The Presence of Absence

Tuesday, October 12, 2010
*photo by Alison Russell

So there is something going on in our lives that most of you don't know about. Everything is 'fine' now, but things have been a bit scary. It's been a little emotional, on top of the regular allotted amount of emotion I give myself permission to unleash, but things are getting better and more under control.

Remember the popular 80's print that looked like paint splashed all over your shirt? Yes, I am wearing one in my 4th grade photo underneath a white blazer with giant shoulder pads, feathered bangs, and a side ponytail. Well, we found an 80's splash-like spot on Vic's shoulder a few months ago. After some subtle encouraging from his wife (I really wish I knew how to be subtle, but I don't think its in my genes), and his mother, Vic decided to get the splash checked. Which was a good thing.

It came back as Melanoma Cancer.

When Vic told me the news (over g-chat..what?) I didn't think it was a big deal. I quickly googled "melanoma" and was led to trusty Wikipedia. The photo looked exactly like the spot Vic had removed. Upon further investigation, I learned how serious melanoma can be. Do you know how serious? Very serious. If it hasn't spread to your lymph nodes, you are lucky you caught it early...and will likely be fine. If it has spread...the chances of you living are very, very slim.

That's when the tears and the 'what-ifs' and 'not agains' started. I had visions of widowhood and grief squared. Or to the second power. I don't know, math isn't my thing. But I knew my grief would multiply and consume me and paralyze me. My thoughts spun out of control. "Maybe this is why I haven't felt quite ready to try for another baby, I'm going to be a single mom." "Maybe I should have another baby so I'm not so alone." " How much is his life insurance policy, again?"

Then there was Vic's honest confession that he wouldn't mind if this were the end. He could go back to Lucy and be done with this place. His mission over. His heaviness lifted. I was upset and jealous at the same time.

But luckily, the spot was thin. The chances of the cancer spreading even thinner if properly removed. But off we trotted, down the canyon, past Primary Children's Hospital, (gulp..."Do any of these drivers and pedestrians have any idea what is going on in that sacred building? I looked intently around to see every face at every intersection. I wondered if there was another mother, crumpled in the backseat, being driven by a heart-broken, but stoic parent, dutifully fulfilling their responsibilities, to see their dying child) and up to the Huntsman Cancer Institute.

Our doctor was kind. He was personable, chatty, and very knowledgeable. He asked about our jobs, our families, our children. When we told him about our Lucy, he was very sympathetic. He shared with us the story of his best friend's son who died in a drowning accident near Rexburg, Idaho. The son saved his roommates life, but was unable to get out of the rushing water himself.

Dr. Bowen shared with us an eye-opening experience he had hiking Mt. Timpanogas with his best friend, along with other families who have lost children. Dr. Bowen and his wife were the only couple there who hadn't lost a child. He said he was overwhelmed with every emotion humanly possible: hope, anguish, despair, love.

One phrase he shared with us, while cutting into Vic's shoulder, then applying stitches, the room filling with the smell of burned flesh as the "cut" was cauterized, was something his best friend's wife (I believe her name is Melissa) said about her state of being since her son's death:

It is the constant presence of absence.

That is the state we have lived in for over two years. That constant feeling that someone, something is missing in your life. A permanent gaping hole. The presence of absence. Always there.

So here we are, another reminder of how precious this life is. Three inches of stitches on Vic's shoulder to remind me that every day with him is a gift. Twice a year, for the next little while, he will have a full-body exam, chest x-ray, and "melanoma check". Sunscreen, long sleeves, and hats for my Victor.

I'm grateful for skilled doctors and modern technology. I'm grateful for human beings whose hearts aren't afraid to open up and feel what others feel. The presence of absence is very real, but it can be lifted and lightened by those who have the courage to feel it with us. As for Mr. Melanoma, he has the permission to be gone from me forever. His absence will not be missed.


  1. Oh Molly, I wish I could write teh feelings of my heart the way you are able to. You and others like you continue to help me see what precious time we have on this earth with those we love. Because of you I hug my kids a little more, cherish my husband a lot more, and am slower to letting life pass me buy. Prayers are going out for you and your Vic.

  2. Oh, Molly! And here I've been wondering if maybe my novel of an email the other day was too overwhelming to warrant a reply. I will pray for your beautiful family, and especially for Vic. Your bravery and honesty continue to simply amaze me.

  3. what a Woman you are, molly. so inspiring how you weather the storms. thanks for sharing. such an act of charity to let others in on your challenges. i have a lot to learn from you.

  4. I'm glad that Vic is okay. I too have had the "opportunity" to visit the Huntsman Cancer Hospital, I had to have skin cancer removed (4 times), thank goodness none of them were melanoma. I've driven past Primary Children's Medical Center and had those same feelings... you are right, it is a sacred place; like a world within a world. Thanks for sharing this post, I'm supposed to see my Dr. once a year and I'm a little overdue... I think I'll schedule an appointment.

  5. Oh my goodness, Molly. Now I know why you have been on my mind so much the last several weeks. Please know how highly we think of you and Vic. I owe so much of my own personal healing to you. I'm grateful Vic is okay. You are, as always, in our thoughts and prayers.


  6. I could feel something was up too. As if you didn't have enough already. I will pray more specifically for you.

  7. Thank you Molly for that post "constant presence of absence" really does describe how I feel daily. When people say it will never go away I feel angry that I volunteered for this trial and also grateful that Heavenly Father chose me for this trial. So many mixed emotions.
    Last Monday I went with my sister in law to Primary Childrens for an appointment for her son who will me 2 next month. Primary Childrens is the only reason he is still with our family. I have also wondered how many parents were there to say goodbye to their children, but then I remembered that so many of those parents may be there also because they get to keep their children for a while longer. Both cases break my heart some of those parents will live wiht that "constant presence of absence" and others will watch their children struggle from day to day to make it on this earth whether it be physical or emotional they will always worry for their child. I'm gratful that I have one less child to worry about here on this earth and I know he'll always be waiting for me with my Heavenly Father and my beloved Savior.

    So sorry I got off track. I've had a difficult day and that quote just brought so much to the surface.
    I'm so glad Vic is ok. I've imagined my life without David and it's truly unbearable so I understand you mustv'e been really struggling. Always sending my love.. Oh and looking forward to seeing both of you in November for the benefit.

  8. Molly! I had no idea. And Vic didn't say anything to Jason when he talked to him last week (well... I guess he wouldn't just randomly blurt out that he had cancer, but still...)
    Keep us posted. In the mean time, we will send extra prayers.
    Hope I get to see you this weekend!

  9. Wow Molly, wow! Thank you for sharing yet another story to remind me how precious life and family are. Here's to no more Mr. Melanoma. I nodded my head at the words you wrote about PCMC. I truly believe there are angels walking those halls, in all the doctors and nurses too. Special place beyond words! Love you Molly!

  10. I certainly did not expect this when I clicked on your blog... wow!

    I will say that I am glad you had it checked and removed. My friend Shirley lost her hubby to melanoma.
    I am pretty sure that they got complacent with checks after the original diagnosis. That is one thing I am so proud of my son-in-law... after his testicular cancer weeks before he married my daughter... he does not miss an appt. Ever!

    I will pray for the best for you and Vic and hopefully no more bad news. I am pretty sure you have had enough.


  11. Prayers and more prayers coming your way.


  12. my word. my heart dropped down to the ground, then came back up when you said he's okay. What a scary thing. The picture you posted screams the title of this post perfectly. Lauren was in PCMC when she was only 4 weeks old, and I still don't ever look at that place the same again. I can't imagine what it feels like to you. Hang in there!
    ps still waiting for your photos :)

  13. Oh Molly, it feels like this can't be happening, and yet it is. My first impulse is to tell you I've survived metastic breast cancer, but that truly doesn't mean anything. My younger brother had a melanoma on his arm, had two surgeries, and it did not spread to the lymph nodes, and he's alive and well these 10 years later, but that doesn't really mean anything either. I just want to offer hope. I pray for you guys all the time but I will get specific and I'm sure many other followers will do the same. 'Nothing is going to happen that isn't supposed to happen.' Love to all, Jan

  14. A few tender, nervous tears and a few heartfelt prayers are going up for you from Tunis. May Mr. Melanoma never show his ugly face again. Sure love you.

  15. Get well soon Victor and get practising for Peter's little playmate xx

  16. Seriously?! Seriously?! What a crazy horrible scare. I am so glad you caught it so early. This kind of thing always makes me wonder if Lucy was involved in the nudging to get this checked out early. Bless you Lucy.

    I feel the same about Primary's. I'm amazed some people in the world can just live right next to it or regularly drive passed it without a thought.

    I LOVE the "presence of absence". Beautifully stated.

    les quiero mucho,

  17. Molly,

    We don't know eachother but I have been following you blog from your other blog a good grief. I am so glad they were able to remove it and that it hadn't spread. I know first hand how hard it is to lose a baby then a husband. I lost my daughter in August 2008, then my husband to some freak cancer in March 2009. It has been the hardest thing for me and I am so glad that you are not having to deal with that loss as well. Thanks for being so honest with your blog and your emotions it really helps me as well as many others.

    Much Love, Chelsie

  18. Molly,
    I second the no more Mr Melanoma cry! You are such a positive energy to know. Thanks for the reminder we should all keep in our hearts always. Keep on keepin on. Miss you!

  19. Molly Girl, you just have a way with words. I love, love, love to read your blog. It inspires me, it lifts me, even when you are down. I realize that I am not the only one with grief and loss of my child. I love how you put into words your incredible feelings. I echo your feelings so much of the time.

    I'm so sorry about Vic, he is such a great dude and we won't, can't, musen't talk about loosing him.

    Thank you for being your awesome self! I want to be like you when I grow up.

    Love Ya,
    Nicole - Mia's mom ^i^

  20. I am so sorry you have been going through this. You have such a way with words- what a gift. You understand loss- and I can't imagine how you were feeling about loosing your husband after loosing Lucy. I do understand the very real worry about loosing a spouse, but can't imagine it compounded with the loss of a child. My husband got VERY sick a few years ago. The Drs. could not figure out what was wrong for months and months They removed his gallbladder- they did MRI's, scans, x-rays, blood tests, biopsies and test after test, to figure out what was wrong. He lost 70 pounds before they finally figured out his problem. (He has a very rare auto-immune disease.) During these months of illness, he was so sick, and I was pregnant. I was so scared to have my baby and think about raising 4 children on my own. (The mind is a crazy thing- I swear I had his funeral planned etc.) He was so weak he couldn't even hold the baby without aching for days afterwards. About 7 weeks after I gave birth- they finally figured out what was wrong, and started on treatment. He still has relapses- but at least we know what to do now. Shortly after this- he got skin cancer as well. It didn't turn out to be melanoma- but squamous cell, and basal cell. He had 27 stitches in his face though. Now he goes in a couple times a year to get things burned off and checked. Dang fair skin! :) I am so sorry you have to go through this. I am thrilled that it hasn't spread. I am SOOO glad that you guys were vigilant in getting it checked out. My thoughts and prayers are with you and Vic.

  21. And make sure you check his feet...I have never seen a worse sunburn than on his feet that reunion when we went jet skiing...they were ...a big puffy mess. Vic, Grandma Jackson would indeed have you suit up before going out. I am glad you went to have it checked out. Thankyou, Molly for being so subtle!

  22. Molly:
    Believe it or not, I know how you feel. I am a mother living with cancer.
    I have been following your blog for some time now...and I am just captivated by it! I feel like I am not alone!
    I just recently had another miscarriage (had a D&C yesterday)...this is my second miscarriage in 6 months. My husband and I had done fertility for a while before being told we would not be able to become pregnant again. However, after being told that, we then became pregnant, then miscarried, then became pregnant again, then miscarried...again.
    Now, with all this negative, there are three large rays of sunshine in my life. My husband and my 7yr old and 4 year old. They keep me going...thru every full body scan and daily meds that keep me alive, it just makes you count your blessings every day.
    Please know that God has a special place in heaven for those of us who have so much heartache like this here on Earth...but squeeze little Peter and let him be your ray of sunshine...he is soooo stinkin cute (and really stinkin cute as a skunk!)
    Tell Vic to hang in there!!
    Take care!! Love being sent your way!

  23. Dear Molly,

    I have been thinking about you & your little family a lot the last few days, and now I think I know why. What a scare for Vic to have melanoma. When I read your blog this morning, I couldn't believe the words I was taking in.

    I don't have a way with words like some people do but I just want you to know that I think of you often, and wish only good and happy things for you.

  24. I have been following your blog (through my husbands niece Brooke Mendenhall Rasmussen) since you lost Lucy. I have cried and felt so much emotion at your posts but have never commented. I feel compelled this time ... I have never lost a child, but this yr. our 28 yr old son was diagnosed with testicular cancer. After several surgeries and 3 rounds of chemo he is now back to work and he and his beautiful wife are praying they will become parents one day. My husband had a rare kidney disease 18 yrs ago that has slowly been hammering his kidneys and now needs a transplant. I'm currently being worked up to be his donor and feel, if I'm the right one, this is my chance to not feel that "constant presence of absence" that you mentioned in this blog. Life is so precious and I have really enjoyed you sharing your experiences to help us all. Please feel free to read our blog:

  25. Lovely post, Molly. Hope all will be well with Vic.

  26. I'm so sorry Molly! Is it never enough?! I'm so glad Vic is okay, and I hope he stays that way for a very long time!!! I love that quote "It is the constant presence of absence", how true!!

  27. So glad he is okay! How scary that must have been to go through. I loved getting together with you guys last night. You truly are beautiful and inspiring, and I'm thankful to have you as a friend. Thanks for your words of encouragement, I love you!

  28. Did you know that Vic's great uncle died from Melanoma? I think his mother did not want to tell him/you that until after he was in the clear. I just found out last night!

  29. Oh Molly! I am so glad that Vic is okay! I am so glad that he went to go get it checked! Good thing that he has a wife who is not subtle. You are in my prayers nearly every night...I say "nearly" because sometimes I fall asleep before I finish...I have a little babe, what can I say? But I do think of you often. And the picture of you on the Willow Creek Trail in the post above makes my heart and running legs ache for Park City. I'll be there in a few months and promise me that you will brave the insane cold and go on a run with me!
    Know that I'm cheering for you all the way from Pittsburgh!

  30. I'm glad that y'all caught it early. (hugs) and thinking about your family- all of it.

  31. Oh Molly,

    I am so sorry. That is scary and even scarier when you are not naive to what could happen. I am so glad Vic is ok. And I love that phrase, the constant presence of absence... it is so true.


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