Monday 09-03-2001

It occurred to me I was vague in the entry below about the day Mike died. I've actually only spoken about it to 2 friends. This story really has to start with the day before.

It was Monday, Labor day, 09-03-2001. Mike was officially in Hospice care with a prognosis of less then a year to live. He was still doing relatively well though as we had just gotten the terminal diagnosis on his birthday just 14 days before. He could still walk, read, shower by himself. In fact that day alone he had made a huge mess in the kitchen trying to make some sort of smoothie concoction out of watermelon that he ended up not drinking. (But he tried) .
After his second round of palliative (life-prolonging, not saving) chemo 6 days before he had a really rough week. In fact it was during that administration of chemo in the hospital that he had his last meal. Once he got home, he was constantly nauseous and had developed a very raw throat and mouth. No appetite whatsoever. Excessive mucous had built up in his throat and by post chemo day 4 he could barely talk or swallow. Those smoothies were his last desperate attempt at consuming something.
That day, Monday, I had gotten up with Ari, early. Mike was already awake watching the Sci-fi channel when we came into the living room where his hospital bed (courtesy of the VA, God bless 'em) was set up. I had to go pick up my Mom at the airport that day, she was flying in from visiting family in Ohio. I remember the shock she expressed when she saw how Mike had deteriorated in just 2 weeks. I remember telling her in the car on the way home, that I thought he was giving up.
The rest of the day, I spent with Mike and Ari in the living room just watching TV...I think I may have gone grocery shopping as well. It sounds laid back but it was pretty tough. Mike feeling his worst, not talking, and even too tired to write was having a real hard time communicating with me. He would mouth words first before writing things down. I'd get frustrated because I couldn't understand, as he did too, for not understanding. I tried to attend to his needs and keep four month old Ari fed and happy as well. I also remember telling Mom in the car that I was planning on contacting the hospice to have Mike transferred to their hospice home. I simply just couldn't do it and it was so unfair to Mike and Ari. The whole matter was moot anyway.
I remember thinking he was bad but shrugged it off as a bad chemo reaction. The hospice Nurse had been there the previous Friday and made sure he had oxygen and a special anti-nausea med. in lotion form to keep him comfortable. She gave me no indication the end was near.
That day I had asked him, if he wanted to go to the ER and maybe get some IV fluids to feel better. He wrote down he wasn't sure. I then asked him if he wanted to wait until his appointment for chemo the next day (he would have seen his MD beforehand) He nodded.
That night, about 1 am after I had finished cleaning some, going through some financial paperwork and paying our bills, I had finally gotten up to go to bed. I was stressed, Mike was frustrated, baby Ari was pretty much the only person talking that day. Mike, still awake (He didn't sleep much that week either) was still watching the Sci-Fi channel as I headed to bed.
I asked "Do you want me to turn off the TV?" He shook his head no.
"Do you want me to turn off the light?" He nodded.
"Ok, good night" was the last thing I ever said to him. I was so exhausted, I was asleep before my head hit the pillow (generally rare for me, a partial insomniac) But just before I got to the bed I heard Mike going into the bathroom behind me.
That night I had a dream, or I remembered something from a light sleep. I heard Mike coughing and walking into our room and sitting down next to me in bed.

Tuesday 09-04-2001

I had set the alarm for 6 am, Mike's MD appointment was for about 9 or 10am in Temple, 45 mins away. I had to get up early to have Mike and the baby ready for the drive.
I heard the TV still on from my room and walked to the end of the hall and looked into the living room.

Mike wasn't in his bed.

I turned around, looked back at our queen sized...no Mike.

Peeked in the bathroom, No Mike.

Even looked in Ari's nursery, thinking he wanted to sleep near her....no Mike.

Now, Our place was/is very small. At this point I had been basically in the hallway opening doors. The way we set up the hospital bed was it was set up right next to the hallway entrance, perpendicular to the wall. You had to circle around it to head down the hall to the bedrooms and bathroom.

I finally come out into the living room and around the bed...There was Mike.

On the tile floor, his body distorted, one hand relaxing on the floor one laying on his chest. Eyes partially open and dull. One leg flat, extended on the floor, one leg flexed.

"Oh, God, not like this" was all I could think.

I bent down and touched his face. Cold and hard..I didn't know human skin could feel that way.

"Where's the phone" I thought. I leapt up and dug through clutter for the cordless. Found it. "Who do I call?" still thinking but not really thinking. I first dial the hospice number but hang up, I don't know why. Then I dial the one number that has been rammed into my brain since I was 5 years old. 911.

"911, what's your emergency?" The lady dispatcher says

"I just found my husband dead on the floor, he has Cancer" I wailed this...I hadn't lost it yet but actually having to say it outloud made me totally lose it. "It wasn't supposed to happen this way!"

"Ok, Ma'am, please try to stay calm. What's your address?"

Through sobs, I tell her

"Ok, Ma'am, Do you know CPR?"

"Yes, but it won't do any good!" I'm wailing again.

"You can try Ma'am, I'll talk you through it until the paramedics get there....Now lift up his chin and....."

"No! You don't understand, he's really dead, been dead, he's cold and stiff, I wouldn't be able to open his mouth!!"

"You can't move him?" the poor lady's just getting it.

"No, rigor mortis has already set in!" Really wailing now but somehow managed to, during that conversation pull the sheet off Mike's bed and cover him with it, I had been sitting on the floor next to him.

"I'm really sorry Ma'am, I'm going to stay on the line with you until EMS gets there, OK?"

"Ok" I got up and walked to the door.

My Call-waiting beeps in. "What the hell?" I think but answer it anyway. It's the hospice, apparently they have caller id and asked if everything is Ok. I explain and she tells me they'll have someone on their way.

EMS took about 2 minutes to get there (I live about 2 blocks away from the station)
I click back over and the nice lady dispatcher asked me "Is there anyone I can call for you?" Thinking I really didn't want to say it out loud again, I give her my Mom's number and hang up.

Standing in my front yard, in my pajamas, I explain to approaching EMS that my husband is already dead, and that he has terminal Cancer. (Note I was still using present tense) I sit down on the sidewalk while they investigate. I call one of the 2 people I really wanted to be there. I call Jenni, whom I knew was getting up for work. Jenni's brother-in- law, Jay answers.
"I need Jenni" No arguments about the time, he must have heard it in my voice, he immediately gets Jen on the phone.
"Jenni, Mike 's gone." I started wailing again.
silence and before she can say anything...
"EMS is still here, I need you, can you come?"
"Let me get ahold of my boss first, I'll make it there."
We hang up.
A lady firefighter and some nice guy in a different uniform (victim services?) bring me a chair from inside to sit on. The lady fire fighter also tells me that she hears my daughter cooing in her room and asks if she can get her for me. I say yes. She must have been a Mom because she didn't just get her but brought a bottle from the fridge and tells me as she hands her to me that she changed a wet diaper for me. Victim services guy asks me if he can call anyone. I tell him to call the other person I really wanted to be there and give him Cathy's work number. She works about 15 minutes away, I swear she got there in 5, at least I know she was there before EMS even left.

Side note: "Is there anyone I can call for you" has got to be, hand's down, the most useful and important thing you could say to someone who just recently found out a loved one is dead. Volunteer to be the bearer of bad news for them if you ever find yourself in that situation. Having to repeat, aloud, the reality was horrible. Remember that.

Not knowing what else to do, I just sat there, in a chair on my sidewalk, in the front yard, holding Ari. One of the EMS guys came out of the house and was just standing there.

"How long do you think my husband was dead for?" I ask him.
"Ma'am, based on my experience, I would say about 5-6 hours, but I'm no expert."
That would have put his collapse at right after I went to bed. I had only slept 6 hours. He must have collapsed to the floor on the way back from the bathroom, or the bedroom if that visit had really happened.
Next a Nurse case worker from the hospice showed up and pronounced him dead by phone with his Oncologist in Temple. She recommended the funeral home for me and called them.
Meanwhile, Jenni had showed and chased away the cop who had responded to the call. I don't know if that was routine or not but he was just hanging out in his cop car in front of the house and she didn't want him upsetting me or making it look like a crime scene.
Cathy was in action as well. She had taken me and Ari back to her place (The other side of the duplex) and sent her husband off to get me some coffee. While Jenni and the case worker sat with me and Ari, Cathy went over after the funeral home took Mike's body and cleaned up all evidence a sick man ever lived there. She and her husband Rick (ex husband now) packed up the bed, oxygen, meds, everything medical and stowed them away in the garage. Then moved all furniture back where it was previously. I spent the rest of the day receiving family and phone calls.
EMS was great, the dispatcher although confused but meaning well was great. The hospice was great, My friends were phenomenal. My mom and my Stepdad, who live 90 minutes away, were there in about 2 hours. They too were phenomenal.

I don't think I'll ever forget that day. But I wanted to write it down, in case I ever do. That was cathartic, Thank-you for reading.


May 2001. One of the few family pictures taken, the best as Mike was feeling particularly good at this time. It was taken on our 6th wedding anniversary. Ari was 3 weeks old.


Michael Eugene Dowell was born in Stillwater, OK on Aug 20, 1975. His parents didn't stay together long after his birth and it became clear by Mike's 6th birthday that his birth father wanted little to do with him. Mike's mom, a struggling student decided it best he stay with his financially independent grandparents temporarily. Due to reasons beyond her control, it became permanent.
Mike was a highly intelligent child and went to mostly private schools throughout elementary and Jr high school. One story told by family is that he freaked his 2 nd and 3rd grade teachers out by deliberately writing "right to left" and backwards because he was bored.
In high school he went to Leander HS in Leander,TX. He was active in the debate club,astronomy club, played the Trombone in the marching band, and took Tae Kwan do. When he graduated he tested out of 18 college credits and took a semester at the University of Texas majoring in general studies. Mike wanted to be writer & English teacher. Due to a disagreement with his grandparents about his major, he dropped his UT courses.
During this time he met up with an old classmate from high school at a coffeehouse one night. He asked Jodi (me) out in March 1994. In a couple of months we moved in together when the disagreements at home finally escalated to a point past resolving. Not knowing how he'll ever pay for college on his own, Mike decided to enlist in the US Air Force and started boot camp in Dec. 1994. When he graduated and en route to his new base assignment, we married in a quick ceremony in Austin and headed to Barksdale AFB in Shreveport,LA.
Mike had been suckered by his AF recruiter into joining the Air Force security forces. Mike's ASVAB scores had been high enough to work in almost any field but seeing as manning was low in the police/security field the recruiter convinced Mike that it would be all war games, exercises, working with police canines, glorified the field. The boy in Mike caved to this and spent the next 4 years watching fences and monitoring landing strips. He stood near radioactive planes and in weapons areas for 13 hour stretches. The kicker being his hours were so varied and bad he had no time to even take college classes and work.
He did have the opportunity to write at home and he wrote many short stories and created quite a few RPG games that he hope to one day put the finishing touches on and get published.
He seperated from the AF in July 2000 and went to work for a brief time in Security at National instruments in Austin,TX before getting sick a final time. That same year we learned we were expecting our first child and Ariana was born in April 2001. Mike said before he died that God had given him just enough time to meet his daughter. He also said that he had never known unconditional love until she was born. He loved his little "peanut" very much.

Mike was first diagnosed with Squamous cell carcinoma T1 M0 N0 in March 1997. He had a lesion on his tongue, it was painless and had been noticed by his dentist on a routine check-up. After a biopsy, cancer was confirmed. The oral surgeon compared it to having a cancerous mole, curable, treatable. The treatment plan was to remove the lesion and margins surgically and if no spread is noted, no other cancer treatments would be necessary. The Air force wanted to wait a month to do the surgery so Mike's uncle, a pathologist at the Portsmouth naval hospital in Virginia arranged for Mike and I to be med-evacuated up to VA for the surgery there. He had the surgery within 10 days.
The surgery was very traumatic for Mike. He had never been hospitalized before and this one kept him there for 11 days. They removed 1/3rd of his tongue, performed a neck dissection to remove lymph nodes, an NG feeding tube down his nose, and he had to have a tracheostomy to keep his airway open. He was off work for 2 months. When he came back something was different about Mike. He refused to have anything to do with Cancer causing agents, refused to be in the sun, he had nightmares, insomnia, and even had flashbacks from his awful time in the hospital. After months of severe depression and self-destructive behavior, at my urging, Mike sought help. After the right balance of therapy and anti-depressants, Mike was doing much better. They changed his position at work as he also had facial/cranial nerve damage from the surgery to his neck. He could no longer carry a gun. It turned out he was very valuable to the security office he was assigned to after the next few years. He was their unofficial computer tech support guy and he re-wrote many police procedures and blotters in his position there.
Three and a half years later,in July 2000, just after separating from the Air Force, we had thought his cancer was resolved and as good as cured. Mike didn't think much of it even when he saw his ENT doctor for the last time in the air force. He didn't think to make a big deal out of the dull ache he had been feeling in his jaw. His ENT Dr had even brushed it off as stress.
The pain worsened over the next few months and was excruciating by October. He couldn't even open his mouth. We went to an ENT specialist and he was diagnosed with a second tumor, the size of an orange in his salivary (parotid) gland. It had wrapped itself around his jaw. With limited insurance, we went to the VA. The VA sent Mike all the way to Dallas to the big facility there to see the "best" ENT surgeons there. The treatment plan this time was to remove all the tumor as they could via surgery and remove part of the jawbone. Also since radiation treatment was to follow, they would have to remove all of his teeth to prevent infection. They also speculated that another facial nerve would be destroyed and a gold chip would have to be inserted into his eyelid to force it to close at night as it won't ever close on it's own. Not to mention he again had a tracheostomy and another NG tube.
The surgery went well, he was only in ICU for 2 days this time and in the hospital for 8. The radiation treatments that followed were hard. Mike was forced to stay at the hospital in Dallas for his treatments, only coming home to pregnant me on the weekends. This lasted 7 weeks.
By the time Ariana was born, Mike was feeling pretty good. He had limited movement in his right arm and the VA was good enough to grant him 100% disability payments. When my maternity leave was over, I went back to work and Mike stayed home with the baby.
In Aug 2001, Mike who hadn't been feeling well with a small cough and fatigue called me at work saying he was really having a hard time breathing. We went to the VA hospital ER in Temple,TX that night. We hoped it was just pneumonia but it was the worst. We found out on Mike's 26th birthday that the CT scan confirmed multiple tumors in all lobes of his lungs and a metastatic tumor on his collar bone (clavicle). His oncologist in Temple admitted he had never seen Mike's "type" of cancer spread and grow as fast as it did. He said Mike had 6 months to a year maybe to live. Mike went home with Hospice care, and a plan for weekly chemotherapy treatments to give him more time. He made it through 2 doses and swiftly went downhill after the second. The hospice had time for only one visit before early on the morning of Sep 4, 2001, I found Mike on the floor. He had been gone for a few (4-5) hours they estimated. Since he hadn't been able to swallow for a week due to the chemo and had very little fluids and nourishment, it can only be concluded he went into arrest due to an electrolyte imbalance or possibly had a pulmonary embolus. What ever it was it was fast and without any warning. The direct reason will never be known, there was no autopsy since his Cancer was diagnosed as terminal.

We were married for 6 years before his death. It wasn't a perfect 6 years and there were problems. Throughout even the worst of them, we came out stronger and loved each other even more as a result.
We had decided to wait to have children and had even said to wait until we were both 25. Being we had gotten married at the tender ages of 19 we thought it was pretty smart to hold off. I was pregnant and found out the news the day before Mike's 25th birthday. Scared and nervous about what lay ahead, Mike was unsure what to think about his impeding father-hood.
It turned out to be fate that Ariana was conceived when she was as Mike was stricken ill within a month with his second recurrence of Cancer. After the following Radiation and chemotherapy treatments and surgery...It would have been unlikely another chance would have come along.

all through the night
i'll be watching over you
and all through the night
i'll be standing over you

and through bad dreams
i'll be, i'll be baby telling
everything's gonna be allright

and when you cry, i'll
be there baby telling you
you're never nothing less then beautiful
so don't worry
I'm your angel standing by


Mike in 1994, when we were dating

Mike and me, Air Force graduation in San Antonio

Our wedding party, Maid of honor and best friend Jenni, me, Mike, and his best man Patrick.

May 1995, cutting the cake at our thrown together at the last minute wedding. It was great.


Our first christmas together, spent late and alone because he had to work. We were also too dirt poor to get anything cool for each other. We still had each other though.

Mike and me at my Aunt's in VA in 1996


Mike and Tristan playing the playstation, christmas 1997

My 2 favorite men, Mike and my dad, summer 1998
I love how they made the same face.
Mike and some in his squadron on his last day in the Air Force

Mike in a chubby phase, 1999 I loved the extra weight on him.

Mike in 2000 with his babies, Darcy and Tristan


Mike and Ari in 2001, she was about a month old