I have to make sure when I get hold of happiness to seize the moment and soar to heights with it. I am grateful that I can still be joyful at times with simple and new things that were not significant to me before.
— Bien Cox, journal entry
The "new normal" arrived April 9, 2008. The painful lump in Bien's left breast was malignant. Cancer.
The phone, the unholy messenger, was put back in its cradle, and we sat on the couch for a few moments. Tears came and went. Disbelief remained. We hugged and hugged and hugged. Perhaps this would make the cancer go away?
Nine days later, Bien and I stood in a small chapel in downtown Los Angeles and repeated the words "In sickness and in health" through tear-filled eyes to a minister who must have thought we were the most emotional couple to ever participate in the sacrament of holy matrimony.
That May, I watched as my small, fragile Bien was wheeled back from the recovery room, drainage bags weighing down her small chest, which was now missing a breast but left room for an enormous heart. I embraced my brother Walter and cried tears that seemed to come from the depths of my soul. Thank God for family.
The mastectomy left a scar that has turned beautiful. It also revealed lymph nodes that were cancerous. The chemotherapy would be of the aggressive variety and last for six months. There was one three-to-four-hour treatment a week.
The poison was delivered weekly via IV. She would be OK for a couple of days, and then the side effects would kick in: exhaustion, intestinal pain, insomnia, hot flashes, joint and muscle pain.
I shared in my support group … last week that "learning to be friends" with your pain would maybe lessen the burden. I have to accept the fact that pain is part of who I am now, and maybe that will make living easier for me.
— Bien Cox
We were told to monitor blood pressure and temperature daily. The night was filled with restless, painful bouts of sleep, peppered with nightmares that are thankfully forgotten.
On one of these nights, as I held Bien close and massaged her painful joints and looked into her beautiful eyes, touching the now-bald head ever so lightly, the epiphany arrived. I realized that we were no longer a couple. We were one. Two bodies yet one soul. We had transcended what most beings have on this Earth. The cancer, in trying to destroy one body, had created, instead, one magnificent, glorious soul made out of pure love.
Bien and I started attending participant and caregiver support groups at the Cancer Support Community in Pasadena. We don't know where we would be without this wonderful organization.
Through workshops there she has discovered art. When we take walks we take the time to see things that have always been there but we never had "time" for before. A squirrel "speaking" to another squirrel. The peculiar yet beautiful color of the flowers along the way. In my group, we laugh and we cry, and when we leave each meeting we know we are alive and that every moment is precious and every day is but one at a time.
The other day the radio played Michael Jackson's "Rock With You." That song takes me back to my college days when I was young and carefree. I danced to it, careful with my leg and hand movements. There will be days where we despair, yet some days we can be happy too.
— Bien Cox
It was a few days before Valentine's Day when the hummingbird appeared. Bien was no longer on chemotherapy but was taking cancer drugs, which caused intense joint and muscle pain.
The drugs were doing their worst the night the hummingbird arrived. Before the journey with cancer, the small bird lying wounded in the stair alcove outside our apartment might have been mistaken for a leaf, it being so small and motionless. Bien noticed it, of course. The wing hurt. Crying at times but mainly silent, breathing lightly.
We put it in a box carefully, and I took it to the humane society. The attendant said they would do the best they could. I thanked her and got in my car and I cried. I cried because I realized that the fragile yet magnificent hummingbird with the damaged wing was my Bien.
Valentine's Day arrived, and after I gave Bien a card and flowers, she — with a mischievous look that I have come to love — presented me with a hand-drawn card. On its cover, she had drawn a beautiful likeness of a small hummingbird resting in two hands cupped together to form a nest.
Bien just passed the five-year mark free of cancer. She is now a breast cancer survivor. We also celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary.
From time to time, I still foray into those dark paths, but now when I do, I recognize myself getting entangled and I try to disconnect from it and be myself again. I am more at peace with who I am now, I acknowledge my limitations and am grateful for every new day.
— Bien Cox
Jim Cox is a Pasadena-based actor and writer.
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