’s Day that they write a letter to the one they lost and just talk to them that way. If you haven’t already, that may be a good thing to do with your brother. I have a feeling somehow they will know.

  2. Anne says:

    Thank you, Mitch. We learn, the more we live, just how much can change so quickly. We can fight it but that doesn’t solve anything. We can play games with our brain, but in the end, like Greg said, we have to learn to accept it and see what God has in this next chapter and learn to be obedient to it.
    I am so glad I have you and others like you. Thanks again for making the fuses right in my car when you did. Say do you know anything about jammed cd’s in a car system? It won’t eject. I have “errors”. Ugh!

  3. Anne says:

    Thank you, Shayna. I am keying in on your comment that it is ok to show emotion. I guess I have always been brave enough to wear my heart on my sleeve. The bad part is that sometimes not so kind people knock it off and it breaks a little. The good part is that the majority of people are good and if just one of the two is willing to be vulnerable, then often the other, more careful one will entrust themselves a little and both are blessed by it.
    Every place we find ourselves in life holds lessons and growth, if we are willing to be quiet and examine it.
    I hope you know I am always here for you when you need it.

  4. Anne says:

    Thank you, Michael. I know that. You and the rest of the crew are there for me. I feel the love.

  5. Greg Forster says:

    Hi Anne,

    “Earthquake” is a very apropos word indeed. It conveys both physical and emotional shock. We are removed from almost every facet of our daily existence, except for our physical needs, which make themselves manifest and relevant whether we want them to or not. Any form of life earthquake may affect us for a moment, then we take a deep breathe, say “whew”, move on, slightly shaken, yes, but putting it behind us, we keep going. Major life ones, well, they make us stop. They make us feel and think or maybe make us too stunned to feel or think. They reduce our needs to the very basics. They steel us for the future. They are a tool to broaden our understanding of our own personal life story and journey. They can encourage one to value human life, or think the very darkest of thoughts.
    How do I handle my own personal earthquakes? (and I am going through one at this time):
    I accept the reality, once that I am able to recover myself. I accept changes, physically, financially, emotionally and otherwise. I accept the fact that some effects are temporary, some are permanent. I look to learn from what has happened. I explore and accept my own faults and causes if there are any. I accept the results. I resolve to move on. I will move on. God wants me to move on. There is no alternative. My responsibility is to live my life, both for myself and for others.
    These types of earthquakes change us forever. But with our own personal resolve, there is no alternative but to use them to make us stronger…to make us better.

    Thank you, Anne, for having the courage to revisit a very current wound to your heart.


    • Anne says:

      One thing about death…there is no going back. The best we can do is immortalize them for ourselves and others. I am fortunate that I had a good man and was so well loved by him. Gives me lots of fodder for doing so. But then there is me and here I am. I can accept it, and I do, yet still have difficulty figuring out what “moving on” means to me.
      If you ever need a hug or someone to talk with about your earthquake, well I know about earthquakes.

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