Photo of Marjorie and Shawn held my DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley
Things That Suck

October 10th

I heard the story so many times, I could tell it verbatim to the doctors and nurses who asked.

Yes, Shawn went to a baseball game early in October. Yes, he had at least one hot dog. Almost immediately after, the pain started. We thought he had food poisoning at first, and then maybe an infection. But it was that day – the day the pain crippled him for the first time – when things became truly concerning.

That day was October 10th.

He had some small warning signs before that. An upset stomach here or there, a twinge of pain every once in a while throughout the few weeks prior. But the terrible pain didn’t start until October 10th.

I know it was that date because he said it all the time, to every medical professional we met. October 10th. October 10th. October 10th.

Of course, tomorrow is October 10th.

In many ways, this date separates my life before and my life after. When I think about the times when my life radically changed, I usually think about Shawn’s diagnosis date and the day he died. Those dates are extremely significant for me, as I’ve documented on this blog.

But when I think back to when my life was normal, I think about the time before October 10th. Back then, in the “before” time, I worried about potty training and the overabundance of preservatives in our food and whether or not my 3rd grader really understood multiplication. In the “before” time I argued with my husband about who was doing the majority of the clean-up after dinner and yet I also snuggled into his chest at night as we watched b-rate sci-fi movies. In the “before” time I felt stressed by life sometimes, but I also knew I had a full and generally happy life.

That time was all before October 10th. Once the pain hit Shawn, I wasn’t worried about making sure we had plenty of paper towels and the right sized winter boots. I just needed him to start functioning again so that I didn’t feel like I was single parenting anymore. I needed him to be fully present again, dammit.

We all know the end to this story. Shawn never got better, not even for a few days. It was a steady slide downhill for the next three months.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when I knew things were drastically disintegrating. But the time when my life really changed was October 10th. Before that date, life was normal. After it, everything was different.

Of course, I didn’t know it at the time. I just thought it was a momentary setback, at least for the first few weeks. I didn’t know it was the beginning of the end.

I think most everyone in my life remembers that Shawn died January 9th. For a the first year, a had a few friends who even texted me on the 9th of every month, just to check in. Even two years later, I know people will remember the anniversary of his death.

But to me, this other date – October 10th – is almost as significant. It’s when my life changed, even though I didn’t yet understand.

Now, two years later, I face another October 10th. Another realization that my life was once so different than what it has become.

There was “before.”

And now there is just “after.”


  • Andrew

    Firstly, thank you for your post.

    My wife was diagnosed in October 2016. In October 2017 we celebrated when her hair started growing back after month of intensive chemo post surgery. In October 2018 she had been gone 6 months. In October 2019 I wonder what the hell just happened as my anxiety spreads into the daylight hours, not just at 2am.

    I try my hardest to not look at the lives of others but it’s easier said than done. I’ll find the positives, not quite there yet.

    • Marjorie

      These markers are so hard. I find that I can move through life with more ease now, but significant dates can set me back (as October 10th seems to be.) Thanks so much for sharing. Hang in there.

  • J Garcia

    I also have two significant dates. Before and after dates. My husband had so many similarities in what you wrote. The day the pain was more and lead to the terrible diagnosis. The slight signs we thought were just what everyone else had as they were so insignificant. The momentary setback that we now know was the deterioration as life as we knew it. The perfect normal life. His dates are August 1st 2018 and September 21st 2018. 6 weeks.

    • Marjorie

      Oh, I’m so sorry. There’s no “better” way to die from cancer, but I really felt it when you wrote “6 weeks” as that was our timeline too. So awful.

  • Jerry

    I was just thinking about Shawn and this time of year. We had been working together and with the three RAs on a new paper. Shawn was going the write the opening an conclusion and he and I were meeting about the outline of the paper and what we wanted the RAs to work on. It was important to him to co-author with the junior members of the defense team. He wanted to do this paper because pretty soon he was going to make his transition to WestExec and it was important to end with a paper with the RAs. He told me he was having some stomach issues. He talked about the hot dog and the food poisoning. I found myself thinking over this past weekend about the time between Shawn and I talking about the hot dog and then hearing about his diagnosis while I was in California for the Reagan Defense Forum and how this upcoming period was kind of the interregnum for me and how CNAS was never the same after the diagnosis. My thoughts, as ever, are with you and the kids.

    • Marjorie

      Oh, I love this. And I remember that paper, as he talked about it in the hospital a couple of times. Thanks for your love, and for reading my blog too.

  • Christine

    I have a date like this too. It’s January 11th, 2018. Prior to that my husband had endured 2 other cancers but they had been satisfactorily dealt with and things were looking up! But January 11th our family doctor sent him to emergency because he thought he was having a stroke and then a CT SCAN showed the tumour in his brain. Although he didn’t die until April of this year nothing was ever the same after January 11th. I think part of him actually died that day.

    Try to make tomorrow a good day. Do something nice for yourself to honour the occasion and what you went through.

    • Marjorie

      I’m going to. I’m trying to take part of the day off, or at least have lunch by myself and remember all the good times we had together every fall for many, many years. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • ABP

    I understand. Thank you for this blog. Thank you for your witness and letting me and others post our experience with loss.. M, Godspeed. ABP

    • Marjorie

      It’s strange, that hearing other people’s stories about loss is comforting. And yet, it is. Thanks for reading.

  • Christina

    Thank you for your posts. They really help me. My dates for my husband are May 31, 2019 (urgent care and hospital admission); June 10, 2019 (discovered the cancer); June 14, 2019 (terminal); June 19, 2019 (he died). 5 days to process terminal cancer. July 11, 2019 my mom died (she had been fighting for 7 years). 20 days apart; there are no words, but cancer really sucks.

    • Marjorie

      I’m so, so sorry. There aren’t really any words to express such horror over this timeline, but it’s just awful. I’m glad you’ve found this blog, and I’ll hold you in my heart. It’s still such early days for you – they were the toughest for me. It does get easier.

  • Pam mccurry

    Last week was my husband’s Birthday and next week is the 3rd anniversary of his death. October has become such a painful month of reminders. I miss him terribly and there are days I don’t know how I will go on without him by my side. I keep going for our children and in honor of him, but my heart hurts every day.

    • Marjorie

      I get that. When Shawn died, I remember asking others if it got easier. It does, in a way, as the immediate shock and pain wears off. But the missing part never really gets easier.

  • Teresa

    Marjorie, you’ve written another very relatable blog. 100% I refer to “before”, and for me, it was our lives up to and including 2012. The life we shared as a family of 4 is split in two; “before” and “after”. My late husband’s, illness presented itself in January 2013. The doctor visits started then. 5 months later he got the diagnosis. May 27. I also go over that day in my mind a lot. He passed away April 10, 2015. Thanks again for sharing.

    • Marjorie

      Yes, all these terrible dates are ones that can’t go away in our minds. I hate that this beautiful day today is also the day that I will always remember as the beginning of the end. Thanks so much for sharing, and for reading.

  • Whitney

    Pete was diagnosed with a brain tumor on October 19th. I remember everything about the phone call telling us to immediately go to Georgetown. I remember it vividly like it’s seared into my brain- where we were located in the house, what he said to me, driving to the hospital while I sobbed. I don’t feel that way about the day he died. It’s almost like October 19th was the day Whitney 1.0 died. It’s all terrible, and when I think about the days that changed me- the day he was diagnosed, the day he had his massive seizures, the day he died- it’s hard to remember to be positive.

    • Marjorie

      Ugh, I know. As we’ve discussed, the good days come and go. Sometimes, I can be positive, and others….well, it’s much tougher. These dates in the fall and winter are the hardest times.

  • Karen

    Wow I have never read anything about those before and after dates til now… YES!! My husband died in June 2017 which is the time everyone thinks of… but for me April is the hardest because that was when he got sick and it is like it marks tbe beginning of the end… a crazy rollercoaster moving from a backache to “man flu” to oh maybe real flu … an infection… something else… something else then cancer.. then not curable… then not even treatable… all in the space of 6 weeks. That steady crumbling of our life… the realisations coming with every day… while trying to maintain a normal family life at the same time… thats what haunts me. Thats why by the time june comes i am almost relieved. I think you might get that.. i could relate to what you wrote so much. Thank you.
    I dont normally write on these things but wanted to say thanks. Wedding anniversary looming so i needed that feeling of understanding.
    And so sorry for what you have been through xxx

    • Marjorie

      All of these “anniversaries” are so tough – the day he got sick, the day we knew it was cancer, the day he died. All so, so tough.

  • Victoria Knibbs

    31st Dec 2018 Chris started intensive chemo radio combined therapy for six weeks daily for throat cancer. ‘Aim to cure’.
    We entered the chemo suite coffees in hand, smiling holding hands and full of optimism at 8am. No expectations or real understanding of what could happen .
    Fast forward to the 18th June and Chris was waiting for biopsy operation post treatment. Pre op assessment, 18th June 2019 ‘Life Before’ taken into hospital and kept in. Passed away 28th July – gone. He died in ICU.
    Even though Chris’s diagnosis was in November 2018, the 18th of June will be the date that holds so much pain for me. The point at which I realised the doctors were trying everything to make him better but his fragile body could cope.
    I’ve just survived my first Christmas without my Sweetheart. Its Tuesday I’m worry about how I’ll be. It will be a year ago on Tuesday that he started treatment. A year ago when we had so much hope.

    • Marjorie

      Oh, I’m so sorry. That’s just awful. And….I know how it is. I wrote a lot about this year mark last year at this time, if it helps to go back and read some of my posts (it may be too soon for you.) Hang in there. These markers are so tough.

  • Ann

    December 31st and five months later on May 20, 2020 are our dates. I know these dates will be difficult and I had begun to suspect that diagnosis day might be harder. Thanks for the heads up. Being prepared is always better. Sounds like our husbands may have had similar cancers. Mine had Stage IV esophageal with only insignificant warning before the intractable pain hit.

    • M Brimley

      Yes, it’s really hard to process everything in the early days. Hang in there. It’s never easy, but it does get easier (I’m actually writing a post about this very topic right now.)

      Yes, Shawn had stage 4 colon cancer that progressed very rapidly. It’s awful.