'LOVE' has always been inside the word 'HOME'... I was just too busy with my life to ever notice."
In a desperate scramble to salvage our failing marriage, I moved my wife and two children out of a mold-infested apartment and into the house of my wife's dreams. This particular house wasn't on the market, but while driving around town I saw potential in this massive three story fixer-upper. So, I did what anyone would do - parked my car, walked up the stairs to the front porch and knocked on the creaky door. An 84 year old man, living alone, answered. After a lengthy and pleasant conversation at his kitchen table, we both gratefully exchanged my money for his keys. That was February, 2016.
Three months into renovation, progress came to an abrupt halt. At the unripened age of 30, I was diagnosed with stage two choriocarcinoma - a rare and aggressive cancer. The doctors told me I was lucky to catch it when I did. This was such a rapid growing form that it would have only taken a month to spread to my lungs and brain.
The rest of the year was spent fighting for my life. Chemo lasted six hours a day, for five consecutive days at a time. The drugs were so toxic, I remained admitted to the hospital between treatments attached to an IV that protected my organs from failure. Whether my body was ready for the next round or not (it wasn't), treatment continued to stay ahead of spreading. This went on for twelve weeks. As simple as that sounds, it entailed so much more than most people are aware. Neutropenic fevers, blood transfusions, blown veins, PIC lines, hair loss, vomiting, dizzy spells, weakness, isolation and depression to name a few.
There was no sunshine anymore. No breathing fresh air, and no rejuvenation from a nice, long shower. All things we often take for granted in our busy lives. I bathed without water, using only medical pads while still attached to an IV. Freedom was gone.
In addition to chemo, I went under the knife for two separate surgeries. The first to remove my right testicle, which was believed to be the source. The second was quite a bit more invasive. It involved an incision from my sternum down to my pelvis. They opened me up, put my intestines on the table next to my body, then began to cut and remove the tumor that was growing beside my spine. They closed me back shut with 30+ staples and recovery lasted months. Not only was the pain of walking or moving excruciating, my incision opened up after the staples were removed. Because the skin has to heal from the inside out, I was forced to pack and unpack the wound twice a day on my own. That was my new routine. My entire day revolved around struggling to accomplish that task.
All of this ended up costing me my job as a furniture designer. My employer, which shall remain nameless, replaced my position while I was in the hospital. As if the stress of cancer wasn’t enough, how am I supposed to provide for my family? Let alone think about the mountain of debt waiting for us at the end of this journey. We reached half of a million dollars in medical bills, but who’s counting? Thank god for my wife’s school insurance to help take the blow.
We didn’t have a nest egg to fall back on. We lived how we were raised and what we thought was “normal”. We made a certain amount of money each month, so we took out loans and spent as much as the banks and creditors said we could afford. We weren’t trying to keep up with Joneses, but we bought what we wanted when we wanted it. We were living paycheck to paycheck. We were young! We were dumb.
At the end of the year, December 6th finally brought good news - remission. Let the healing begin! Cancer is a long process, to say the least. Even after you finish treatments, your body goes to war with itself trying to repair all the damage that has been done. But, the most exhausting battle of my life finally had light. There are very few challenges in life that attack your mind and body at the same time, but love and hope proved stronger. I lost my job. I lost my quality of life. I lost the feeling in my legs from my knees down, I lost time with my kiddos and I lost the ability to father more. Yet, I considered myself the lucky one. This was meant to happen.
You see, my perspective on life changed as you can imagine it would. Once you rid your life of the distractions and noise, the fog seems to lift. The corporate ladder I was climbing was a mistake. The idea that happiness had to be right around the corner, was painfully wrong. I found that what I wanted, I already had. I just couldn’t see it yet. I thank God for slowing my life down and removing me from the destructive path I was on. I now wake up every single day, grateful. Peaceful. Happy. I was given a second chance for a reason and I'm aware of my purpose. That was something missing from my life before.
To survive, we reluctantly decided to sell everything we owned in order to keep the house. We sold both of our family vehicles and paid off the loans. I sold our kitchen table for $300 and used that money to buy my beloved $300 Pontiac “Joe” Montana - a van with over 200k miles and a slipping transmission from first to second gear.
What we found by doing this wasn’t loss, but instead, pure satisfaction and joy. A weight seemed to have lifted as we relinquished ourselves from material things. All of the excess in our life turned out to be trappings. We were able to shift our focus from what we thought we wanted, to what was truly important in our lives. We started living more by having less. In return, the misery vanished.
This lesson is the inspiration for the artwork. Selling all of our possessions opened my eyes. I witnessed our lives transforming. Everything that remained had a purpose. It brought us joy. It brought new and unknown meaning to our lives that had been hidden by clutter. Removing items from our house finally allowed us the space to fill our home with love.
Andrew S. Wellman