A story of survival.

This is a fundraising effort for Gwen's medical bills. From her cancer treatments to the PRES syndrome that put her back in the hospital. The powers that be at GoFundMe felt that I needed to be more specific on the goal of this campaign. 

Rather than ask people directly for money, I preferred to tell the story of how we met, how we've evolved, and our recent hardships. Rest assured, any donations we receive will be put to good use and I'll update as the bills are paid. Thank you all, you are excellent people!


Side note - I'm not sure how/why GoFundMe is under the impression I'm raising money in relation to the recent California wildfires. Although we wish all the blessings in the world on those affected, we are not among them.
Once upon a time there was a Boy. A very odd Boy. His head was always in the clouds. He was curious, but not studious. He preferred fantasy novels to schoolbooks. He would rarely if ever do his homework, then ace every test. Teachers were very frustrated with the Boy. The Boy didn’t especially care. The Boy’s parents cared very much, but that’s not germane to this story. The Boy religiously watched professional wrestling, but could quote full scenes from Shakespeare. He would head bang to Metallica, yet secretly loved his mother’s classical music. He practiced with the football and tennis teams after school and on weekends, yet played chess or Dungeons & Dragons during lunch. He was ‘cool’ with the stoners and the gang bangers, yet he wasn’t a part of any particular ‘clique’. He had a few close friends but in general, was uncomfortable around people. Unfortunately, like all teenagers, he felt that no one understood him.

One day in high school in the idyllic year of 1990, the Boy saw a Girl leave a classroom as he was walking down the hall. He thought to himself that she was very cute. Many years later he would privately admit to her that his first thought seeing her was “nice butt”. She was not upset at this. Later in the week, while chatting with his best Friend at the time, the same girl came up to the two and hugged the Friend. Turned out they had recently started dating. She smiled at the Boy who blushed but smiled back shyly. The Boy was instantly jealous of his friend of course but happy at the same time to make her acquaintance.

As the school year progressed the two amigos became three. They were thick as thieves. They would too often ditch school to hit the mall, the beach, or the arcade. The Boy felt like a third wheel but enjoyed their company nonetheless. One day the Friend asked him to take care of the Girl. Watch her back as it were. He had apparently made an enemy of a particular segment of the high school population and he was worried they would mess with the Girl because of their relationship. The Boy was bigger than most kids at school and unbeknownst to him, was thought by others to be very intimidating. The quiet kid most likely to gun down the school or something. Another thing learned (and laughed at) years later.

The Boy said he would make sure to take care of the Girl. He would walk her to and from class, drove her home (days when he had a car). The Friend meanwhile, got an after school job that took up all his free time. The Boy and Girl carried on for months, even after ‘the threat’ was over. They hung out, had a good time, laughed at the same jokes, listened to the same music, and overall were generally goofy with each other. The Boy was very happy. But he recognized there was a problem. He began to fall for his best friend’s girlfriend.

Midway through the school year, the Boy and the Friend took a drive. They talked about this and that, these and those. Until the Friend mentioned that he’d been seeing another girl on the side. He wasn’t really 'working' all those extra hours he told the Girl about. The Boy was very upset. He felt that the Girl should know. He told the Friend that it was a jerk move to sneak around. But the Friend wanted to juggle both. The Boy was torn. He wanted to do the right thing and tell the Girl, but he was a loyal friend. He reluctantly kept the secret. It turned out to be a moot issue shortly thereafter anyway. The Friend had a big mouth and told the wrong people about his dalliance. Rumors started to get back to the Girl.

Soon after, she and the Friend got into a knock down drag out fight over the phone and she called the Boy to come over. She was worried. The Friend apparently had a temper that the Boy was unaware of.  There were never any playful confrontations or genial arm-punching between them. Perhaps because the Boy was twice the size of the Friend and would beat him stupid. So the Boy came over and comforted the Girl. And when the Friend came over to ‘talk things out’ with the Girl, the Boy strongly insinuated the Friend should leave. He did.

Later in the week, the Boy and the Girl were talking on the phone late at night. She wondered what she should do about her situation. On one hand she thought maybe she should give the Friend another chance. But she was hesitant. When the Boy pressed the issue, she admitted she had feelings for someone else. She asked the Boy’s opinion on what she should do. The Boy told her that he couldn’t be impartial. She asked why. A million things went on in the Boy’s head. The scenario of the next few moments played over and over in a rapid fire series of probabilities.

In the end, the Boy finally admitted that he had feelings for the Girl. After a few moments of stunned silence, they talked. And the Boy felt his heart soar for the first time in his life when she revealed her feelings for another were actually for HIM. This was what the poems spoke about. What the songs sang about. This is what people go through their life trying to find. All this.. interrupted by the Boy’s father knocking on his door saying “Go to bed, it’s after midnight!”

The next day the epic romance began. As much as young love can BE an epic romance that is. Time began to fly. Soon it was the summer. The two were inseparable. Words can’t properly convey the emotions they both felt. However after a year, the Boy’s father retired and the family had to move to 'the cold state'. The Boy and Girl were crushed. Though they both vowed to make the long distance relationship last, they were keenly aware the odds were against it. Nevertheless when the Boy settled in to the new home, he made it his mission to get back to the Girl. And gigantic long distance phone charges (for his parents) began to accrue. He worked two jobs after school, scrimping and saving his pennies. While he was gone though, the Girl had to move as well. Her parents had divorced and she was being forced to live with her mother in 'the hot state'. Long distance charges continued to accumulate. After 9 months, when he felt like he had a suitable sum, the Boy packed up his car and drove to be with the Girl. There was much rejoicing.

The two of them moved into a small studio apartment. It was furnished and utilities paid. Two things that a couple starting out really appreciated. 6 months later, the Girl found out her dad had a heart attack. And while in the hospital, 3 days later had a stroke. Being the dutiful daughter she was, she volunteered to move back to help take care of him. The Boy was once again alone. When it looked like she wasn’t coming back anytime soon, he fell into a deep depression. He soon lost his job and had to move back in with his parents in the cold state. Noting how miserable he was, his parents recommended he go help the Girl out in taking care of her father. With a renewed spirit he did so. They got the father’s affairs in order and together they moved with him back to the hot state where the Girl’s other siblings all lived. They thought her father needed all the love and support he could get.

They had some hardships along the way. Her father required constant care including assistance with the bathroom and shower. But they had each other. After a time, her father passed away. They were both devastated. He’d been with them for several years at this point. But they still had each other. And cats. They always had cats. Seasons changed, years went by. There were times of joy, times of sadness, and lots of times where nothing at all happened of any note. Some might say their life was boring, but they were boring together. And this is what matters.

They grew older. And they bought a house. They were thrilled after renting for the previous 20 years. Unfortunately soon after, the Boy got very sick. He was hours away from death the doctors said. In fact, he learned later, he had technically died on the table briefly. But the Boy had something to live for. Despite being hospitalized for two weeks with multiple surgeries and several drug-addled panic attacks, he finally made it home to the Girl. He needed help with a lot of things over the next year. The Girl did all of those things without complaint. Ok maybe a little complaint, but the Boy didn’t blame her. And being home with her kept the black thoughts out of his mind. Kept him from giving up. They had been together for more years than they had years apart at this point. They were not two people anymore. They had evolved into one co-dependent organism. And with all of her love, help, and support, the Boy got better.

The Girl however, got worse. She had had ‘feminine issues’ her whole life. And they had gotten progressively worse over the years. Once the Boy had returned to normal life, the Girl decided to finally get herself looked at. She saw a doctor who ran some tests. The next day, a Saturday, the lab called and told her to go to the emergency room for a blood transfusion. She had alarmingly low levels of hemoglobin. Mind you, she had been living with anemia for a while, taking iron supplements, etc. So while they thought it was nothing alarming, the two of them went to the hospital. They kept her overnight, gave her multiple intrusive tests, two pints of blood, and told her they would send the results to her doctor in a few days.

The tests came back. Endometrial Cancer. Cancer of the uterus.

The Boy and Girl were devastated. There was more testing to be done, to determine severity and a course of action, but no matter what brave faces one could put on it, the news was terrifying. The Girl is tough (even if she doesn’t think she is) and the Boy is stubborn. They were determined to get through this.

The doctors were confident it was contained in her uterus so they soon performed a full hysterectomy. The Boy watched her wheeled down the hall, making sure to put on his bravest face for her. Only when the gurney turned the corner did he allow emotions to overtake him. Several agonizing hours later, the surgery was complete and he was able to see her in the recovery room.  She was sedated but she was alive. And the Boy let out a sigh of relief and a prayer of thanks. Her hospital stay was one of the longest weeks of his life.

It was discovered during the surgery that the cancer had spread to one set of lymph nodes which they also removed. Because of that, her cancer was re-classified from stage 2 to 3. Soon after she began her chemo. She took it like a champ. And credit to her doctors on being the kindest, most patient professionals you could possibly want when dealing with something so scary. After the 2nd round of chemo, she started losing her hair. She and her sisters turned her head shaving into an event. A fun moment instead of a humiliating inevitability. The girl bought some wigs though and had been playing dress up with her sisters. She's always been beautiful to the Boy, but you could see how important it was to be beautiful to herself. And this again, is how it should be.

Life resumed. The Boy got called in to work on a particularly busy day. He texted with the Girl during the day and nothing appeared out of the ordinary. When he got home from work, he heard a noise coming from the bedroom. The girl had her eyes tightly shut and her hands, clenched into fists against her chest. He thought it was a bad dream so he tried shaking her awake. After a few moments he realized she was having a massive seizure.  He called 911 and they kept him calm until help arrived. He did manage cover her up at least (it was a hot day plus she had frequent hot flashes due to forced menopause).

So the ambulance took her to a  local hospital. Although the Boy wasn't allowed to ride with her, he followed them (as soon as he found their hiding cats).  The doctors were not encouraging. In hindsight, they were being realistic but all the Boy heard was "possible aneurysm, stroke, brain tumor". They put her into a medically induced coma to stop the seizing. But it all faded in the background as the Boy whispered in her ear to come back to him.

The Girl was moved to another hospital hours later (for insurance or care reasons, no one ever said). The Boy rushed there as well but there wasn’t much to do beside wait. Even though the seizure had ended, the newer scare was her temperature. It had managed to rise to 104 degrees. They literally covered her with ice packs and put her on a cooling blanket . They did a ton of tests. Tests were still going on when the Boy fell asleep on an uncomfortable little couch in the room. 

Finally The doctors were able to give her a diagnosis of a somewhat rare condition caused by the 'perfect storm' of circumstances. Her chemotherapy reduced her white blood count, which meant her immune system was radically diminished. She must have picked up the flu other bug while shopping in days prior. Add in slightly elevated blood pressure, stress, and a bit of exertion, and her brain shut down.  A syndrome called P.R.E.S. Fortunately the R stood for 'reversible',  but it took days for the Girl to be able to communicate. The first positive sign came after a couple of days when the Boy cracked  a joke and the Girl weakly raised her hand... and flipped him off. 

The Girl remained in the hospital for a full week, family always at her side until it was finally time for the Boy to bring her home. Together again, they face an uncertain future. Will there be more medical emergencies? The chemo still has a couple more sessions to go, what then? She'll need follow up testing, MRI's, etc. The Boy has insurance but the medical bills keep piling up.  A large deductible and 20% co-insurance leaves a lot owed to a lot of people.

The Boy was raised to pay his debts. And he swore many years ago to always take care of his Girl. He does not want to ask for help, but would be grateful and blessed with any he can get.

Not all stories are happy ones. But until next time, hug your loved ones close boys and girls.  No matter what happens. The Boy and Girl will get through this. But that’s a story, among hopefully many others, for another day…

Thank You.
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Jon Smith 
Phoenix, AZ
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