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Sunday, May 4, 2014

until death do us part - Kimberly Kay Kearn

Kimberly Kay Kearns is one of those people who I'm so grateful this blog has connected me to even via online discussions. She is a fighter herself, strong as ever, and a truly dedicated and devoted wife and mother to her three boys. She lost her husband to cancer last year. Almost a year ago exactly is when she found out that her husband was sick. She learned not to take the little things for granted, as well as what it means to do it all and be everything to everyone she cherished. 

I sobbed for days while reading and editing this piece… My heart goes out to this strong mother. I admire her perseverance to make life as normal as possible for her young boys, and to carry on the memory of her husband. Words can't describe what a difficult journey she has been on, but I am forever grateful that Kimberly tried to convey it here so that perhaps one mom out there will know she's not alone in experiencing the death of her partner. 

Thank you, Kim, you're a wonderful person. I hope that life has so many rainbows in store for your beautiful family in the future. 

All photos from Kimberly Kay Kearns

1. When did you meet your husband? Marry? We met in 2005 and started dating within weeks and got married in 2008

2. Son's names, ages and 3 words to describe them
Cameron age 2.5: energetic, passionate, caring Caleb 10 months: snugly, sweet, needy

3. 3 words to describe your husband? Bold, passionate, loving

4. When you got married, what type of life were you and your husband planning? When we got married, we planned on both being teachers. We planned on having our kids pretty close together so I could be home with them in the early years, then go back to work when they are in school. We planned on having 3 or 4 children.

5. Can you describe how your family found out your husband was sick? What happened through that experience?
Adam found a lump in one of testicles on June 7th, 2013, our 5 year wedding anniversary. On the 11th of June they removed his testicle, and were quite positive that when biopsied that they would find it to be cancerous. 

On June 13th I gave birth to our second son, Caleb. Now that was a crazy week! 

I was in the hospital for 2 days, mostly alone, and mostly sobbing. I was a mess. I had to stay an extra day in the hospital with Caleb because he was vomiting green stuff. And while in the hospital, Adam received a call informing him that he had an appointment the following week at the Cancer Center of Maine. That was a tough way to have the diagnosis confirmed. 
Within a couple of weeks Adam started chemotherapy. The cancer, though they had remove the testicle which was the source, it had already spread to his lungs. There were about seven spots between his two lungs, the more massive spots on the right lung. 

Chemo continued through the summer and in August his cough had gotten worse. So with more scans they discovered that the chemo appeared to be working on some of the cancer cells but not all of them. Some of it was still growing and one mass was now the size of golf ball. He finished chemo, which was very hard for him to do, knowing that it wasn't really working. 

He was sick from the chemo, but we made a point to enjoy our summer together as a new family of four. Despite the sickness, it was an amazing summer. 

From there we made several trips to Boston. More biopsies. More scans. More tests. The conclusion was that it was a teratoma that would not respond to chemo because it was slow growing, and chemo only attacks fast growing cells. But it was still growing. And could become full blown cancer again at any time. So the only plan of action was to remove it surgically. So on October 15th he came through the 7 hour surgery beautifully. They had removed 2 out of three lobes from his right lung. But everything appeared to be going really well. He was awake. He'd told the nurses all about me and the boys before I was even able to see him in recovery. I spent a few hours with him, but we were all tired, so I went back to the hotel, because I had the baby with me. 

Less than 12 hours later, things went bad. He coded twice during the night. Early in the morning they brought him back into surgery again, and removed the rest of the right lung. What was left of it, was completely dead. And they had no idea why. People live with one lung all of the time, so they were quite confident that a healthy, non-smoking 25 year old could recover and live a very normal and healthy life. Things started looking good again, he came off the vent, was talking and breathing on his own. He was talking about the World Series with his doctors. But the lung was not making enough oxygen for his body. His healthy lung had fluid in it, and a lot of trauma. 

Things went back downhill very quickly. He was struggling to breath, and very scared. He gave consent while I was out feeding the baby, to be re-intubate. So the ventilator went back in. 

And a few hours later I was told that he probably wouldn't make it through the night. They wanted to try an ECMO machine. They actually used two of them because of his size. It is still considered to experimental in adults. And they had very little information about using it in someone with only one lung. The purpose of this machine was that it would do the work of his lung, and give his lung a chance to heal. They needed to do the procedure in his ICU room because he would not make the transfer to an OR. But if he started to bleed, they'd need to get him to an OR to fix it. It was risky. And there were a lot of unknown factors. 

The only reason they even considered it was because he was 25 years old. They wanted to give him every last possible chance to live and recover. 

I expected to lose him that night. It had only been 5 days since the original operation. In our original plan, we were supposed to be going home that day. Everything happened so fast. Holding my four month old baby I waited through the early hours of the morning. 

Attaching him to the ECMO machine had been successful. He was in a medically induced coma. The next few days went well and he was considered to be stable. Now it was just a waiting game to see if his lung could heal. 

I went home for a few days to see my two year old. Then I made the 4 hour drive back down to Boston, alone, leaving my baby overnight for the first time. Things continued to look up for Adam. He made small improvements in using his lung. He was conscious, and able to respond with his eyes, squeezing of the hand, moving his head. I was able to work with him to move his arms and legs. I stayed in Boston for a few days, but ran out of milk. And he was doing well. So I returned home to my babies. 

Things took a bad turn again. I was home less than 24 hours and the doctor told me that I needed to return and plan on staying indefinitely. He had an infection. 

They couldn't identify the source, and believed it to be a blood infection. They weren't sure if his body was strong enough to fight it. There was no way I could leave my babies again that quickly. So I packed the three of us up in about an hour, had a friend come with me, and headed back to Boston. So I lived in a hotel room with my two boys for about a week. I had different people come down to stay with us. 

I would go a couple of times a day and spend a few hours with Adam. Mostly in the morning, during naps, and when my boys were in bed. And then I would go do fun things in Boston with my kids. Fun dinners. Riding the subway, which is a two year old's dream! Exploring the city. As far as my two year old knew, we were on vacation. He knew that daddy was sick and at the doctors, but he had no idea, that that's what we were doing in this neat place. I liked it that way.

On Halloween, I was there by myself for the day. I had someone coming in the evening, because I had a meeting in the morning. So I planned on going to the hospital for several hours in the evening. The balancing act was exhausting. Adam wasn't improving. The hospital called and wanted me to come in, it was a new doctor on, and she wanted to meet me before the meeting. 

I was at the Starbucks in Target, we had been there to get something to finish Cameron's Halloween outfit. I spilt my drink. And sat in Starbucks and cried. At that moment, I knew we'd reached the end. 

Sure enough, when I went in to meet the doctor, she asked if they could invite Adam's parents to the meeting, and the social worker was present and she suggested that I have my mother come down. I fumbled through the rest of the day, doing my best to make it a good Halloween for my boys. 

The following morning I made the decision that it was time to turn off the machines. A decision no spouse should ever have to make. Especially not one that I had envisioned myself making at the age of 26. Adam spent his life putting others first and I knew he'd want to do the same in his death. So even though he was becoming less responsive, I waited 24 hours and invited anyone who felt the need to come say goodbye. 

It is the strangest feeling to wake up in the morning and know that you have to say goodbye to your best friend, the half that makes life whole. 

November 2nd I told my little boy that daddy was gone. That he had gotten too sick, and that he had died and his body didn't work anymore. That is probably the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I told him before the fact because I knew that I wouldn't truly be able to enjoy the last moments with my husband because I would be worried about how to tell my son. So I got my boys ready for the day, kissed them goodbye and sent them to watch the World Series Parade. It seemed a little ironic for my boys to be there as my husband left this world. He was a sports fanatic. It felt right. The last few people came and said their goodbyes. Then, with his mother holding one hand and I the other, he peacefully went home to heaven.

6. What thoughts were running through your head as you realized your husband was gone? By the time he was gone, I was already at peace with it. But the moment I really realized that I was losing him, all I could think about was my children. 

How do I tell my 2 year old? How do I raise two babies by myself?

7. What helped you at that time? Where did you find strength to continue being a mom and getting up each day to move forward? The first week or so after his death, my children were the only reason I got out of bed. But every day, it got a little easier. Each day, they gave me something new to smile about. 

My faith in God, is probably the one thing that really got me through the first month. Most days, I prayed my way through the day, I didn't know what else to do. And each day I tried to focus on something specific that I was thankful for.

8. Are there things you and your husband discussed doing or having for your family that you are trying to continue now? Most of it is just family traditions that were important to us that I will continue to do. And trying to teach the boys some of his values, like not quitting once you've started something... Mostly just things like that.

9. What is the hardest part about losing your partner, your child's father?
I lost half of myself. There is no hardest part. It was all hard. 

We had become adults together. We had an amazing marriage. And we were an incredible team. Everything about loosing my partner was the hardest part. 

The hardest part about losing my children's father, is knowing that they will never fully grasp what they lost. They will never have a memory of their own, of him. 

They didn't just lose a dad, they lost a really, really fantastic one.

10. What advice do you have for any other women who have or are going through this type of situation, either a partner who is sick or has passed on?
Hang on, it does get easier. Pray. Take each moment for what it is, no more, no less. Accept help. Everyone is going to offer, so make a list of your needs as they come up, and use it. Know yourself and your needs, and be assertive.

11. What has this experience taught you in general? about life? about parenting? Life is so unpredictable. Don't take anything for granted. I take a little more time to soak up every baby giggle. And I'm not so quick to kick my toddler out of my bed when he wants to snuggle. 

Life's short. Soak. It. Up. And take A LOT of pictures! And video! I do a lot more of both now. And it get in the pictures every chance I get.

12. How will you help your children remember their father? We have pictures of him around the house. They each have a special box of his things, Cameron help me pick some of the stuff we've put in them. We made a photo album with hundreds of pictures of daddy. They each have a blanket with pictures of him on it. My oldest loves it.

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