How I Remember My Late Husband

Jim & Me in 2000

Meet Jim, before the brain tumor

He has a cute smile, doesn’t he?

I always thought so.

Allow me to introduce him: this is my late husband, Jim. And that’s a young me beside him.

We weren’t married when the picture was taken in December 2000.

He and I were in Kansas, visiting his family for the holidays. I was 25; he was 27. We’d been together for four years.

That holiday weekend, while out to lunch, Jim had the weirdest experience. He lost control of his right foot. It rolled around when he tried to walk. Then it corrected itself.

He told me about it afterward. I remember thinking: how strange. But I didn’t make anything of it.

Later that afternoon, Jim had an excruciating migraine. He took a nap for a couple of hours, and it gradually went away. The situation was unusual; he didn’t have a history of migraines.

The next day, we went to his aunt’s house for dinner. That’s when the picture was taken.

When we returned home to Tampa, the migraines continued. Jim also began experiencing double vision.

Because he was changing jobs and didn’t have health insurance, he waited until the end of January to make an appointment with his doctor.

Jim and I went to see his primary care physician to get his MRI results.

I’ll never forget what she said:

“You have a mass the size of a golf ball pressing up against your left eye. That’s what’s causing the migraines and the double vision. You’re lucky you came in when you did. You have a brain tumor.”

We got the terrible news on a Monday. Jim had his first of three brain surgeries, over the next seven years, on that Friday, in February 2001.

What the picture means to me

This picture holds a special place in my heart.

It’s one of the last pictures we took together where Jim looks happy and healthy. And he has hair. 🙂 It represents our life together before the cancer.

At the same time, he had a brain tumor, we just didn’t know it. In this way, the picture also symbolizes the beginning of the cancer journey.

A journey that changed both of our lives forever.

The picture represents a little of both worlds: the old and the new, the end of one era and the beginning of another.

When I look at it, I’m reminded of the Jim I knew before the cancer. And of the life I thought we were going to have together.

I’m also reminded of how young and inexperienced we both were about many of life’s hardships.

Jim and I were about to be thrown into a scary, unfamiliar world neither of us knew anything about. We grew up together on the cancer journey. In ways I never imagined.

Jim in 2003

Meet Jim, after the brain tumor

Fast forward to June 2003.

Here’s Jim again. He still has the same cute smile.

But no hair. 🙂

Once again, we were visiting Kansas. This time to find an apartment. Our plan was to move closer to his family.

By the time the picture was taken, Jim and I had been on the cancer journey for two and a half years. He had been through two brain surgeries, radiation, and chemotherapy.

The chemotherapy had been non-stop since 2001. Our goal was remission. That’s what he and I focused on. We believed once he was cancer-free, everything would be okay.

Then we’d go on living our life together … like any other healthy, normal couple, without the fear of the brain tumor always lurking in the background.

In between the two pictures, Jim and I married, and I finished graduate school. We planned to settle in Kansas, where I would begin my professional career.

Jim was doing well when the picture was taken. In five months, he would go into remission. And would remain cancer-free for the next four years.

What the picture means to me

This picture also holds a special place in my heart.

It’s the Jim I shared my life with for over eight years, two-thirds of our relationship. The Jim who had a primary brain tumor, and who was bald.

This is the Jim I most identify with. The one I know best.

I took the picture at a good time in the cancer journey. We were hopeful. Things were going well, after two and a half difficult years. And Jim and I believed he would beat the cancer.

Life was good.

Jim’s smile

The one thing that stands out in both pictures: Jim’s smile.

That’s what he was known for, and that’s what I loved most about him.

There was more to Jim than the brain tumor; it didn’t define who he was. Jim was a real, living, breathing human being who happened to have a cancerous brain tumor.

These pictures show the man I fell in love with many years ago. He won me over with that smile.

The Jim I want to remember

These pictures, and that smile, represent the Jim I want to remember. The laughing, smiling, loving, caring man I shared my life with.

Not the dying Jim whose mind and body fell apart in the last months of his life.

As I move forward with my life, fall in love again, share my life with a new love, grow older, and experience new things, my sweet, smiling Jim will always be with me.

In my heart.

* Photo credit: Images by Michele Alishahi