The “Before” and “After: My Jim’s Colon Cancer Diagnosis and Message: “Choose Happiness”

March 18th will always mark the date of the “before” and “after”.

On March 18th 2013, Jim was diagnosed with cancer. The following day, we learned it was colon cancer. We wouldn’t get confirmation until March 22nd that it was stage IV colon cancer, even though we had been told it was in his lymph nodes, lung and liver. – And…we had no idea that it was very likely terminal.

Ironic – that it was colon cancer awareness month. Jim was given two to three years to live at the time of his diagnosis. He blew past that two year mark and even brought the staff at the oncologist’s office a cake to celebrate! He always wanted to put a smile on everyone else’s face. On chemo days he would tell the staff that he was “living the dream”. He meant that. ❤️

The day before Jim was diagnosed, he had felt awful …but he put on a good face. He had been dealing with night sweats (which was from the disease in his liver), extreme fatigue, minimal appetite, back pain for weeks, and finally pain in his right side (he had gone through an appendectomy 10 months before Finn was born).

Jim had seen other doctors and a chiropractor for a few months prior to the diagnosis but not our family doctor; and he even went to the ER the night before his diagnosis. That night his labs were normal and his chest Xray was normal. He was instructed to see his regular doctor the following day. It was that pain that got everyone’s attention but it wasn’t until mid day on Monday March 18th 2013 when our family doctor, Dr. Buss, pressed on Jim’s abdomen, felt the mass in his colon and ordered a CT scan.

I remember clearly being at my desk at work and Jim telling me that they were sending him for a scan. While he may have already been told that it was possibly cancer, he didn’t want me to drive home with that thought. Cancer still wasn’t on my radar. I had no idea I’d be facing my young, handsome, strong, 31-year old husband’s mortality in a matter of hours.

Around 4pm I was getting ready to leave our house to get our 3-year old son, Shamus from daycare. Our 10-month old son, Finn was at the house, sick with an ear infection, so my parents were there with him. Jim called as I was about to leave and said “I’m coming to get you, the doctor needs to talk to both of us”. I told him “no, I don’t like the sound of that”. Jim had to tell me they suspected he had colon cancer or lymphoma and that he was going to pick up Shamus and take me back to the doctor with him. I lost it. I almost fell to the floor and yelled through tears to my parents but then shock set in until we got to the doctor, where I fell into our nurse, Kelly Rae Schultz’s arms. She was just as horrified as we were and it visibly pained our doctor to explain what was happening, knowing he had just delivered our baby 10-months prior and that this shouldn’t be happening.

Jim had a colonoscopy the following day and colon cancer was the diagnosis. He handled all this news with the most grace possible. Always looking out for me, the kids and his family before himself.

Jim was scheduled for a life insurance physical the day we saw the oncologist for the first time on March 22nd, 2013 and confirmed he would likely only live 2 to 3 years with treatment.

The night Jim died, I found his journal. At the luncheon following the funeral I was able to read from the journal. The quote that is most fitting for this anniversary was written by Jim on April 20th, 2013, a month after his diagnosis:

Jim wrote: “This life is amazing and you can tell me it’s not fair, and I will believe you, but not for the reasons you would think. I won! and will continue winning. I did better than most. My parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews. I got the best friends and most of all, my beautiful wife and sons. My life isn’t fair, nobody has it as good as me. No disease will ever change how blessed and lucky I am.”

I’m taking today as it comes and finding ways to mark the occasion the way Jim would want me to. Lastly, here is a quote from Jim for all of us to keep close. He wrote this to the boys in July 2015 when things were starting to look more serious:

“Choose happiness. Choose to go into every day with a positive attitude. Choose your life…. Sure, tough days come but choose your Joy. I had it easy, I woke up to you and your mom, how could I be anything but happy. You are my greatest Joy.” -Jim Patrick Gainey

Find your joy today, … for Jim. ❤️💙