“Somewhere around 1994 I was very active in the local Chamber of Commerce. We had a nice clique of friends and Bill was one of those friends. We seemed to have a lot in common and genuinely liked each other’s company. Bill was married, I was in a relationship and our friendship had zero romantic undertones. It was just a very good friendship as we worked on various committees together and had an occasional cup of Joe together. Bill always had a big smile and was a joy to be around. I loved hearing the stories of his sons and his work with the Boy Scouts. We talked about our mutual love of the outdoors, camping and hiking. It was at that time, our common interest. At that point in his career, he was a business management consultant. And I was just getting my accounting practice off the ground. I engaged Bill and he was very instrumental in helping me get started. He even introduced me to my first staff member who stayed with me for 8 years. I was blessed to have such a great friend and mentor in my life.
In 1999 Bill called and told me he was getting divorced and moving to Las Vegas. Out of nowhere came the thought, ‘you could have told me about the divorce sooner.’ That even took me by surprise. We kept in touch via email and occasionally a phone call. No big deal. But Bill really wanted me to come out west and hike with him. It was rather awkward; how do you fly across the country to visit a business friend? I didn’t know how to make that work. On December 26, 2000, I flew to Las Vegas with a group of friends. Bill picked me up at the airport first thing in the morning. We spent the entire day together, had dinner with all my friends and then he took me back to my hotel. I had felt such a connection to this man. And I realized that we always had a connection. And it was then that I realized the connection was on a rather deep level.
As we were in my hotel room, things started taking a turn in a different direction and that was just fine with me. When it came time for him to leave, it just didn’t seem right. I really felt that he should stay with me and so he did. And we were together the entire time I was in Las Vegas. I remember that flight home, I cried the whole way. I just didn’t want to leave him. There was just something so incredibly special about this man. Upon returning home, I booked my next trip to Las Vegas in two weeks. And so we continued on a routine of flying back and forth every two weeks. On November 3, 2001, we were married in New Jersey with family and friends, and on November 10, 2001, we renewed our vows with our friends in Las Vegas. We had no idea what to do about living arrangements. We had two houses, two cats and a boatload of love between us.
I had a business in New Jersey and Bill had a business in Las Vegas. There was this little problem of 2,700 miles between the two. We continued the routine of commuting back and forth every two weeks and that went on for 7 years! It was crazy, but we were crazy about each other, and also completely devoted to our respective businesses. And we both loved Nevada and the southwest, I just couldn’t bring myself to sell my business just yet.
We had such an awesome relationship. Bill was so easy going. We both loved the outdoors enormously and spent a great deal of time hiking and camping all around the beautiful southwest. I have to side track here for a minute. In 1989 I did a cross country trip that took me through parts of Nevada, Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. At that time, I told myself if I ever left New Jersey, I would live in the southwest. So, here I am married to a man who lives in the southwest. Life has a way of taking care of us.
Bill had the same travel bug I did so we had some pretty cool adventures starting with a honeymoon in Bali, Indonesia, in November 2001. Not many people were traveling at that time but that was an awesome 3-week adventure. Add on a trip to England, France and several Hawaii trips. We did a 2-week camping adventure starting in Port Townsend, Washington, and ending in San Francisco. Alaska was another adventure. New England caught our attention for a couple of weeks. Florida Keys, St Maarten and more. We so loved exploring our great world, but especially our country.
We were especially enamored with the National Parks and it was our dream to hit all of them. We did quite a few, but certainly not all. It is now my intention to visit those that Bill missed. So far, I’ve added on Wind Cave and Badlands, both in South Dakota.
Bill and I were never TV people so when I called his cell phone one day in 2010 and there was a lot of noise in the background, it was odd. I asked why he had the TV on and his answer was that he was in the ER and the TV was on there. What? You’re in the ER and you didn’t call me? I immediately met him there. He had blood in his urine and quite a bit of pain. He was told he had kidney stones and they would pass. They sent us home.
About a year later on July 4, 2011, he came to me in quite a bit of pain and again, blood in the urine. A lot of blood. He was in so much pain, he asked me to call 911. The ER docs were unsure, so they admitted him. This was a different hospital. My 50th birthday was July 5, so I spent that milestone at his bedside. After another day, the conclusion was again kidney stones and they sent us home.
During the year that followed, there were more incidences of blood. Our PCP agreed it was probably kidney stones.
At this point in our lives, our kids are getting married. Nieces and nephews are getting married. Lots of good stuff so we are running around at weddings and even a couple of grandchildren. And we were still trying to get in our vacations as often as we could. And he still has blood. It was getting worrisome, but it appeared that I was the only one worried. God Bless Bill, he just said ‘I’m fine.’ That would become his mantra. And mine was, ‘I’m a wreck.’
In July 2012, we were in New Jersey for my nephew’s wedding. Bill was not feeling too well. Within an hour or two, he went from not feeling too good to rolling on the floor screaming in pain. Obviously we called 911. Blood in the urine. After a couple ER visits and a visit with a local urologist all that week, it was determined he had a softball sized tumor on his left kidney. We came back to Las Vegas and were immediately introduced to the best urologist in town.
Over the next several months we went through several tests to determine the exact nature of the cancer. It was determined to be transitional cell carcinoma, now called urothelial cancer, meaning of the urinary track. It was technically a bladder cell cancer but it started in the left kidney. Bill was to start on chemo right away but refused because his son was getting married and he didn’t want to be sick for the wedding. That was the first of many situations where Bill insisted on maintaining a good life while fighting for that life. Although it’s the only one where he delayed treatment. He felt good and enjoyed the wedding.
We had a great connection with our fabulous urologist, the fabulous ‘SS.’ He moved mountains to help Bill and he became a close friend. He was probably our first angel on this journey, although we didn’t realize what we were in for at this point.
In December, he underwent a partial nephrectomy with the hope to save half of the kidney. That failed and then in April 2013 he had the other half removed. It too, was full of cancer. That surgery was 8 ½ hours plus two hours to wake up. Once we had him in his room, my dear friend was with me and making a joke that Bill was older than me, ‘an old fart’ were her words as I sat there pushing the morphine pump every 10 minutes. Well Bill obviously was not completely unconscious as he flipped her the bird. We almost peed our pants in laughter, which we needed after sitting in the OR waiting room for 12 hours! That one gesture would set the stage for the next 4 ½ years. Bill maintained an incredible sense of humor and most of the time, kept me afloat.
About a month after the second partial nephrectomy, he developed a severe systemic infection that almost took his life. We were told if he had gone to sleep that night, he would not have woken up. That landed us in the hospital for several weeks. He also ended up with an ileostomy for 4 months as a result. A few weeks after coming home from this episode, he was getting more and more sick. Finally, I had to rent a wheelchair to get him to the doctor’s office. The doctor took one look and sent us straight back to the hospital. He was completely dehydrated and was on the verge of death, once again. Back to Sunrise hospital for a few more weeks. But the nurses were always so happy to see us. It was like going home again! Home to our angels, many of them on that floor.
Over the next few years, the cancer would invade the bladder, many times. He had 9 surgeries to remove tumors from the bladder. He also had surgery to remove tumors from the prostate. We were constantly at the hospital and at the oncologist at least twice per month. He was in the OR at Sunrise Hospital so many times we became friends with Joyce, the woman that ran the OR waiting room. She took such good care of me as I sat in that room so many times. God Bless Joyce. Another angel on our journey. It was just never ending. But in between we always managed to go out to dinner, go away for our long weekend jaunts and try to have a good, fun life.
In the beginning of 2014, he was coughing, a lot. The oncologist sent him to a pulmonologist. After various tests, it was determined the cancer had metastasized to both lungs, but more in the left lung. It was small so he was a candidate for cyberknife therapy. Cyberknife is like a highly targeted, highly concentrated radiation with minimal side effects. There is only one facility in our town that offers it and it seemed to have helped. Before he had the Cyberknife therapy they wanted to do a biopsy to ensure it was indeed malignant. I was in the waiting room for a procedure that was to take about 2 hours. We were well past two hours and I heard the call for a crash cart to radiation, but it never even occurred to me that that call was for Bill. Finally, a doctor comes out to talk to me but says I need to come with him. He brings me into a small private room and the first words out of his mouth are, ‘he will be ok.’ What? I thought this was a simple procedure. Well, no. They collapsed his lung. They almost lost him. Again, this is now the third big brush with death.
I went into the room to see Bill and by this time he had the biggest smile on his face. Seriously, you were almost dead, and an hour later, he’s smiling. Yup, that’s Bill. Our 2-hour procedure lasted 5 days with a chest tube to re-inflate his lung. Did I tell you this was the same hospital where we spent my 50th birthday with the second misdiagnosis? We had a party scheduled at our home the day after this procedure. Bill insisted I go through with the party. I did not, but he was very serious about me throwing the party. That was Bill. He didn’t want to inconvenience anyone, especially me. And he knew I really wanted to do this party. We simply moved the party to someone else’s home and I stopped in for a few minutes after leaving the hospital.
Mid 2015 we started to get some relief. During this time, Bill went through about 14 months where they thought he might be cancer free and he actually did feel pretty good. In May of 2016, he fulfilled his biggest bucket list. He and his three sons did a 50 mile, 5 day trek across Zion National Park in Utah. In the end, it turns out he couldn’t complete the last 10 miles on the 5th day BUT he did 40 miles over 4 days with a full 30-pound backpack. Who does that with stage 4 cancer? Bill Granda does!
While Bill did pretty good for this time, we had other tragedies going on. One of our best buddies, Bobby – our brother from another mother – was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in September 2015 and I watched my dad take his last breath on New Year’s Eve 2015 at 3:30 a.m.. I guess God only gives us so much at one time. Just as I was starting to feel some tiny relief from losing my dad, Bill started coughing again. This was fall of 2016. We both knew what the cough was from. And Bobby was getting worse.
Bobby and I were very close friends for many years and for a while, Bill was unsure. Bobby’s personality was larger than life and I think it was too much for Bill. But he appreciated my relationship with Bob and he certainly appreciated all the endless hours of help at our home. Bob was another very important angel in our story. While on a weekend jaunt in Palm Springs, our car broke down and Bob and Bill spent the entire day together dealing with the car. It was without a doubt a big bonding experience as Bill came to me that night and said how much he valued the day alone with Bob. They became brothers that day.
From fall of 2016 we went through so many problems, the cancer was back in full force in both lungs and this time Cyberknife was not an option as the tumors were too big. He was put into a clinical trial. That side effect was dangerously high blood pressure. The cardiologist put him on a med for that. The side effect from that med was a hideous, full body rash that took months to clear up and was incredibly uncomfortable. And the tumors kept growing. And he kept coughing. He was taken out of that trial since his results were insufficient to stay in the study. He needed time to have that drug flushed out of his system and a couple of months later he started another study.
Meanwhile, on February 7, 2017, at 3:30 a.m., I watched Bobby take his last breath. Bill couldn’t bear to stay at Bobby’s house during this final night and he went home. I sat at Bobby’s side all night. He passed at the same time my dad did just one year earlier.
In August 2017, Bill’s son, grandson and ex-wife were coming for a weeklong visit. We had planned to tent camp at Bryce Canyon National Park. Shortly before their visit, several more tumors popped up in the bladder and he needed surgery. The surgery was planned for the day before we were to go camping. The doc said, ‘no way,’ you’re not going camping. Bill said, ‘I am, with my grandson.’ The next day, complete with a catheter, pain meds and antibiotics, we drove to Bryce and set up tents. Bill had so many catheters over all these years he knew exactly how to take care of them and what to do to avoid problems. He wasn’t going to let cancer get in the way of camping with family.
By fall of 2017, the cancer had spread to 5 lymph nodes in the abdomen and by November, it was in the liver. The trials were not doing anything. And Bill was feeling worse and worse. December was pretty bad, he ended up in the hospital and although we have gotten two different opinions on what the mass on his spine was, I have no doubt it was another tumor. And the head of our oncology unit agreed that it was another tumor.
That fall, I was really getting worried and I invited Bill’s family to come for Christmas. Fortunately, we have a large home as we had 11 people staying in our home and another 4 that live locally. It was bittersweet as it was great to be all together, but it was very obvious it was the last time. We did pile Bill into the car and drove out to Red Rock National Recreation area not far from the house. His beloved Red Rock. He loved it out there and did manage to walk a bit before settling back in the car. But he got to be out there with all 5 of his grandkids and that’s all that mattered. And his 3 sons were with him too. That was his last Red Rock visit. And it was with all the people who mattered to him. That’s all he cared about.
Bill’s amazing attitude and his awesome sense of humor got us through so much and kept him alive for 5 years and 7 months. After surviving the infection, he was still in the hospital a couple of weeks later and had his computer on the hospital tray so he could work. He had the case worker running back and forth to the fax machine to handle a client tax issue. He went from him being on death’s doorstep to working from his hospital bed. Every time we went back to the oncology unit, every nurse and assistant had to come in to say hello to Bill. He was a celebrity there. They all loved him because no matter how bad he felt, he made everyone else feel good. He always had a nice comment for them, he always had a bad pun and typically a bad joke. They loved him. A devout atheist, Bill welcomed the local minister that would pop in to his hospital room to pray. That was ok with him and he was grateful.
During these years, Bill generally did not feel well enough for any big vacations, but we always did long weekend jaunts. During one weekend trip to Sedona, we did a short hike and he came down on his knee wrong and tore his meniscus. Unbelievable! Another surgery. But he enjoyed the hike! And even though he could barely walk, he laughed about it. And his oncologist thought it was hilarious! It was the only event that caused that man to laugh. I failed to add the oncologist to the list of angels sent to help us. He and the fabulous ‘SS’ worked so hard for 5 years and 7 months to try to save Bill. But they gave him lots of good times in between the bad ones.
We ate at the same little Thai restaurant a few times a month for several years and became friends with the staff there. They did not know Bill had cancer until he passed away. He didn’t want to be identified as a cancer patient. He had a big smile for everyone he came in contact with. He always minimized the situation, never wanting anyone to feel sorry for him. Some days, I wondered if he was even present in the room with the doc because an hour after we left, he re-wrote the conversation in his words. I accused him of looking at the world through rose colored glasses. I believe those rose colored glasses kept him alive for so long. Every time we got bad news, and it was a lot, he was always there to comfort me. Seemed a little backwards, but that’s how it was. Bill ‘I’m fine’ and Deb ‘I’m a wreck.’
Bill and I shared a love that I truly feel few couples do. We had a fierce commitment to each other and every time he was in the hospital I packed a bag and moved in with him. Fortunately, our oncology department has a family bed in the room and a desk, so I could continue to run our business. I would not leave him alone there and he did not want me to. I cleaned up puke, emptied catheter bags and helped clean the ostomy bag. I will not say I did it with a smile, but I did it because he was my person, my partner, the love of my life. I would have done anything for him. And he for me. Except let me get a dog. That was the only thing he ever said no to. But we’ve always had cats.
In December of 2017, Bill was in so much pain that he was vomiting. We called 911. He was on the stretcher, vomit bag in hand and moaning in pain. The EMTs asked him why we have 4 cats. Bill’s reply: ‘Because the 5th one passed away recently.’ I just rolled my eyes and said, ‘yup, that’s my husband.’
On December 26, Bill crashed pretty badly. The same day that his family was arriving. He never recovered. It was the beginning of the end. If you recall, December 26, 2000, was the beginning of our life together. What a poignant date. The beginning and the end.
One morning, after the family had gone home, I came down for breakfast and Bill was busy writing on a pad. I asked what he was writing and he told me he was jotting down notes for his memorial service. What? What do you mean ‘memorial service?’ I asked if he thought this was happening soon. He said no, but probably by the end of the year. I never made it to the office that day. We spent the entire day planning his service. His final act of taking care of me and putting my needs first. He didn’t want me to have to plan that out. This man, after all these years, still amazed me and made my heart flutter. Although I will say that even though my heart fluttered, it was truly broken.
Bill went into hospice care at home on January 29. He called his sons and the two from other states booked airfare. His sister flew in from Pennsylvania and my sister was already here from South Dakota. His sister in Georgia was ailing with a bad shoulder and couldn’t fly. She was heartbroken.
The angels took Bill out of my arms at 5:17 p.m. on Friday, February 9. His sons were in the room with us. My heart is forever broken. We had a service in New Jersey a few weeks later and almost 200 people attended. On March 2, we had a second service here in Las Vegas and had over 250 people. Bill requested donations to my Rotary club in lieu of flowers. $6,500 was raised! He touched many people, and in a big way. Bill was a great man who was greatly loved by many people! I only hope to carry on some of his legacy.”
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