I’m trying to slow down. To embrace this journey. To embrace the fact that this isn’t a trip for me to see the country and tour the sites. It’s a trip for me to be alone with my thoughts and emotions. To be alone with my grief.
It’s strange showing up in a new place and not having a plan. To not have already mapped out every single thing I wanted to do and see, fearful to miss out because of lack of research.
My researching drove Brad crazy. For months before a trip, I would spend countless hours in books and on the internet, mapping out the perfect vacation: a balanced mix of “must sees,” off the beaten path finds, and downtime for relaxing and spontaneous exploration. Hours planning the kind of trip that felt magically unplanned. Planning brought me joy. The excitement and build up leading up to the trip were almost as much fun as the trip itself. Brad wanted me to be more “go with the flow” and just show up. To let our trip unfold naturally. I used to swear that our vacations were always so wonderful because I planned. And I knew Brad enough to know how to plan for him too: the perfect outdoor cafe that’s not overrun by tourists; the main attraction’s less visited and often forgotten sister site; sex breaks.
I’m actually doing this road trip how Brad would have wanted - unplanned. Not as a way to honor Brad (although I wish I could say that were the case). But because I was too busy with my grief and sorrow to plan. Because I just didn’t care to plan. Because some mornings telling myself to get up and put one foot in front of the other, to walk out the door, is exhausting enough.
As I am sitting here at 9:15 in the morning, my hair wet from my shower, sipping coffee on a patio, and writing, I realize this is exactly the type of slow morning Brad would have craved. I would have been eager to get out the door by 8 - to check out the perfectly adorable coffee shop around the corner before a full day of exploration. I would have been antsy and eager, fearful we were wasting the day. Fearful of missing out.
I am trying to embrace this new me. Or at least this temporary me. Eventually I’ll get dressed and head out, unsure of where I’m headed. I will try and ignore the pit in my stomach that regularly inhabits my body these days. Try and ignore the fear of exploring a new place without a plan. I will try and find joy in my day.
But for now, I am going to sit here a little longer, sip my coffee, and watch the day unfold around me. Not just for Brad, but for me.
What if you only had 100 days to live? What would you do? Quit your job? Travel the world? Start living? Start loving? Start making your moments count?
What if, of those 100 days, 90 of them you felt sick, in pain, or fatigued? That simple tasks like showering or getting dressed required help? That riding in the car was difficult because of the discomfort it caused? That staying awake for several hours in a row felt like a phenomenal feat? And what if the last 10 of those days you were drugged out on morphine, toeing the line between living and dying? Aware for some moments? Confused and out of it for others?
What if you only had 100 days to live? What would you do? How would you live? Would it be too late?
You don't get to choose your last 100 days. And you definitely don't get to choose the condition you will be in during those days. On December 8th, Brad started to plan his life in 100 day increments - never imagining he might not make it through the first 100. He was going to write his memoir. We were going to buy an RV and travel the country and visit the life he lived. The life that we lived. We were going to connect with friends and family. We were going to have adventures.
Today would have been Brad’s 100th day. 100 days after his “Day Zero” blog post. 100 days after starting to take Cabozantinib. 100 days to see how he was responding, to see how the disease was being managed.
Brad died on his Day 46.
What if you only had 100 days to live?
Of Brad's last 100 days, most were spent in bed. Most of them he was too tired to write. Too tired to talk. Sometimes too confused to get his thoughts in order. Brad spent his last 100 day frustrated that the physical state of his body was preventing him from achieving the goals he set for himself. Always hoping that tomorrow would be a better day. That tomorrow he would write more than a paragraph at a time. That tomorrow the meds, the supplements, the diet, the meditation, would all kick in. That tomorrow never came.
What if you only had 100 days to live?
Brad didn’t get to spend his final 100 days chasing dreams and big ambitions. He didn’t get to write his memoir or take our cross country road trip. But he did spend those days doing what was most important: connecting with the people he loved.
In the end, Brad didn’t make any drastic life changes. He didn’t learn he was dying and start making amends (he didn’t need to) or start suddenly living and loving (he already was). Although we hoped for more - more time to write, more time to live - he was already living the life he wanted. He was already the man he wanted to be. He was connecting. He was contributing.
Over and over he would tell me, “Connect and Contribute.” Those were his priorities, above all else. And he honored his commitments to live and love presently - to connect and contribute - until the very end.
It is devastating to think of the impact Brad would have had if he was given more days. How he would have continued to contribute. But I am grateful he got the days that he did. Because he lived more in his 35 years (that’s roughly 12775 days) than most will live in a lifetime. And that impact will continue far beyond our days.
What if you only had 100 days to live? What would you do?
Don't wait until you are given 100 days to live your life. Because you don't get to pick what those days look like. How your body will or will not fail you. How the reality of everyday life will get in the way of the life you planned.
When Brad and I walked into the ER in October and found out he had stage 4 cancer, we never could have known that that day was Brad’s real “Day 0” - that he would only get 100 more days after that. That January 22nd would be his final day - his day 100.
You don’t get to choose your last 100 days.
So what if you only had 100 days to live? What if today is your Day Zero? What will you do tomorrow? What will you do today?
If you’ve been following along here or listening to the podcast, you know that Brad and I planned to go on an epic cross country trip together. Before we could leave, we were waiting for the scan that showed his treatment was working. That showed stability. The scan that said he would live a little longer. The scan that never came.
We thought we could make it. Thought he would make it. We put a deposit down on an RV, aptly named “The Gemini.” We talked about painting it and adding the Defending Your Life logo on the side. We planned our route. We would circle the country and visit places he’s lived. Converse with old friends. Make new friends. We wanted to podcast and document the journey. Show us living courageously while talking with other people on how they, too, live courageously. I would drive and he would write. We would listen to music and have adventures and live our life as fully as possible. We had a plan.
I now have to make new plans. The reality is, this road trip was just one of many plans we counted on that will never come to life. One of thousands of dreams and ideas and ambitions we discussed. It is part of a future that no longer exists. My future now looks wildly different. My future is unrecognizable.
After Brad passed away, I knew I still had to take this road trip. Not the exact trip we planned (buying an RV now seems outrageously irresponsible), but something that could partially mimic it. I’m not entirely sure why I feel the need to embark on this solo journey. Maybe because I just want to escape and run away. Maybe because I feel I owe it to Brad. Maybe because I just can’t accept the fact that I am supposed to make new plans and instead would rather cling to my old plans, our plans. Maybe I just need to share - and write - our story. Maybe I just need to honor Brad. I don’t know. Maybe it’s all of these reasons and a 100 others I don’t fully realize.
But in 10 days I am getting on the road. Leaving on the first day of spring.
Brad loved significant dates. He loved the equinox. The idea of a refresh. A new season. He proposed to me on the first day of fall. We got married a year later on that same date. Our anniversary date was rotating with the fall equinox, changing slightly each year, depending on the sun. “It’s gross how romantic it is,” Brad used to tell people.
So now on the spring equinox, I’ll be embarking on this new season of my life (it's gross how cliche it is). Generally, I feel lost in my life. Lost at home. Unsure of what to do and where to go. I’m hoping escaping for a bit will give some clarity, some sense of my next steps. If nothing else, it will give me an adventure. If there is one thing Brad and I loved together, it was an adventure.
And because you can’t just have a soul searching road trip without some bigger purpose (thank you Brad for your influence to always go beyond yourself and think bigger), in addition to writing, I am hoping to continue podcasting for Defending Your Life in a variety of ways.
First, I want to have conversations with other people like me. Conversations with both cancer survivors and other widows (I have the unfortunate distinction of being a member of both clubs). The topic of each conversation will be how you live courageously in the face of cancer and/or loss and how do you find joy during your darkest moments. Two concepts I am currently struggling with. How do you go through this and make it out on the other side??
I’d also love to keep podcasting about Brad, his influence, and his life. Talk to friends and family (both those I know and others I don’t). I want all the Brad stories. Even better if those stories come with a couch I can crash on.
And finally there will probably be some “I’m all alone in the desert, what the fuck was I thinking?” solo podcasts. Because let’s face it, I am utterly unprepared (both emotionally and physically) to go on the road for the next two months and the combination of insanity, unpreparedness, and grief has got to lead to some stellar podcast content.
At the end of the day, I really see this trip as a search for joy and meaning - two things Brad and I proudly lived our lives by. And ever since Brad died, I feel like I’ve lost both. I'm hoping to stumble upon them somewhere along the way.