Vaspire316, one widows mission to continue her husbands legacy.
Written by Mrs. Jacole Hall
Dominic Hall was a Force Reconnaissance Marine, Army Special Forces Soldier, Appleton Police Officer, Father of two small children, and my faithful husband. He had a few combat deployments in his time of service to include responding to the 2011 Nuclear Power Plant disaster in Fukushima, Japan. An earthquake knocked out power to the plant and a tsunami wiped out backup emergency generators. Three of these generators exploded, releasing an enormous amount of radioactivity in the environment. It is said to be the second worst nuclear accident in history. In May of 2021, my 31 year old husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. After a few weeks of shock and the determination to fight we would be connected with Chelsey Simoni of the HunterSeven Foundation.
We were told his tumor was on the head of his pancreas and only at stage 1B. We felt so blessed to have caught it early! It was wrapped around some blood vessels so the plan was to shrink it with chemotherapy then later a different mix of chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Dominic was told to have a genetic test done to see if there was a more reasonable answer as to why this 31 year old, young, fit, healthy Veteran had cancer. His test came back positive for Lynch Syndrome, which is an inherited genetic mutation causing individuals to be prone to cancer at an early age; early being 50 and cancer being colon cancer. It didn’t make any sense to me. We were told the chemotherapy was not working, after all that vomit, diarrhea, weight loss, and suffering. It didn’t work. After the discovery of Lynch the team of doctors switched his treatment to immunotherapy, letting his body fight the cancer cells naturally.
His family was then told to be tested so we could get to the bottom of where it stemmed from. The bizarre part; neither one of his parents tested positive. No one else in his family has it, only now our children have a 50/50 chance of inheriting the gene.
Immunotherapy seemed too good to be true; and you know how that saying goes. Another heavy load of news we would be told right before starting chemo/radiation was there were some new spots on his liver.
November 1, 2021 Dominic was taken off the all too good to be true immunotherapy, which we were told once again did not work, but perhaps the first round of chemo may have worked but by this point in the game it was too late to go back and it was time for Dominic to face the demons of a new kind of chemo plus radiation therapy moving forward. For five and a half weeks we would travel 2 hours from home to his appointments Monday-Friday.
Chemo/radiation was a slow burning beast, by the fourth week Dominic was down 14 pounds from the treatment exploding from his body. He was admitted to the hospital for a week where he would be put on a nutrition plan called TPN, in short, a tube feeding tube placed in his vein to build his body back up so he could stay in the fight.
December 1, 2021, due to pandemic rules I could not stay with my husband overnight at the hospital, I would drive back and forth daily. He called me that night and told me he was having one of the worst days of his life. For my incredibly strong military husband, those words had some serious weight to them.
During our treatments we experienced days where Dominic would go in for an appointment and could not receive treatment due to low blood counts, low white cell count, weight loss, and once in a while he wasn’t on the schedule when he should have been; someone forgot to put him on the schedule. At times it felt like we were at the mercy of the roll of a dice whether we were getting treatment that day or not…. Being “forgotten about” was always a hard pill to swallow. And speaking of pills, by this time we had worked out a routine from every 3 hours to being able to skip the 3 am pills. It allowed me to have a bed time of 11pm and wake up at 6am for the next dose of pills. By this time he was taking roughly 32 pills a day. December 27, 2021 our seven-year wedding anniversary. We had an appointment at 6am on December 28th for further discussion on these mysterious spots on his liver. We were told it could be an infection or it could be cancer. So we decided to make the most of our anniversary and stay the night in Milwaukee, WI at a hotel across from the hospital, pizza delivery and the kid’s world bake off on tv. It was a perfect night. The next morning at our appointment we learned yet another tragic reality, if the spots were indeed cancer, Dominic would no longer be eligible for surgery. He would die.
With that news they sent us home. We were engulfed with back and forth news of the tumor growing, the tumor shrinking, the tumor grew again, some spots on his liver got bigger, some spots shrunk. The back and forth tug of war on our hearts at times was paralyzing. But we remained faithful in God’s plan. “Jesus, I trust in you” we would often say. Dominic brought others together for a nightly 7pm rosary and continued to believe “Something Beautiful is going to come from all of this suffering, I just know it.” He would often say.
January 12, 2022, surgery day. We had learned the tumor shrunk enough for surgery, Praise Jesus! The spots on his liver were looking more and more like an infection. We were told some of the most renowned panel of doctors were leaning towards an infection. We drove the 2 hours that morning to the hospital, not knowing if Dominic’s fate was to live or die. He would be put under briefly so the doctor could take a speed biopsy of the liver to determine if it was cancer or an infection. Once again, due to pandemic rules, I was not able to be with him. He would wake up alone.
What seemed like hours upon hours in the waiting room, I read Job from the Bible. Over and over again. Waiting for the phone on the wall to ring with the doctor on the other end whispering my husband’s fate. The concierges behind the desk all wore red jackets, laughing with one another, talking about cookies; laughing about emails. There were small meeting rooms behind me. I wondered how many wives, mothers, fathers have cried in those rooms, reminding myself to be like Job. A couple sat a few chairs in front of me, waiting for results about their son. My mother and father-in-law waited in the Chapel across the hallway, they too were not allowed in due to pandemic rules. Waiting to find out the fate of their son.
I heard a faint phone ring, the red jacket came over to me, I clenched my Bible. The doctor is going to call you soon. You may go stand over by the wall and wait for the phone to ring. I was shaking. The black phone looked as if it was out of my reach, hanging on the wall at the entrance of the waiting room, I faced it, the high trafficked hospital hallway on my right, others sitting in the waiting room to my left. I happened to see a familiar face in the hallway, a friend was there with his 85 year old grandfather who also had pancreatic cancer. I started to say hi, and the black phone hanging on the wall rang. A deafening ring. Loud. So loud it made me jump. I set my notebook and Bible down, it rang again. Loud. and again I jumped, I did the sign of the cross and somehow was able to reach the phone to answer the call. “It’s cancer. I’m so sorry.” I was in instant shock. My body started shaking and I could feel my fight or flight instinct start to take over. I hung up the phone, looked at my friend and shook my head no. They instantly engulfed me in a hug. I let out 3 sorrowful sighs and pulled myself together, the doctor was coming down to talk with me. I was ushered to one of those little rooms in the back to wait. The doctor came in and held my hand, “if we do surgery the cancer will spread like wildfire.” “Can’t we just try?” I thought I was begging, pleading, screaming, maybe I was just thinking it.
The thought of him waking up alone shook my soul, my heart broke. I need to be with my other half. Those vows are sacred, we are one, and I NEED to be with him when he wakes up, I thought. He cannot be alone with a random nurse delivering his fate. Or to look down and realize surgery did not happen.
Death is the future.
I was told to wait. I was told I couldn’t be with my husband. I didn’t know where to go or what to do. I waited. I was calmly in shock. I decided to try to find him. I was determined to find him. I could not let him wake up alone. The red jackets drew me a map on a piece of paper. A map. Whatever that meant. I held it in my hand in the same exact position as they handed it to me the entire time as I searched for where to go, not once glancing at it. I was frozen. I’m still surprised I found my way back up to him. I waited in line. I didn’t know who to ask for. I didn’t know which room he was in. Finally it was my turn to be helped. “I’m sorry sweetie but you can not see him right now” is what I was told over and over. I finally started to weep. “We didn’t get good news,” I softly squeaked out. “I don’t know where to go or what to do.” My breaths got heavy, the mask wasn’t helping, I had to hold the mask away from my mouth so I could breath as it kept going down my throat as I tried to take deep breaths, I looked out the window and saw the organization Kathy’s House, “am I supposed to walk across the street and go there and wait?” That thought made me feel sick.
Finally, I was able to see him. They lead me back to him. It was such a maze. Where are we? where he is all I could think about; never in my life have I needed to see him as much as I did in this moment. He was waking up, I rushed to hold his hand. “Hi mama,” he said with a smile. “Hi daddy”, I said with the deepest, loving sigh and smiled. I knew he knew. He knew I knew. He smiled and said, “It’s all going to be ok mama.” Making sure I was safe.
He closed his eyes to sleep off the medications, I started making phone calls. I called his mother. The most dreaded phone call of my life. With each phone call that I made the sound on the other end of friends and loved ones fighting back the tears was gut wrenching. But if it helped my husband from having to make the calls I would have gladly twisted the knife into my gut over and over again for him. I finally took a break from the calls. I held his hand, and I just looked at him. The love of my life.
The next nine months were equally grueling. We got into a good vomit routine and rejoiced at the moments when he could fight it back. We celebrated his 33rd birthday on August 23, 2022. One of his goals was to make it to his 33rd birthday because that was how old Jesus was when he died, the next day he was able to see his oldest son, Victor, just 4 years old, off to the first day of school for 4K, something we used to dream about doing together.
On September 4, 2022, Dominic answered God’s call. His last words were said in a whisper to me, his wife, “I love you too.” My heart filled with joy and sorrow as he was unresponsive for a few hours prior and in my heart I knew these would be his last words. Once again, giving his wife everything she needed, no matter his state. He arrived on a Sunday as I made the agonizing decision to transition from at home hospice to hospital care, we were there for a week. He fought hard and was called home on Sunday; the Lord’s Day. Very suiting for such a strong Catholic Man. He was surrounded by his family. Once again giving me the opportunity to have what I needed. His breathing pattern changed. I knew it was the end. With Misty Mountains by Peter Hollens and Tim Frost playing on repeat in the background I made sure to fill is one last request; That I was holding his hand when he took his last breath. At 12:23 I made sure I kept my promise to my husband. He peacefully took his last breath, and in the midst of the tears from his passing, I was brokenhearted and had lived all of my vows to the fullest. “For better or for worse; for rich or for poor, In sickness or in health, I will love you.” I silently removed my wedding ring from my left hand to my right hand. Our bond was broken. I now am facing the world as a widow. Heartbroken, but refusing to be broken.
During all this time of sadness, sorrow, pain, and suffering my husband remained stoic, positive, encouraging. The vibrant light he shone upon God was inspiring. Still always making sure everyone around him was at peace and happy. The support and love we were showered with from the community was overwhelming. We could never pay anyone back, so we decided to pay it forward. Vaspire simply means – “Do good things.” Live out the virtues of life; have virtuous aspirations. “316” is Love. As in John : 316. Thus, Vaspire316 was born. And Dominic’s legacy will live on.