On the day I was undergoing tests which would, just days later, lead to my cancer diagnosis, I called the police and had my abusive alcoholic husband removed from the home. He was literally screaming at me and spitting in my face when I retreated to the bathroom, locked the door, and called the police for help. It was January 2, 2012, the last day we lived together. I was officially diagnosed the following Friday, and a week later, I packed up the kids, the cat, and as many clothes as I could fit into our Jeep Commander and moved from San Diego to Salt Lake City and into my parents’ basement. It was not a pretty move. To this day, I had never felt such repulsion and pure, dark evil from anyone as I did from him and I had to get away from him immediately.
As if having cancer wasn’t punishment enough, my husband couldn’t leave things alone. Should you kick someone when they’re already down? If you asked Rob, the answer was yes, beat her to a pulp and spit on her. So, true to form, Rob spent the next several months threatening me, and sending me the most hateful texts and emails one could imagine. He threatened to cancel my health insurance if I left him, he called me horrible things (like a thief and liar), he told me that everyone we knew hated me and thought I was crazy, and so much more. There are no words to describe how low, frightened and horrified I was by it all. I just knew that in my parents’ home, in the tiny basement bedroom that became mine, I felt a refuge of safety, love and support. I never wanted to leave.
But I also felt something else… hatred. Anger. I tried many times to remind Rob that I was sick and please, to leave me alone. That didn’t work– he accused me of making the whole thing up and demanded I get my lazy ass back to work. And oftentimes, I said horrible, awful things back. It was horrific.
When I was originally diagnosed, I had Kaiser medical insurance, which meant that I could only be treated at a Kaiser facility, of which there were none in Utah. I left and moved to Utah anyway, with a ton of medications and a treatment plan from my oncologist and a follow up appointment scheduled some three weeks later, which I planned to fly back for. I sent Rob an email asking that I have use of the home for three or four days for my appointments during which he could stay at his mother’s home. Rob said HELL NO (despite the fact that the home was still mine, too). He then forwarded an email to me from his mother, who called me a Princess and that I deserved no mercy because I made my bed so I would just have to lie my pretty little head in it and deal. It was horrific, shocking, disappointment, and hateful.
I was angry. I had never felt such disgust with people in my entire life. My mother-in-law, with whom I had enjoyed a very good relationship, and who asked me to write and deliver her husband’s eulogy (which I did), write his obit, plan his entire wake and after-the-funeral luncheon, and who called to talk to me about her son’s alcoholism countless times and ask me to reconsider divorcing her son, was supporting him in a way that was wildly… um, not helpful (for him). She knew her son was a very sick man with a horrific addiction. She knew he terrorized me and the children, and he had done this in his prior marriage, too. Yet she was calling me a Princess who, I suppose, made my bed by getting cancer and… leaving her son? So I needed to… what…?
I felt the first feelings of … hatred. Bitterness. Incredulity. I started writing in a journal that my friend, Amy, sent me when I got sick. “Write,” she told me. “It will help you.” I took that journal to soccer games, doctor’s appointments, you name it, and I wrote and wrote and wrote. Many months later, I read through it and it was the start of my blogging articles. Some of my writing were tough to read, it was so raw and painful. My blog became my new refuge as I attempted to try and make sense of it all, to set the record straight, even if there were typos and no sense of order. I simply had to get it out. Writing was emotionally consuming at times, leaving me distraught and exhausted. I started praying that someone in my husband’s family would get cancer too, so they could get an understanding of what I was going through. If they thought I was having a grand time on disability, they were sorely mistaken.
And then I bottomed out. I couldn’t feel that way anymore. In July of that same year, I sent Rob a text begging for a truce, but it was denied and the evil accusations continued. I told Rob that I would have no more contact with him again, only through attorneys. And while he tried many times after that, I went silent. His attorney asked mine if Rob could communicate with me directly about simple things in order to save money on attorney fees. No. It was an important step along the path of healing.
And then I started wanting, begging, for the ability to heal, to let the anger go. I started praying. Talking to my boyfriend, to my mother and father, to friends. Anyone who would listen. I remember talking once to a family friend, Lorrel, whose daughter was shot and killed by her boyfriend. She went to the jail and told Mike, the boyfriend, that she forgave him. “But I didn’t,” she said in tears. “I wanted to but I can’t.” She sobbed, so did I. “But how can you ever let it go? You forgive because it gives you peace, the rest will come with time, if ever. And that’s ok,” I said. I tried so hard to remember, and live, my own advice from years prior. But saying and living are two radically different concepts.
Around this time, my uncle loaned me the book Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, which was just released as a movie directed by Angelina Jolie. I read it spellbound, saddened and horrified that men can be so cruel to one another. And, yes, I experienced some of it myself. Not to the extent of the book’s hero, of course, but evil nonetheless. What captivated me most, however, was Louis’ path to healing, redemption and forgiveness. He truly forgave his captors. However, it didn’t happen at once, it took years. Eventually, he returned to Japan and ran the Olympic torch through parts of the country. That concept stuck with me. How could I ever heal like that?
Just weeks after finishing the book, I chatted with my friend, Jen, in Denver. “Lizzy, you need to turn your hatred over to God. He will carry the burden for you, and you can be free.” I wanted to do that more than ever. I started crying. “But, Jen, I don’t know how to do that!” I started praying for the ability to forgive. Instead of praying for Rob to get sick, too, I started concentrating on me. Yoga, prayer, meditation. I consciously tried to be happy. I laughed at many of the court documents filled with lies and vitriol and laughed instead of seethed. It wasn’t easy but it was a start. Slowly, the white hot deep anger started to ebb.
And then I started to pray for forgiveness. I had to forgive myself for so many things– making poor choices, dragging my children through a scary move and split, for their intense pain of losing their dad who they loved immeasurably (he has completely cut them out of his life), and for the awful things I said to Rob post diagnosis.
It’s been three years since that fateful day of cancer tests and a call to the police. These days, if I pray for Rob, it is for his healing. I pray that he will finally rid himself of his terrible addiction and to be a good and happy man. I cannot “move on” as his sister once texted me, because my children can’t “move on.” Their pain is mine and we will weather this together. But I have healed, I am trying to help my children through their trauma, a trauma that will likely be with them their entire lives. But I no longer feel anger and hatred, bitterness. Moving forward through forgiveness, joy, and love. Just like my hero, Louis. Looking that anger and fear in its face, powerless over me.
But that doesn’t mean that healing was instant. It took time, lots of time. And it doesn’t mean I won’t stop writing my story, because it is powerful, it is mine, it deserves to be told, and I know others draw strength from it. And that is important, too.