Everything, All At Once

02.14.2012 | 8:30 am

A Note from Fatty: I’m working on filling in the gaps of Susan’s and my story, to eventually be collected in my next book, Fight Like Susan. Yesterday’s installment can be found here.

On the drive to the hospital — the same hospital where three of our four children had been born — I told Susan the same thing I had told her countless times in the past couple weeks.

“Everything will be fine.”

I said it with an intentional sort of conviction. Sure, I understood the possibility that things wouldn’t be OK, but what value is there in dwelling on that kind of future? Just assume everything’s going to be good, all the time. Then, whenever something isn’t good, you fix that thing. And meanwhile, at least you haven’t been fretting over something you couldn’t have fixed anyway.

I wasn’t new to that kind of thinking. I had evolved this philosophy during Susan’s pregnancy with the twins. See, I had made the mistake of ordering all kinds of books about twin pregnancy and infant years. Then I had made the further mistake of reading all those books.

I’m pretty sure that the authors of all thsoe “twin pregnancy” books had gotten together to try to convince parents of twins that there is a 0% chance that the babies will be born healthy and normal.

The more I knew, the more my anxiety grew, until I finally made a decision: since I couldn’t affect the outcome, I would rather assume a good — no, great — outcome than know all the possible bad outcomes.

So, for the first time in my life, I threw away some books. I didn’t even give them away or donate them or anything; I didn’t want to be party to someone else freaking out the way I had.

And the twins had been fine. Happy. Healthy. Perfect. All the worrying had been useless.

So I said it again: “Everything will be fine.”

First Call

I sat with Susan while the surgeon talked with us about what he was going to do. None of it registered. I just kept thinking CANCER SURGERY JOB CANCER JOB BILLS SURGERY.

Everything’s going to be fine. Everything will be fine.

I asked Susan how she felt, and whether she was scared. “No, I just want this over with,” she said. “I want this out of me.”

They let me stay with Susan until she was asleep.

I went out to the waiting room and sat, but I couldn’t stand it, so I went back to my car, with the plan to drive around. As I got out to the parking lot I turned my phone back on (remember how you used to have to turn your phone off when in the hospital?).

There was a voicemail waiting.

I sat down in my car and called my voicemail number; it was the recruiter from Microsoft, asking me to call back. Knowing it could be either really good or really bad news, I called.

“How are you doing?” she asked.

“I’m hanging in there,” I replied — my stock response for the next several years (it’s not as dishonest as “fine,” but doesn’t force the person I’m talking with to listen to a long story.

“I have good news,” she said. “I’m calling to make you a verbal job offer.”

I’m probably not the world’s best negotiator; I immediately replied, “Awesome! I accept.” She laughed and then told me about the terms of the offer, which were so amazingly generous I wouldn’t have been able to find much to negotiate over anyway. They would pay to move us out, with professional packers and everything. They’d pay for a couple of househunting expeditions. They’d pay for three months of a house rental, and would even find a three bedroom house since we had four kids.

And they would be fine with my start date being six weeks down the road, to give Susan time to recover from her surgery.

Second Call

Having just accepted a job, I now needed to make a second call: one to notify my employer that I’d be leaving the company.

I was nervous about this call; I felt like I was critical to the magazine and that it would be a hard blow to them to have me leave. I expected Mitch Koulouris, my boss, to take it hard. I resolved to get straight to the point, though.

“I’ve been offered a position at Microsoft, I’m going to have to leave the magazine.”

“That’s wonderful, Elden. Congratulations.”


“It’s a tough time here; you don’t need that while you take care of your wife.”

“What about the magazine?” I asked, now — strangely — making the arguments I had worried he would be making.

“I’ll find another editor. Now tell me how Susan’s doing.”

“She’s in surgery right now. I’ll talk to you tomorrow, OK?”

Third Call (and Fourth, and Fifth…)

I went back into the hospital and found someone to tell me how Susan was doing. “She’s still in surgery; she will be for a while,” I was told.

So I went back out to my car and made a third phone call. This time, to a neighbor who is also a real estate agent.

“I’ve got to sell my house,” I told him.

Then I called my parents and Susan’s mom, letting them know that Susan was still in surgery, and that our lives were going to get even more hectic during the next few weeks.

Telling Susan

I went back into the waiting room to wait for the surgeon. He came in and told me everything had gone reasonably well. I went in to the recovery room and sat with Susan, waiting for her to wake up, so I could tell her everything.

She had one less breast. She still had cancer. She’d have to start chemo with a different doctor, in a different state, far from everyone we knew. I had a new job. We’d be moving while she recovered from surgery and we took care of four little kids, two of which were two years old.

I had done what I needed to do, but I still felt incredibly guilty. The truth is, even now, I still feel guilty about what I made Susan go through. At a time she should have been able to rest and recover, I made her go through three of the most stressful things a person can do, all at once: new job, big move, and cancer.

If I had known how bad things would be for her, maybe I would have turned down the job at Microsoft. Maybe I would have tried harder to find something local.

But I didn’t.

I took the job, thinking it was the right thing to do; the best way I could give her good treatment options. And, I told myself, everything will be fine.

So, once she was awake, I told her.

“Well, guess what I’ve been up to while you just laid around and slept all morning.”


  1. Comment by MellowJonny | 02.14.2012 | 8:36 am


  2. Comment by Marcel Beaudoin | 02.14.2012 | 8:44 am

    These stories are awesome. I am looking forward to the book when it comes out.

  3. Comment by Shep | 02.14.2012 | 9:06 am

    Ok, I admit it, you write pretty well. I’m not throwing away my Patterson novels just yet, but you do know how to hook someone early and often. I’m sure these blogs are taking their toll on you emotionally, but they will no doubt help a lot of other people who are going through, or will go through this sort of thing. Again, thanks for sharing.

  4. Comment by Doug (Way upstate NY) | 02.14.2012 | 9:07 am

    Elden I don’t want to tell you you should not feel guilty about the choices you made. Those are your feelings. You did the best you could with the situation you were given. Sometimes being a grown-up means you have to make the best choices as they come and go from there. That’s not always fun. Not fun at all.

  5. Comment by chickenbocks | 02.14.2012 | 9:17 am

    You are/were a good husband, dad, human being. Your family then and now (all one huge family, to my thinking) are super lucky to have you.

    Happy Valentine’s Day, Fatty. :)

  6. Comment by centurion | 02.14.2012 | 9:26 am

    Eldon, I’m going to asume that writing, and reliving, all of this is not easy. But, your final goal is so important, for so many people, please see it through. Thank You for doing this.
    BTW, I don’t think you would have liked NJ anyway.

  7. Comment by TK | 02.14.2012 | 9:47 am

    Cannot imagine a family dealing with all those things at the same time. You never cease to amaze me Fatty. I’m sure Susan was even more amazing.

  8. Comment by Mellabella | 02.14.2012 | 9:50 am

    Your writing leaves me a little heartbroken and uplifted at the same time. You are truly a gifted story teller and I am sure that this is not an easy story for you to tell. Thank you for sharing this.

  9. Comment by Rob W | 02.14.2012 | 9:55 am

    Thanks for writing and sharing your story.

  10. Comment by Erik Stoneham | 02.14.2012 | 10:14 am

    Can not wait for your next book. I am hooked, line and sinker.

  11. Comment by NYCCarlos | 02.14.2012 | 10:27 am

    Doug’s sentiments are mine exactly. Even if you feel guilty about it though, I still think you did the right thing.

  12. Comment by Erik S | 02.14.2012 | 10:38 am

    I believe the guilt you are feeling/felt is perfectly natural.

    I think it’s classified as survivor’s guilt. Hopefully it’s not severe or debilitating, or you’ve already sought help in dealing with it.

    Again, thank you for sharing. It’s comforting to have another’s experience to compare and contrast with.

  13. Comment by Fat Cathy | 02.14.2012 | 11:03 am

    You made the best choice possible from all the alternatives you had available. And I have no doubt that Susan would say the same thing.

  14. Comment by Haven-KT | 02.14.2012 | 11:05 am

    I have something in my eye. Must be dust or something, my eyes are watering like crazy. Yeah, something like that.

  15. Comment by JAT in Seattle | 02.14.2012 | 11:23 am

    I understand the thoughts of guilt, but let me echo those who’ve said you have nothing to feel guilty about here – obviously you did everything possible for Susan (and continue to, really), and at the risk of bringing politics into it (politics seems to get into everything these days) If the healthcare system here were different, perhaps moving jobs wouldn’t have been necessary, but, perversely we rely on our employers to provide us our health insurance and MSFT offers the best coverage.

    Other than being super-wealthy, what else could you have done? You needed more than faith and love and stability, you needed top notch medical care.

  16. Comment by George | 02.14.2012 | 12:07 pm

    The “Everything will be fine” philosophy has taken me a long to to evolve towards. Thanks for the positive reinforcement. Your story is a gripping one.

  17. Comment by Jane Griener | 02.14.2012 | 12:07 pm

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I can understand the need to wait a few years. There are a lot of thoughts that go through your mind and it is too hard to write them down while you are in the middle of it. Reading your thoughts and experience is helping me. Thanks.

  18. Comment by yannb | 02.14.2012 | 12:09 pm

    And my now ex wife got mad at me when I accepted a new position within the same company I was working at and was scheduled to start a week before our wedding. And no move was involved.

    Thanks for sharing Elden.

  19. Comment by CRSonic | 02.14.2012 | 12:10 pm

    I’m disappointed every time I get to the end of your posts about Susan that I’m at the end again. I can’t wait until the next one, it’s a very engaging story. Thank you.

  20. Comment by RG | 02.14.2012 | 12:12 pm

    We all love you, Fatty. I’m glad you felt safe enough to tell us about your lingering guilt. Removing financial dire straits is one of the best things someone can do for a family. Unpayable bills add low level stress that makes everything harder. You did the right thing.

  21. Comment by Dave T | 02.14.2012 | 12:47 pm

    Elden it sounds like you did an amazing job of holding it together and making the best decision for your family you could during such a difficult time. Thank you for sharing.

  22. Comment by Liz | 02.14.2012 | 12:53 pm

    As a survivor, I know how difficult diagnosis and treatment were for me, but I appreciate you giving me an insight into how heart wrenching, bewildering and terrifying it all was for my dear husband. Like Susan, I am very lucky to have a great partner to accompany me through it. Thanks again; can’t wait for the book.

  23. Comment by Anonymous | 02.14.2012 | 1:00 pm

    Thank you for writing about this time with Susan. I have been thinking about you two and your children ever since I started reading your blog (just before the Go Susan days). I admire you so much for tackling it so honestly….and I know you are digging deep to do it. Beautiful writing.

  24. Comment by Meredith S | 02.14.2012 | 1:48 pm

    I hate knowing how the story ends, but I appreciate your candor and willingness to share your heart. We will all learn lessons for if we ever have the misfortune of going through a similar circumstance with a spouse or may be able to better walk beside family or friends going through those trials. I recently read a quote that “love is what you’ve been through with somebody,” and it’s apparent you had a lot of love for Susan despite thinking there was something you might have changed.

  25. Comment by a chris | 02.14.2012 | 2:25 pm

    Thanks for writing this. It’s tough to read, but worth reading.

  26. Comment by aussie kev | 02.14.2012 | 2:36 pm

    i thought i had stopped crying reading your blog – i must have benn mistaken.


  27. Comment by Cali_Lady | 02.14.2012 | 2:53 pm

    Thank you Fatty.

  28. Comment by Dan.weise | 02.14.2012 | 3:18 pm

    “Well, guess what I’ve been up to while you just laid around and slept all morning.”

    I imagine your wit and ability to find humor in most situations helped keep spirits up during this entire ordeal.

    Again, thank you for sharing. Seems like “thank you” is too little in comparison to what you are giving us.

  29. Comment by Kukui | 02.14.2012 | 4:08 pm

    Thank you for sharing your life with us, Fatty. I read every Susan post with tears in my eyes, knowing how it will inevitably end. You’re an amazing human being and you have the greatest life philosophies I’ve ever read (and you still manage to be funny in the middle of it!?!).

    Happy Valentine’s Day, Fatty!

  30. Comment by Lorraine | 02.14.2012 | 5:08 pm

    Oh Elden, this just breaks my heart all over again. You are amazing, Susan was amazing, and sharing these stories must be so difficult. Thank you.

  31. Comment by Chris D | 02.14.2012 | 8:15 pm

    Fatty- Thanks for telling your story. This is going to be powerful- it already is- and will help so many people. Thank you.

  32. Comment by JodieA | 02.14.2012 | 8:27 pm

    Elden, thanks for continuing to share. I am with you on the everything’s going to be okay theory. I went with that while dealing with my mom with Alzheimer’s. It’s all you can do to deal with what comes without worrying about everything that might happen. Thanks for sharing your story and inspiring others to share. If everyone could share what they are going through it would make us realize we aren’t alone. And your way of saying things with that quirky sense of humor helps, too!

  33. Comment by Carl | 02.14.2012 | 8:59 pm

    I haven’t been commenting a lot lately, but I really enjoy reading the whole story about what you went through. I’m sure your book will help a lot of people going through it now. The only thing that could make this story a better read, is if it was only a novel and there really was no cancer in the world.

  34. Comment by Laura S | 02.14.2012 | 10:26 pm


  35. Comment by BikeCopMO | 02.14.2012 | 10:58 pm


    I have not posted in quite some time. I just wanted to say that reading your posts about Susan and your experiances is both difficult and inspiring. My motivation to fundraise as part of Team Fatty is renewed. Thank you.


  36. Comment by cloud19th | 02.14.2012 | 11:36 pm

    our bodies are like helmets. They are shells. Sometimes sweaty, crusty, dirty, sunlight-or-otherwise worn and cracked, but the essential is always there and that is why it will always be fine.
    Thank you for sharing your testament to Love.

  37. Comment by Shep | 02.15.2012 | 9:31 am

    I find myself feeling like a total vulture right now. You’ve got me very intrigued with this story, but that’s because I’m a survivor (and also because you have a way of writing that really grabs me). I can’t help think of myself as morbid at this moment though, because I’m really wanting to read this story even though I already know how it ends. I guess it’s kind of like The Diary of Anne Frank, with the cancer playing the part of the nazis. I hope writing it helps you as much as it will all of us who read it.

  38. Comment by Janet B | 02.15.2012 | 10:21 am

    Thank you for sharing your story with us.

  39. Comment by Becky | 02.15.2012 | 10:22 am

    Shep, that is the best analogy of the Nazis I have ever seen.

  40. Comment by Trey | 02.16.2012 | 4:11 am

    Keep on pushing on. Eventually the coasting begins and the tears begin to flow. They never start when there is still heavy pedaling to be done.

  41. Comment by DWC | 02.17.2012 | 3:57 pm

    It’s been said a few times, but thanks for sharing Elden.


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