“Um, Peanut Tillman just messaged me.”
It was the first thing I’d heard from the lifeless body lying in the hospital bed across the room in hours.
I was stunned to hear him speak and even more stunned that I knew who he was talking about.
When Joe and I first started dating, I quickly realized I was entering a culture of Chicago sports that demands the attention of every Sunday and seasons were no longer based on the weather but by the shape of the ball flailing across our TV screen.
“He wants to know how I”m feeling!” Joe exclaimed next.
Joe read the message sent to him from the Chicago Bears cornerback, Peanut Tillman. (Confession: I knew him as the long haired defense guy but I just asked Joe his correct position, so I’d get it right for this blog.)
Either way, here Joe was in hospital doubled over in pain but suddenly sitting up and talking fast. From there the conversation went back and forth as Joe read me every line and then read me every line he wrote back just before sending it to make sure it was witty enough to send to an NFL football player. This bizillionaire man was taking the time and was talking to my husband, inviting him to a football game and most of all giving him a new energy I hadn’t seen in weeks.
From there, we started planning our trip. Joe arranged chemos, we bought new clothes, and arranged babysitters.
This was all a far away world from the conversations we’d recently been forced to have. Running out of options, new doctors, and clinical trials.
Since Joe’s last stay at the hospital, we were told we are running out of options. We are trying new treatments but we know they only usually work for 3-6 months, so then what?
But at home, we danced as matching Tillman jerseys arrived on our front porch and plane tickets were bought.
Our oncologist gave us a list of possible clinical trials and I got busy arranging appointments between the fun activities we had planned for our Midwest adventure. We kept our trip quiet as we held our breath, wondering if Joe would even feel well enough to go.
The days that followed are a blur. I wrote a blog once called When happy makes you sad and I felt that more than ever on our trip.
I was happy Joe made it on the plane but it broke my heart that he couldn’t lift our bags.
I was happy we arrived at my grandmother’s house but sad that Joe was bound to the bed for the first 24 hours recovering from the trip.
I was happy to snap this picture of Joe and Mira but sad that we got all dressed up but then had to cancel our plans to see family as exhaustion swept over him.
I think sometimes when I post pictures our life can be deceiving. Joe is the best looking sick man that has ever existed. On his death bed I swear he’ll look like GQ model. I grab pictures every moment I can because I know our moments are limited. I’ve also been known to use a filter and guarantee a good angle because it’s only fair.
The truth is Joe spent most of our trip sleeping. He broke down crying as we cancelled plans with friends and family. He turned away visitors as he simply could’t handle the thought of people seeing him so sick. More than that he just didn’t feel like visiting. Cancer is a tricky thing because people want to see you, visit, help anyway they can but sometimes you simply can’t muster up the energy to do it.
I knew he was bad when he contacted THE Peanut Tillman to cancel the dinner he had invited us to with his family. He told him to cancel the beautiful hotel suite he had set us up with too. It was all just too much to get Joe packed up and in a comfortable place. We were all pretty shocked with Joe continued on with this back and forth texting until Peanut Tillman told Joe he’ll just come to him.
So there we were 11 o’clock at night with a professional football player standing in the kitchen. He made the drive out to the suburbs like he and Joe were old friends. Of course, Joe was mortified as we all huddled around wide eyed and staring at the massive man transported from our TV screen to real life.
The morning of the game, we were all walking on egg shells nervous and hoping Joe would wake up and feel like he could do it. I walked upstairs to see his jersey in one hand and his head hung between his knees as he tried to find any bit of energy that could push him to check this off his bucket list.
We got him in the car and headed into the city. Seeing him sitting up in the backseat next to me and I couldn’t stop crying. His thin frame, the dryness of his hands from medication, yet his hair, still perfect. 🙂
It’s good to know people. One of Joe’s childhood friends gave us a police escort whizzing in and out of traffic and another lifelong friend was waiting to park us at the front of Soldier Field.
I couldn’t stop the tears as Joe got out of the car and slumped down in the wheelchair waiting for him. It was bittersweet because I couldn’t believe we actually made it after the week we’d had. I swallowed the lump in my throat as he actually agreed to the wheelchair, something I’ve watched him turn away so many times. I tried to feel all of the happy but couldn’t help but feel the reality that this is my Joe now. How did this happen?
We made it to the game. We lasted almost through the 3rd quarter and even though the Bears didn’t win, we all did. Watching someone like Joe dig deep through the darkest moment to make a dream come true– may be one of the most beautiful, hard fought victories I’ve ever witnessed.