9. Family Matters

I first met Kate in 1986. We were working at the same public interest group. I was really taken by her warm smile, terrific eyes and a breezy attitude to many things in life. Amid all the seriousness of life and relationships, she was a breath of fresh air. And in the biggest incident of brainwashing ever seen in Washington, D.C., I convinced her to marry me. I figured I had better act quick in case she woke up one day and thought, "What, marry this guy? Are you kidding?" In other words, I had to keep her from listening to her mother.

Fortunately, Kate had a bit of rebelliousness in her. So we walked down the aisle, had three kids, and shared a lot of terrific moments together. Not all our moments were terrific. I couldn't make brainwashing a permanent state, after all. That's when I learned to say three words more often than any others. "I love you"? Nope "I was wrong." Those words diffused many an argument. Together, we built a life through all the years of diaper changing, home life, careers and vacations. From when the kids were young and would greet us with a big hug, to when they were older and barely noticed whether we were there or not. And, ultimately, through the death of both of her parents.

Through it all, Kate has been the strong, unifying force in our family. When Stephen realized that he was gay, he turned to Kate for reassurance. When Michael had moments both good and bad, he turned to Kate. And only Kate could convince Jack -- my buddy Jack -- to do his chores. When I was diagnosed with cancer, it would be no different. All of us turned to Kate.

For me, it was that initial meeting with Dr. Schenk, the one where I realized that I might not live for long. Right at that moment, the thought that popped into my head was, "Whether I have months or years, I am here to love Kate as much as humanly possible." Where this idea came from, I don't know. After all, it's not like I didn't love her before. What I felt, though, was that I had taken for granted that she would always be there, for me and the kids. Now, I wasn't taking that for granted. I couldn't afford to. And knowing that triggered a much deeper love for her.

When we left that meeting, she displayed her strength. "We're going to beat this," she said, with a more powerful determination than I had ever seen. It was Kate who talked to the kids first. It was Kate who organized our house in preparation for a long convalescence. It was Kate who held me at night. It was Kate who held all of us together.

After treatments began, and she still had to work, she texted me all the time. Some to see how I was feeling. Some to remind me which meds to take. Some simply to say, "I love you." She would come home at lunchtime -- she teaches at a middle school that's five minutes from our house -- and give me a big hug. Once she finished her work day, she would sit by my bedside. Just looking at her raised my spirits.

The kids rallied to my side in their own way. Stephen, who works at Starbucks when he's home from college, would bring me all kinds of drinks and light food. Michael would run errands at all hours of the day, picking up things I needed or wanted to help me get through the day. Jack would come into my room and cheer me up. Together, the boys and Kate set up the media room upstairs for me, put a small fridge in my bedroom, and kept it filled so I wouldn't have to leave the room during the night.

My sister-in-law, Kerri, also was a great source of support. She lives 30 miles away in Arlington, and would come out to see me on the weekends. Kerri is a lot like Kate. They tend to put the interests and concerns of others ahead of their own. That can be a good and bad thing. She worried a lot for, and helped, her parents during their illnesses, and now I was next in line. She would cheer me up, sit next to my bed, and help me take my mind off chemo and cancer. In a way, our family is not just Kate and the kids, but Kerri as well. And I care for her deeply.

The scariest event happened when Stephen and Jack contracted strep throat at a time when my immune system was the weakest. It was horribly unfair to them, but we had to resort to quarantines -- Stephen, Jack and me all in separate rooms -- until they were no longer contagious. Stephen, whose bedroom was in our basement, also suffered from the poor airflow of our air conditioning system. In the summer of 2011, half of the country was engulfed in a tremendous heat wave where temperatures hit tripple digits for weeks on end. To keep me comfortable upstairs, Stephen endured temperatures so cold downstairs that he had to wear sweaters and sleep with lots of blankets.

My family, all in their own way, made big sacrifices for me, and came to my aid in amazing ways, I am not only blessed to have Kate in my life, but Stephen, Michael and Jack, too. That feeling -- a feeling of deep, deep love -- strengthened my will to fight and endure. I wanted to be part of their lives -- to help them when they need it -- for many years to come.

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