Maggie Newell is a program manager in MD Anderson's Internal Communications department. A native Houstonian, she's been with the institution for seven years.
Answering the call
Saturday, Nov. 26, was cold and bleak. I was with my daughter in her father's London home when I called Tim. And the diagnosis was confirmed: Hodgkin's lymphoma, stage 3b, metastases on his liver and lungs.
I wanted to scream. I wanted to throw things, smash windows and rage at the world. How could a non-smoking, non-drinking guy who wasn't a bit overweight (and getting more gaunt by the day) develop cancer? And why wasn't this caught sooner?
I turned and saw my daughter watching me wide-eyed as tears rolled down my face. I couldn't fall apart. It would scare her, and it wouldn't help Tim, and Tim needed me.
And I needed Tim.
It was a stunning realization: I really, really did not want this man to die. I didn't know what the future held, but I knew what he meant to me.
In an instant, my frustration and fear turned to anger and affirmation. How dare this insidious assailant try to take him away from me, from us, from our friends and family. It clearly doesn't know how stubborn we can be. But it's going to find out.
When I returned from London, we began planning the next stage of our lives.
Freezing the future
Before he began his chemotherapy, we had long conversations about our future.
There was a chance that the chemotherapy would render him sterile, and we both wanted more children. Tim did some research, located a well-recommended Houston facility and made sure that the therapy wouldn't take that potential away from us.
Tim also researched the infusion process. He discovered the wonderful world of PICC lines and asked to have one implanted before his therapy began. That way, he wouldn't have to have an IV reinserted for each session.
We learned all about PICCs, and Betadine, and how to flush the line with a sterile saline solution. At first, I was too timid to touch the PICC. After a few weeks of it, we both handled it like old pros.
We even went to Schlitterbahn the summer of 2001 (though I suspect if his oncologist had known, he'd have thrown a fit). We wrapped his arm in lots of plastic and tape and checked it throughout the day. And, of course, we wore lots of sunblock. We already had one cancer; we didn't want to court another.
Scrabble and jackets and fried rice, oh my
Within days of his first infusion session in February 2001, The Itch went away. It was a miracle that we celebrated with a full, undisturbed night of sleep -- without an ice bath.
Unsurprisingly, the chemotherapy caused Tim's appetite to plummet. Foods he loved no longer tasted right. Not even our favorite Italian restaurant sounded good to him. And Diet Coke, his staple drink, was right out. About the only thing that was remotely appealing was beef fried rice.
So, instead of sharing the joy of food, we shared the joy of games. Every infusion session, I tagged along with a backpack full of cards, crossword puzzles, books and, our favorite, Scrabble.
During the following months, we honed our word skills, memorized the two-letter word list and nailed all the Q-without-U words. We turned his therapy sessions into game fests, laughing as we leveraged our increasing knowledge to achieve increasing scores.
We went to different restaurants to try different beef fried rice. We discovered that fresh brewed tea was a great alternative to Diet Coke. We learned to always leave a jacket in the car because he'd get cold at unexpected times. We learned not to stay out too late with our friends because he tired easily.
And we always talked about the future. It became our focus, and we never lost sight of it.
By the time the infusion sessions came to an end and he was declared cancer free Oct. 5, 2001, we knew exactly what we wanted. Those infusion sessions didn't just eradicate his cancer. They confirmed our feelings for each other and solidified our future together.
Home away from home
Another happy event happened in late 2001. In December, Tim accepted a job offer at MD Anderson Cancer Center.
In March 2002, we bought our first home together.
In August 2003, with my daughter serving as the flower girl, we were married.
In April 2004, one day before Tim's birthday, I gave birth to our son, Ian.
And in October 2004, it was my turn to accept a job offer at MD Anderson.
For both of us, for multiple reasons, MD Anderson is our home away from home. My foster father and foster mother were long-lived cancer survivors.
Tim's brother received treatment here and fought a brave fight against melanoma -- a fight he lost at our home Nov. 15, 2008. At my desk, I have a picture of him from happier times looking down on me, reminding me of his courage and his compassion.
Every day Tim and I come to work, we know that in our own ways, we're helping others who are on the same rough road we traveled. Neither of us is a clinician or researcher, but we indirectly support those who are.
We love our work, and we have many dear friends among our co-workers. I help with the wreath auction, we both sing in the employee choir, and we always lend an ear to those who need it.
We're here to stay.
This month, Tim celebrates his 10-year anniversary at MD Anderson. In October, he celebrated his 10-year anniversary of his last chemo treatment.
I think that calls for beef fried rice and brewed tea, don't you?
Related story A 10-Year Triumph