hi, I'm Becca!
If you're a practice member, you’ve probably seen me at the front desk when you come in for your weekly check. Since we only get to see each other for a few minutes, I’d like to share a little of my journey with you.
My story is in the making, and this is just an overview. I've been asked (many times) to share it and I finally feel like now is the right time. My purpose and intention behind these words and my story is to help someone, anyone. As hard as it was to relive these moments in my life, it brings me so much joy to know that my story can touch others.
I am the proud Mama to a little boy named Bennett. He’s two and is the JOY of my life. Many say he looks like me, but if you ever got a chance to meet his Dad, you’d probably think otherwise. 😉
In 2015, I married Bennett’s Dad, Matt, and we moved to Franklin, WI. A few months after we were married, we found out Matt had a golf ball sized tumor on the bottom of his spine that required surgery. In the weeks preceding his surgery, we were terrified. We didn’t know what kind of tumor this was, if it was anywhere else, or if it could be cancerous.
I should note, during this time in my life, I was on edge all of the time. I was constantly anxious and repeatedly missing work and other commitments due to my anxious thoughts, often sending myself into panic attacks - some so severe that I would have to pull-over on the side of the freeway and Matt would have to come and walk me through things.
If you deal with anxiety, you can understand how I was feeling while all of this was happening.
I was taking anti-depressants and was also prescribed Xanax to take as needed when I would have a panic attack. I felt like at the time, the anti-depressants were working (or 'doing their job') but when I would take the Xanax my body would not react well.
Once Matt's tumor was removed, he was sent for physical rehabilitation at St. Luke’s for two weeks to re-gain strength and to heal after having such an extensive surgery. While he was there, we found out that the tumor was called a Schwannoma and that (thank God) it was benign.
The doctor told him that he had a better chance of winning the lottery than getting this type of tumor.
He was also told to have regular scans as this type of tumor could pop up again in any part of the body. We were so relieved to be in the clear and begin a normal life as husband and wife.
Shortly after this, my anti-depressants stopped working for me. I began having suicidal thoughts. After discussing this with a doctor, I decided to wean myself off of the medication to see if that made a difference. If I needed to try something else, I would. After that experience, I made the decision that I wouldn’t go back on medication again (I am not advocating this for everyone without a discussion with your doctor - This is what I decided was best for me, personally).
After getting off the medication, my suicidal thoughts stopped.
I still had times that I felt sad and anxious, but they were not nearly as bad as they had been once before. I made a commitment to work on my mental health, although to be honest, I did not focus on myself during the next year and a half...
In October of 2016, we celebrated our first year of marriage. I’ll never forget the day of our anniversary, Matt brought up the idea to me of moving back to Elkhorn into my parent’s basement. I thought he was crazy. The plan was that we’d get to save money to buy a house and the bonus was that we got to be closer to my family. We prayed about it and decided that God was calling us to Elkhorn. So, at the end of the month, we moved.
About a month after we moved, I found out I was pregnant. We had been trying to conceive for about a year... and many negative pregnancy tests later, I began to think that motherhood may not be in God’s plan for me. That said, I'm sure you can imagine all of the emotions I was feeling after finding out we were expecting (!!).
Overall, I had a relatively smooth (and unsubluxated 😊) pregnancy and on August 9th, 2017, Bennett William Anderson was born. Seeing Matt become a dad was amazing. It changed him in so many ways. He wanted to do EVERYTHING for Bennett. Some people thought that was strange, but being a dad was one of Matt’s dreams…he wasn’t going to waste a second of it.
As for me, motherhood wasn't exactly what they portray in the movies. If there was a struggle that new moms face, you name it, I was dealing with it. Bennett was an easy baby overall, but I struggled more with my mental health after having him. When it came to nursing my baby boy, he would not latch, which was not only frustrating for me, but also heartbreaking. One of the things I was looking forward to most was bonding with my baby through nursing and we couldn’t do it.
During this time, I was a stay at home mom.
For all of the stay-at-home-moms (and dads) out there, YOU ARE AMAZING.
It's a tough job, especially when your littles are with you all day. To top it off, some people have a misconception that staying home to raise children entails an easy job where you don't really do much all day.
This misconception couldn't be more wrong.
I struggled with lack of adult interaction during the day and also struggled with the fact that I couldn't contribute to our family financially. The isolation alone was enough to bring me down. I had no self-esteem and constantly spoke negatively to myself.
Bennett was about the only thing in my life that brought me some happiness.
Around March of 2018, Matt had started to complain of back problems again. He was in a lot of pain and it was all in the area where his original tumor was removed. We went to the doctor and had a few scans taken. The tumor was back.
Matt’s primary doctor called a few days later and told him that the way the tumor looked on the MRI indicated that there was a high chance it was cancer, but that we’d have to do a biopsy and a PET scan to confirm the type of cancer it was. The day Matt came home and told me the news, I was devastated.
How can a 32 year old man have cancer?
Why would God allow this?
After receiving a PET scan and biopsy of the tumor, his official diagnosis came, on his birthday in April. Matt had Metastatic Melanotic Schwannoma (a malignant form of his original tumor) and it had spread to his lungs, liver, kidneys, brain, and various areas throughout his body. He was to start immunotherapy a few weeks later to try and fight it.
In a matter of months, I went from receiving the best gift of my life (my son) to receiving the worst news of my life.
When you're faced with a life altering devastation, you have two choices: Lay down and let it consume you or fight with everything you’ve got.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t going to lay down and surrender but Matt had other plans. He was going to fight. The Devil wanted him to give up and he knew it. He wasn’t going to let him win this one.
Shortly after immunotherapy started, Matt began having extreme pain that could not be controlled at home. He had a couple of hospital stays in Janesville, with one lasting an entire month. I can’t tell you how good it felt the day he came home after being in the hospital for a long time… it probably felt better to him but for me, it gave me a little hope that everything was going to be okay.
After another scan, we were informed that the immunotherapy was not working and that Matt’s tumors were growing, with another developing behind one of his eyes. This was the same time that his doctors told us to prepare for the worst.
Matt continued to fight.
He was an inspiration to everyone around him, including myself. This man was connected to a pump that continuously pushed pain meds into his system, connected to oxygen, and mostly wheelchair bound at this point, yet he showed such extreme faith in God’s plan.
He wasn’t afraid of the future.
He knew God had already been there and that it was going to be okay no matter what.
Once the doctors here told us there was nothing else they could do, Matt found M.D. Anderson, a cancer center in Houston Texas that was willing to give him a consult to see if they could provide any help. At the end of June, we flew to Texas for our appointment. We thought this was our answer.
Going to Huston meant leaving Bennett at home. We didn’t know how long we were going to be there and I had a really hard time leaving my 10 month old baby at home. I was totally torn between helping my husband find a cure and being there for my helpless child.
Unfortunately, we did not have the experience we had hoped for.
Almost immediately after arriving at M.D. Anderson, Matt was hospitalized because his oxygen levels were so low. From there, things got worse. We were told that they could only offer palliative care because Matt’s condition was so extreme.
They could not offer any help to cure him. That was it.
It was only a matter of time, and they could not say how long he had. He could not take a commercial flight to get home in his condition, so we made arrangements to have an air ambulance fly us to Janesville from Huston. Once we landed in Janesville, we were transported by ambulance to Mercy Hospital. It was a strange mix of emotions when we arrived at the hospital. It felt almost like home with all the time we had spent there over the last two months, but at the same time it was dreadful.
This is where my husband was going to take his last breaths. I didn’t know when, but I knew it was coming. The next days were spent with Matt requesting to see a few very important people, praying, crying, laughing, hugging, saying “I love you” more times than I could count, and asking lots of important questions. I needed some guidance on how he wanted me to raise our son, since I was going to be doing it without him.
Matt had specific instructions for those closest to him. He wanted to be sure that Bennett and I were going to be taken care of. I have never seen a heart change more than Matt’s did while he was sick. I am so thankful that it did.
I am so thankful that I know I’ll see him again someday.
I won’t forget the last time Matt spoke to me. We were sitting in his hospital bed and he suddenly felt very tired. He said “I think it’s almost time, I love you so much.” I told him that I loved him too and helped him lay in bed. Hours passed and he just slept. Much later in the evening, we noticed his vitals were dropping faster and that he didn’t have much more time. Family came in and said their goodbyes as I sat next to him holding our son, soaking in the last moments we would be together on earth as a family of three.
Close to 10:30 PM, he took a turn for the worst. His breathing slowed down and they disconnected him from the vitals machine. It was just a matter of time. I remember holding his hand and watching him, but I sat silent. The entire time we had been back in Wisconsin, I kept telling him I couldn’t do this without him.
How would I live without him?
How would I raise a baby by myself?
Then it hit me, maybe he was holding on for me.
Maybe he didn’t want to leave me because I said I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t, but I couldn’t watch him suffer any longer. He put up such a good fight, he deserved to be fully healed and in the arms of our Savior. Finally, I said to him, “Matt, it’s okay. You can go. Bennett and I will be okay.” A few breaths later, Matt left his earthly vessel for a perfect one in Heaven at 10:56 PM on July 4th, 2018.
fast forward to today, 2020.
My life is very different than it was almost two years ago. I am very different. Grief changes people. I learned in my time as a widow that the last words I spoke to Matt were true. Bennett and I are okay.
I’m not going to lie and say I had an easy time in the last year and a half, I dealt with many, many dark times, but I clung to the hope that God has better days in store for me.
A few weeks after Matt passed, I started seeing a counselor. I didn’t necessarily want to but I knew if I wanted to go through this process in a healthy way, I had to. I had no idea how to cope without harming myself through words, thoughts, food, isolation, etc.
Through seeing my counselor, I learned SO much, and I continue to see him today.
At this point in my journey, I don’t always talk about grief, but there’s so much more to life than that. It feels so good to have a safe space to talk about tough things. I look at counseling as a form of self-care that I can do now to set myself up for a healthier future.
One of the biggest things I have learned is how to speak kindly to myself.
I have discovered that all of the negative things I used to say about myself are lies! Not to say that I don’t speak harshly to myself anymore, the voice is just much quieter these days.
Being a single parent has been a difficult journey, but I’m so fortunate to have the help of my family. I don’t know what I’d do without them! Previously, I was so dependent on Matt for everything. He provided financially, but he also took care of almost everything else - bills, insurance, car issues, you name it, he did it. My job was to take care of Bennett.
You can imagine the shock I experienced as I slowly realized that this was now all on me.
It was a huge learning process, but I really have enjoyed learning to be independent. Not only from a provider standpoint, but also personally. I have grown so much in learning who I am on my own, apart from being a wife and a mother. I think that has really helped in learning to form new relationships.
I know who I am.
I am confident in who I am.
If you don’t like me, that’s okay.
I like me and that’s more than enough.
Although I like my independence, life can get pretty lonely. For a long time, I prayed that God would bring me someone to love again. I was open to dating but terrified to do so! And I most definitely didn’t want to unless I knew God had a hand in it. I wanted to give myself a year after Matt passed before I really started thinking about dating again.
It wouldn't be fair to me or the person I was dating if I was still dealing with the “firsts” of losing someone. One of the questions I had asked Matt before he had passed was if I could have his blessing if I met someone in the future. I had no plans on doing so when he passed, but I knew it wouldn’t feel right moving on if he said no. He told me he wanted me to be happy, if that meant I stayed by myself or met someone, I had his blessing.
Over the summer, I met a wonderful man through a great friend of mine. We spent a while just getting to know each other and developing a friendship before deciding to try dating. After all, I have a child and wasn’t about to bring someone into Bennett’s life only for him to leave.
Joe is all of the things I prayed for in a partner.
He is patient, kind, loving, hilarious, and understanding of where I’ve been. He never makes me feel bad for talking about Matt. He never tries to erase my memories of him or minimize Matt’s place in mine or Bennett’s lives. It’s such a great feeling to love again. I feel like I can finally see a bigger picture for my life instead of just a few feet in front of me. I am excited to see where God leads us!
Today, I’m learning how beautiful life can be.
It’s a mess some days, but I’ve survived 100% of my worst days, and I know I will continue to do just that. I am excited to see what else is in store for Bennett and I. I am looking forward to learning more of life’s lessons, and embracing each one as they come.
As a way to share my thoughts with our TWP community, I am going to start writing in our weekly e-mails (I promise it won’t be as long as this one!!). I hope if you liked reading a little about my journey, you’ll continue to follow along as I journal some of my thoughts going forward.
And please, if you ever want to know more, just ask! I'm an open book. I’ve found that sharing my true feelings helps me process things and also can give others a different perspective that they may not have thought previously. I know we don’t get much time in the office together, but I’m always willing to e-mail if you’d like to continue the conversation.
If you made it this far, thank you! I look forward to seeing you in the office soon!
The best is yet to come!
+ If you or a loved one are experiencing grief or suicidal thoughts, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
+ We are not promoting or advocating anyone removing themself from prescription medications without first speaking with your doctor about your wishes.
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