Signup for news and special offers!

A wounded writer

A wounded writer

A wounded writer

My wife is dying.

My heart is breaking.

And for a writer, it seems a possible cure, if there is such, therapy for a wounded soul, is ... writing.

Soon, glioblastoma (GBM), an aggressive, incurable brain cancer will steal Carolyn Gaub, the stalwart, supportive woman I married 18 years ago this Sunday (on June 16, 2001).

Why am I discussing this on the website for "Midway Bravery," my just-released book? Because without Carolyn, there would be no book about the life of famed World War II Army pilot Jim Muri. I've mentioned this before but will repeat a summary of my wife's critical role in this book's genesis.

I like to say: Carolyn inspired, I wrote. That saying goes back to the winter day in February 2013 when I heard a public radio broadcast that included news of Jim's death. His last name rang a bell. I grew up in Miles City, Montana, where Jim came of age. He attended Custer County High School from his freshman year on and graduated from CCHS in 1936.

CCHS was my high school, too, for a bit more than two years, until my family moved from Miles City to Billings, Montana, where I graduated from Billings West High School. I never met Muri before he died in Billings, but I knew his family name because one of my CCHS classmates was a girl with the same name. I didn't know this until after Jim's death, but I had met one of Jim's nieces more than 50 years ago.

Armed with a hunch, I immediately posed a question, a theory perhaps, to Carolyn, sitting in the front room of our house, where I worked from a home office.

"I wonder if Kathy (my high school acquaintance) is related to Jim"? I said.

Carolyn's immediate response: "There's your book."

That meant more than it may have sounded at first. Carolyn met me several years after I thought I hung up my true writer spurs, the creative writing part of me. Closing a 25-year career as a newspaper reporter and editor, I changed focus and ended up first in a bank operations job, then as a sales support person (proposal manager to be exact) for two software companies.

Looking back, I appreciate both jobs. They put a roof over my family's head and groceries on our table, and they provided others necessities of life. One of the most important benefits of corporate employment was, of course, health insurance for me and my family.

I'd be remiss in not acknowledging the friendships I made with dozens of fine people at RightNow Technologies and Oracle.

Yet, Carolyn sensed my increasing dissatisfaction with what I was doing. Most of us hope, if we don't get, more than a job. We want a purpose in what we do and a passion driving us to new horizons. My jobs in the software industry provided none of that.

Now, though, thanks to publication of my second book in three years, I feel the lifting of the doldrums that had settled over me. Storytelling brings satisfaction I lacked for years, whether that came from writing the story of a hero of the Battle of Midway or, in the case of my first book, from penning an account of Laurel High School's almost-mythic, Hoosiers-like run to the 1969 Montana state basketball championship.

Yet today (June 14, 2019) brings a bittersweet feeling. The person who helped put a new spring in my step is battling a foe that almost certainly will defeat her. Carolyn finished a six-week round of chemotherapy and radiation treatment in late May. Everyone on the Bozeman Health Cancer Center team provided splendid care. She received superb in-home occupational and physical therapy from a local agency, which also sent personal care aides and nurses to our home.

As the first of June approached, we all thought Carolyn was getting stronger. Maybe we could fend off GBM for a few years. Maybe I could even take her on the Alaska cruise I promised to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary in 2021. But then the disease rebounded. She weakened. She had previously gained some mobility with the help of a walker, but she experienced falls again at home. She needed to use a wheelchair. Constantly. Need I note that our typical American house is decidedly non-wheelchair friendly?

A bit more than a week ago, after a fall that I couldn't prevent despite my best efforts to fall-proof our house, first responders took Carolyn to the Bozeman hospital where she spent four days. Doctors discovered blood clots on her lungs, a fairly common occurrence among mobility-hampered cancer patients. She began taking a blood thinner administered through twice-a-day abdomen injections. I was trained to take over giving her injections at home.

We (my son and I) decided, with some trepidation, at noon last Saturday that Carolyn had improved enough to come home. We were wrong. Two more falls in our home Sunday morning, plus a potentially perilous drop in Carolyn's oxygen-intake level, prompted me to reques that the ambulance crew take her back to the hospital late Sunday morning.

Last Wednesday (June 12), as scheduled, Carolyn received a followup MRI scan designed to determine how effect the earlier treatment had been in halting growth of her two brain tumors. Or, on a more optimistic note, whether the tumors had shrunk.

My son and I were in Carolyn's hospital room late Wednesday afternoon when her oncologist delivered the results of the scan. To say we were devastated barely conveys our emotions. Her doctor said the treatment appeared to have done nothing to control the tumors. In fact, cells remaining from surgery on one tumor had spread to a neighboring lobe in Carolyn's brain.

Carolyn and I cried and hugged as we tried to process the grim news.

We faced a decision. And it was ultimately Carolyn's decision. Should she agree to trying one more drug (not chemotherapy) that has helped some GBM patients extend their longevity without the side effects associated with chemo? Or should she follow her initial instinct and say: "No more. I want to live out whatever time I have free of the bother of further intervention, saving my time and energy to enjoy the love of family and friends during whatever life I have left."

At the moment (Friday, June 16), I believe Carolyn is inclined to take the no-further-intervention option. I respect and fully support whatever choice she makes. It's her body and her life. Our spiritual foundation gives us firm confidence that we will meet again in a place free of disease and conflict that is the human condition.

I'll get through this. But whatever roads my writing takes me down in the years to come, I'll never forget the wonderful experience of writing "Midway Bravery." And how a fellow, small town Montanan, a wonderful woman named Carolyn, saved my life as a writer with her three magic words.


Subscribe to Imagine when .... stories from our colorful past

Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.
Jamie Larson