You may have heard the acronym “TEOTWAWKI” before. It stands for The End Of The World As We Know It. Most people think of it in terms of a zombie apocalypse or nuclear war. But really anything that profoundly alters your way of life is a TEOTWAWKI scenario for you and your family. It can be the loss of a job, your home could burn down, or a family member could have a serious illness. That’s what happened to me (Emma) and her husband, John last fall.

Beginning in about March of 2014, John began having pain in his neck which shot up to his left ear. At first the pain was fleeting and not all that bad. But as time when on it got worse and more frequent. It lasted longer than a moment or two. Finally he went to the doctor who suspected some kind of infection. He was faithful about taking the antibiotics and we expected the pain would end quickly. It didn’t.

Returning to the doctor, he was again given antibiotics. Both visits showed no ear infection, no infection in the throat, nor anything else that was obviously the source of the problem. Still, the doctor thought it had to be something minor. It was not. In September, after months and months of worsening pain, he was sent for a biopsy of his esophagus. John has a condition called Barrett’s Esophagus which is a pre-cancerous condition. That biopsy was clear. No sign of cancer there. But in November, with the pain still increasing, he was sent to a head/neck specialist who scoped the back of his tongue and throat. There was a lesion on the extreme back of his tongue. It was impossible to see by looking in his mouth. Another biopsy was ordered and before he was even taken to the surgical suite we were told it was “probably” cancerous and that chemo and radiation would likely be next.

On the day before Thanksgiving we got the results. The doctor called to tell us John had cancer. It was, for us, TEOTWAWKI.

Exactly a week before Christmas Eve John started chemotherapy. That was Wednesday. By Friday he was in the hospital with kidney failure. He started radiation therapy that Sunday. They’d wheel his bed over to the cancer center in the hospital for radiation. He had radiation five days a week for months. He had chemotherapy three times. He was very sick, weak as a kitten, and required round-the-clock care and I was the only one who could do it.

It was then that I realized how fortunate we were to have prepared for emergencies. This winter was particularly cold. I am disabled and the cold is extremely hard on me. By having enough food in the house to feed myself (John was on a feeding tube all winter) I could get by with our son going to the grocery store for me every couple of weeks just for odds and ends. I actually could have done it all on our stored foods.

And it wasn’t just food that came in handy. I had a stockpile of paper towels and John used a roll every couple of days. I had buckets for when he was too sick to get to the bathroom. We had, in short, everything we needed except the new prescriptions John required.

That’s not to say this wasn’t a learning experience. As I mentioned, this winter was extremely cold here and during the worst of it, when the temperatures were -15 below 0 without the wind chill, our furnace went out. I had no way to keep John, myself, and the dogs warm. Thanks to our youngest son and two great friends we had 4 heaters within an hour but it woke me up to the fact that it’s not always going to be possible to depend on the fireplace. It would have been very difficult on him to move John’s hospital bed to the family room where the fireplace is located. It would have meant opening that room to the outside elements every time I had to let the dogs out. Now we’re making adjustments to our heating plan knowing that we can’t always, even with the generator, count on the furnace.

And I learned that, in spite of trying to think of every contingency, life will throw things at us that we didn’t anticipate. I learned that it really does take a group to get through things. I’m building my community so that, if the zombie apocalypse does come, we have enough people with crucial skills that we can not just survive, but thrive.

John is cancer-free now and we’re rebuilding our stocks. I’m investing in items I never realized I’d need and we’re refining our plans.

When you’re planning for your TEOTWAWKI scenarios don’t forget that the end of the world may come as something you didn’t consider. Try to think of every possible situation and plan, as well as you can, for those situations. Fire, flood, famine, illness, and zombies are just a few of the possible situations you might face. Consider, plan, study, and prepare.

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