OUR LOVE STORY:
Michael James Simmons (10/16/60-06/14/10) & LauraSue Gutierrez-Simmons.
In October of 2009 my fiancé Mike was diagnosed with stage-four stomach cancer that had spread to his liver. At that very moment, sitting in that little room in the doctor’s office, we just looked at each other kind of bewildered. How do you possibly take this news? I felt like a horse had just kicked me in the stomach and I could not breathe. Mike just looked at me and I tried my best not to cry. He was so strong. We left that horrid place, which I now hated as if it was the offices fault that he had cancer and drove home. He was all business, “It will be okay, we will get through this. I guess we have got to tell the kids.” I just drove and stared straight ahead and repeated over and over in my head, “Please God this cannot be happening.” Mike told the kids without even a crack in his voice. He knew he was in a battle for his life and he was so determined he was going to win. And that is when his lesson began. Mike, by just being himself, was teaching me a lesson of strength, hope, and determination even if I did not realize it yet.
First calling family to share the news and then came the questions, “what now, what’s next, what are we going to do?” Off to the biggest cancer center in up-state New York for treatment. I stood in amazement as I watch a family spring into action, a testimony to what love truly is and another lesson. They rallied around Mike like a sports team rallies around their champion. I saw what a family really was; if there were differences they were not evident. They loved Mike more than that; they came together as a family unit. He stayed in that hospital while they did their tests and chose his chemo “cocktail”. While he was there, we worked together to disinfect the house so he could come home to a sterile environment. Soon he was released and they were able to transfer his treatment to a local cancer office to make it easier on us.
Our journey had begun. Christmas came and Mike asked if we should decorate, I just wasn’t feeling much in the holiday spirit. So one day when I went grocery shopping, Mike put up the Christmas tree, lights, and decorations. I walked into quite a sight, he had duct taped the lights all the way around the living room. I just sat down and laughed with tears in my eyes, I was mad that he decorated; I was worried that he had tired himself out. But how could anyone possibly be mad when they were sitting in a room with Christmas lights duct taped to the walls. I loved him so much at that moment, he could always put a smile on my face, and now I refer to it as our “duct-tape Christmas”.
Mike responded well to the treatments, he only lost his hair for a short while then it started to grow back which even surprised the doctors. His liver started to clear up, the tumors were disappearing, he was responding well to the chemo. On a sad note, we had to have the family dog, Sapphire put down which was very heartbreaking and strange, she seemed to have gotten sick right around the time Mike did. Just shows you how connected animals are to their owners. In January we went ice fishing with his son and daughter, we had a great day. It was times like this that you could almost forget that he was sick, he never acted sick. He was so strong and he had all the determination in the world, he would not let cancer win or steal away his zest for life, another lesson he taught me.
The next few months went on like this. We still took our walks, holding hands and talking about anything and everything. Mike still cut wood and mowed the lawn. We still went to lake Ontario and took the boat out salmon fishing. He had told me that the chemo knocked him down for a few days but when it wore off he felt so alive and just wanted to live like a normal person. But I knew the truth; Mike was no normal human, he was an angel that graced the lives of everyone who knew him. He taught me so much, he helped me grow, he taught me the true meaning of strength and hope, and he taught me what unconditional love really was. Less than a month before he passed away we went to an Alan Jackson concert and I can tell you that was the most special night in my life, we had so much fun, enjoying each other, singing, laughing and being in love.
Then the inevitable, Mike’s blood count was no longer good enough to receive chemo. He started to get sick again. It all was happening so fast. On Sunday night June 6th, he suggested we go apply for our marriage certificate and I said okay with happiness and nervousness all mixing together. I know we wanted to get married more than anything in the world, but it was the urgency in which he said it that made me nervous, like he knew something bad was about to happen. I guess he knew. Monday June 7th we applied for our marriage license. Tuesday morning he started throwing up blood so I ran him to the emergency room. They admitted him and started to work on him trying anything they could to stop the bleeding. His main cancer doctor came and got him released and sent him for radiation. Wednesday we had another radiation appointment which he handled well until we were on our way home, Mike started getting sick again. I rushed him to the doctor’s office, which was closer than the hospital, crying uncontrollably saying “No God, Please don’t take him...Please God.” They started to give him some medicine in the office while they called the ambulance. The girls in the office had become like family to us and they were also crying. So back to the hospital where they once again admitted him. His family came immediately. Thursday Mikes brother and I went around getting everything ready for us to get married; he also knew what it meant to Mike and me that we get married. Everything was in order by Friday morning June 11, 2010.
It took a lot to orchestrate the day but a lot of people worked together and our dream came true. The hospital agreed to release Mike so he could be at home. The ambulance drivers agreed to take us to the cancer office where we were meeting the judge who was coming from the next town to wed us. When we pulled up to the cancer office, all the staff came out to witness our vows and they handed me a bouquet they had made for me. With Mike’s brother and his wife, the nurses and doctors all bearing witness, Mike and I were married. I will forever keep all of these people in my prayers because they were so instrumental in making our dream come true. It was better than any story I have ever read, it was my fairytale wedding to the man I loved more than anything in this world.
Saturday was a good day. All of Mike’s family and childhood friends had come to be with him, he was aware, laughing, and chatting. Then that night he became extremely ill, we called Hospice and the on-call nurse came as fast as he could. He was the most caring man, he was gentle with Mike, and he spoke to all of us with such compassion. He said the time was growing close and the best we could do was try to keep Mike comfortable. Sunday was a somber day but Mike in all his strength was still trying to fight teaching me another lesson. Fight until the end and never give up. That is when my sister-in-law, who had lost a fiancé, told me it was time to tell him it was okay to leave. She said he was holding on for the kids and me, and I had to tell him we would be all right, that it was okay to go now. And I did as she said. I told him his father and his dog, Sapphire, were waiting in the boat to go fishing with him when he got to Heaven. I held him close and whispered in his ear that we would all be okay, that he was the best husband and I loved him more than life itself, and that he could let go now. That night I lay down in bed with him and held his hand as we slept. And on Monday morning June 14, 2010 as I awoke Mike took his last breath. God took him home and all of our lives were forever changed.
I needed to share our story, first to be able to let everyone know what a special person Mike was and secondly, to inspire people with his strength, hope and determination in the face of overwhelming odds. I also want to add one more note of encouragement, Mike was 23 years sober when he passed away and I was 3 years sober and have remained sober. During one of those long talks we used to have, Mike asked me if I could promise him that I would stay sober and not let his dying send me back into addiction. I said, “God willing, yes I will do my best to stay sober.” And by the Grace of God, I have kept that promise.
My heart is still broken and I still break down and cry but I am strong. I learned by Mike’s example how to remain strong and fight no matter what life throws my way. I hope that anyone who takes the time to read this also learns that lesson. Stay strong.
~Two years since you went to be God~I miss you so much Mike~You have my love always~