Cay and I married Feb. 22, 1987.
On May 29, 2010, she stopped speaking to me.
At first, I thought it was a combination of job stress, a few converging life events and the distinct possibility that she was mad at me.
Several days later, at the urging of her employer and family friend, Jeff Schulein, I talked my way into the last appointment of the day with Dr. Kathleen Boos, her primary care physician.
Boos performed a few simple tests, after which she said, “I want her to go to Hoag right now and get an MRI.”
At 7 p.m. June 7, 2010, Cay’s brain was scanned so doctors could determine why she was not speaking. Just before 10 p.m., the emergency room physician came to her bedside and told us that there was a mass in her brain and that it was likely a tumor.
“Highly suspicious for malignancy,” read the report.
The next day, still at Hoag, Dr. Murali Raju drilled a hole in her skull as part of a biopsy. A tissue sample was removed and the resulting pathology report revealed the worst possible news: Cay had a grade IV glioblastoma multiforme, the most aggressive brain tumor in its worst phase.
There was no cure. The median life span for someone with her condition: 14 months.
On June 28, 2010, Cay had her first brain surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible. On Nov. 11, 2011, she had her second brain surgery.
The day after her second surgery, I was told two things at the hospital:
“Cay will never be as good as you see her today,” and, “This will be her last Christmas.”
They did what I asked and gave it to me straight.
In between and around the surgeries, Cay had hundreds of hospital and medical office visits, two gamma knife procedures, a painful bone marrow biopsy, six weeks of radiation, six weeks of chemotherapy, countless blood draws, MRIs and checkups, and far more paperwork than should be necessary.
For a profession that uses some of the most sophisticated equipment this side of NASA, the paperwork process in medicine is in the Stone Age.
She faced all of it with a level of courage and dignity that has inspired other patients at Hoag and even a few members of its exceptional staff.
The folks there who thought they had seen it all had never seen Cay.
We learned to live life in 60-day segments, which was the period between follow-up MRIs. As we rode a streak of “no tumor” results from February 2011 to October 2011, we went everywhere we wanted and did everything we chose.
“I want to go down in flames,” she told me, shortly after her diagnosis.
And so she did. In August 2010, I bought her her dream car and she drove it 600 miles round trip to Las Vegas with the top down, just to see the Liberace Museum before it closed permanently a couple of weeks later.
We went to Hawaii and to New York. We skied at Lake Tahoe. We took our first two-week vacation in 25 years. We lived more in that eight months than most people live in 10 years.
On April 29, Cay and I slept in the same bed together for the last time. The next day, the hospice service delivered the hospital bed that made giving care so much easier.
Cay died at home on June 4.
I have been struggling to find the words to properly express our family’s appreciation to the army of people who have helped us over the past two years.
The best way to do that, I now know, is to try to pass on our knowledge of the brain tumor treatment process to others who face this death sentence.
That’s what Cay would do.
STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer. Send story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.