Four months ago, Arnie Avino was sitting at home with an esophagus so raw he couldn't swallow his own saliva. He suffered severe nausea and lack of appetite, chills and fever, muscle aches and dizziness, all side effects of chemotherapy he was undergoing to battle the lymph node cancer that had invaded his body.
So weak that he once fainted on the way to answer his infant daughter's cry, Avino, a Prince William County patrol officer, occasionally wondered how much more he could take. Several times he contemplated discontinuing treatment and "putting it in God's hands."
And then the telephone or the doorbell would ring and his wife, Angela, or a friend, or a colleague from the police department would be there to pick up his spirits.
"There were times that I just didn't want to go on with the chemo -- it made me feel worse than the cancer did," Avino said. "If it hadn't been for my wife, Angela, I probably would have stopped. This whole thing has made me realize how important family and friends are."
Avino's co-workers rallied to his aid by donating more than 1,000 hours of their annual leave so that he could continue to collect a full paycheck while he battled Hodgkin's disease, a cancer of the lymph tissues that mainly strikes young adults. Cancer specialists say the disease has a better than 85 percent cure rate if detected and treated early enough, but that patients can't be diagnosed as cured for at least two years.
The disease went into remission in September and Avino returned to work, spending a week on desk duty before returning to the field.
Angela Avino, a real estate secretary, said she knew her husband was ill in February "when the light went out of his eyes."
Arnie Avino, a former amateur boxer and avid golfer and runner, noticed early this year that he would get winded during his daily two-mile run. After a while, he couldn't even finish because of chest pains and coughing spasms.
A trip to a doctor, who concentrated on heart disease because of a family history, turned up nothing. "They told me I was fine," Arnie said.
But two weeks later, after he noticed that a small lump in his throat had grown to the size of a walnut, Avino went back to the doctor. After a biopsy of the lump, doctors discovered that he had Hodgkin's disease.
"He hadn't told me at first about the lump, but when I felt it after it got bigger, I got very scared," said Angela Avino, 30. "I called the doctor and he said he suspected lymphoma. As soon as I heard that, my heart went to my feet. Then after the biopsy, they told us it was Hodgkin's. At that point, our lives changed."
Arnie began undergoing radiation treatment in April and initially there were no side effects. But when he began chemotherapy treatments in May, he began to feel extremely ill.
Before the treatments ended in July, Avino dropped 20 pounds and suffered depression, mood swings and serious illness.
During the whole experience, friends of the Avinos' worked to see that his life remained as close to normal as possible. She continued to go to work and friends refused to coddle him.
"It was hard to be at work, and I felt guilty. But it was even harder knowing that I couldn't do anything to help him," Angela Avino said. "There were times after he started his treatment that I didn't think he was going to make it. And all the while, he insisted on taking care of our daughter, Selena, all alone."
In the early days, Avino said he denied being ill with cancer. He was concerned most about the effect his illness would have on Angela and their infant daughter. And he was worried about his job with the county police.
"But the department was great," Avino said. "The chief and my sergeant and the lieutenant all told me not to worry and to concentrate on getting well. They really supported me."
His wife, whose schedule began at 4:30 a.m. and ended at midnight during his illness, said the support of his co-workers helped to give her much-needed breaks. One officer, Paul Rankin, took Avino on weekly golf outtings. Sgt. Tim Rudy, his patrol supervisor, stopped by regularly and called Avino every other day.
Selena's godfather, officer Eric Jackson, was another regular visitor who cheered Avino up.
Angela Avino said she drew strength from her relatives, especially her mother, whom she would talk with in the wee hours to help deal with her own anxiety. She grew especially anxious after a doctor told her in July that her husband might not survive. She never told him.
"I sucked everybody dry, as far as support," she said. "Whoever would offer it, I would take it. At first I tried to handle it myself, but after awhile I realized that you just have to deal. You can't be afraid to let people know when you feel stressed and need some support."
Rudy said even though he felt for Avino, he knew "coddling him would be like admitting defeat." Rudy gave Avino his employee review at home while he was on leave, in an attempt to show him how much the department wanted him back. "Sometimes I was hard on him. I would tell him that the guys missed him and to get in there and visit them."
Lt. Ronald Bove, whose wife has recovered from cancer, said he encouraged Avino to have a positive attitude about his chemotherapy.
"I had had some personal experience with cancer with my wife, and I think that helped him because I could tell him how she had beaten it," he said. "I would just sit down and chat with him and tell him to hang in there because things would work out for them because they did for us."
Avino said whenever he got down, there was always someone there to pick him up. His golf games with Rankin were the highlight of his week. "Paul never felt sorry for me," he said. "If I got tired and said I wanted to sit out a few holes, he would tease me and say something like 'You're losing anyway.' "
Avino is scheduled to take a final CAT scan in December to verify the remission. He and his wife are planning to take a tropical vacation, as soon as their finances will allow, to celebrate the end of the low point of their lives together.
"December is going to be the big month," Avino said.
"My birthday is Dec. 1, my daughter's first birthday is Dec. 4, my wife's birthday is Dec. 30 and our anniversary is Dec. 31. This whole year has been bad, but I'm looking forward to that ending when I have that CAT scan. That will be the big day, and we can get on with our lives."