Mothers’ Strength

Jillian was a vibrant, health conscious, active young professional working as a Registered Nurse at Jackson Memorial Hospital’s NeuroSurgical Intensive Care Unit in Miami FL. At 28 years old, the pinnacle of her life, Jillian received an unexpected diagnosis of Stage IV lung cancer. She battled for 10 months before she passed away on May 4th, 2013.

Just two years earlier, in the next state over, also at the age of 28, Austin received the same shocking diagnosis of Stage IV lung cancer. Handsome, intelligent and gregarious, Austin had just married the love of his life and was embarking on an exciting new chapter of his life.  Austin lost his battle to lung cancer after 7 months on May 4th, 2011.

Both Jillian and Austin’s mothers, Ros and Cindy, met each other at the National Lung Cancer Summit in Washington DC this April, where they came to fight the battle their children no longer could. Over the course of the event, they found that not only did the date of May 4th play a significant role in both of their lives, but they had more in common than they could imagine. We sat down with Ros and Cindy to discuss their individual experiences and what advice they would offer other parents dealing with such difficult circumstances.

Cindy and Austin

Cindy and Austin

How did it feel when you found out your child had lung cancer?

  • Ros: It felt like our world collapsed in the blink of an eye. It didn’t make sense. Someone made a terrible mistake.
  • Cindy: Worst day of my life. I cried and cried and nothing could console me.

What was the first thing you did when you found out?

  • Ros: My husband started to cry. As for me – I was just numb. If there was an answer, a better way to fight this, I was going to find it and prove the doctors wrong.
  • Cindy: I have never thought about this, but looking back we were in shock. We immediately went into “How do we save his life?” mode.

How did you support your child?

Jillian and Ros

Jillian and Ros

  • Ros: We talked about the best place for her to get treatment. We thought about getting an apartment in Miami, so that she could keep her life as normal as possible for as long as possible. We made phone calls to people we knew to get options. In the end, Jillian wanted to come home, to us, in Tampa. She was comfortable and secure there.
  • Cindy: We made sure that his every need was met. Austin was already very sick when he was diagnosed.  We were at MD Anderson in two days, which was his choice of where he wanted to be treated.

What advice would you give to other parents who have a child with lung cancer?

  • Ros: Make the most of your time with your child. Respect their independence and their decision-making abilities. Talk to them about anything and everything. Some topics are going to be extremely hard. You can’t make them better or fix what’s wrong within them but you can make whatever time they have better. Watch movies, sing songs, hold hands and go for long walks. Spend quality time with them. Every day from here on out is a gift.
  • Cindy: Explore every option. Be as aggressive as possible. Get copies of everything. Ask a million questions. Research. Research. Research. Network with others. Allow others to help.

Why did you decide to get involved in advocacy?

  • Ros: For me it wasn’t an option. I knew that if I just grieved, I would wither and Jillian wouldn’t want that. So I had to speak for her, tell her story. Someone had to hear what she did for lung cancer and what it did to her, to us. Someone had to act and make changes in the funding and research that wasn’t getting done because of the stigma. I didn’t know who would do it if not me.
  • Cindy: I am not sure.   Austin expressed wishes to family and friends to work so that others did not have to go through what he did. I also began researching and looking for help online and discovered that I really knew nothing about lung cancer. The more I learned, the more I realized how misunderstood and grossly underfunded lung cancer is, both publicly and privately.  So I guess that fulfilling his wish was important to me.  Being an advocate also gives me a way to channel my grief into something positive.  I do know that doing nothing was never an option.

Where did you find strength through it all?

  • Ros: I guess a lot of it was always inside of me. But my husband and children were very supportive even though they didn’t know it. And I had a few very dear friends that got it, understood what I must be going through as a mother. I kept telling myself that Jillian would want me to fight for her.
  • Cindy: Faith, family, friends. Sounds like a cliché but it is true.  My husband was amazing, loving, supporting and took care of all of us.  Austin’s wife Haley was an incredible comfort for Austin.  They celebrated their first anniversary in the hospital but the strength and courage that they showed while facing this terrible illness was a beacon for all of us.  They tried to focus on thankfulness during thisworst of times.

How did others initially respond when they were first told the news?

  • Ros: We told our sons first and they both cried and denied it. This was their baby sister and they wouldn’t let this happen. My parents were in denial and didn’t think it was as bad as it really was. We told them we needed them to take care of themselves because our focus was going to be on Jillian. My siblings said they were sorry but it would be okay. They refused to understand that this was a terminal disease. Our friends were very understanding, knew what the words lung cancer meant and that they would be there for us.
  • Cindy: With support, sadness, many questions and worlds of offers to help in any way. I really cannot say enough about Austin’s group of friends. They rallied around him, taking turns staying with him, getting him out when possible, loving and supporting him.

 

“I now try to think, ‘Okay, this is the worst thing in the world that could happen to me, and now what can I do about it? How can I make a difference in this fight?’”   – Cindy

 

To learn more about Austin and Jillian’s stories, visit http://www.austinlaceyfund.com/ and http://jilliansdream.org/ .

Taking on the Fight She Didn’t Get the Chance To

Leonards 1

Leonards-1

Jacque

One moment captures who my Aunt Jacque truly was. It happened three days before she passed away. Jacque had made one rule for visiting her; no crying. We were alone and try as I might, I was breaking her rule. I had been holding her hand and rubbing my thumb along the top of her fingers to let her know I was there but stopped when the tears started. I focused on the floor to try to pull myself together, embarrassed that I would cry after Jacque asked us not to.

As I blinked back the tears, I felt Jacque’s thumb rubbing along the tops of my fingers. I lifted my head and she looked at me with the same tenderness she had hundreds of times before. Even now, she was stronger than me.

Jacque was the epitome of strength. She was 58 years old but didn’t look a day over 40. Every morning she went to a Hard Exercise Works class and then “cooled down” with Bikram Yoga. Jacque also dedicated most of her time to helping the community. She had touched nearly every charity in our area and had even revolved her career around encouraging people to become involved in community outreach. She was funny and kind and determined and made a difference in thousands of lives.

On January 1st, 2013 Jacque was diagnosed with lung cancer. Four days later she passed away. She never had the opportunity to fight back – and I know she would have.

Melissa and Kelly Leonard at the Lung Love Run/Walk West Palm Beach event

Melissa and Kelly Leonard at the Lung Love Run/Walk West Palm Beach event

After Jacque passed, my mom Melissa (Jacque’s sister), decided to take on the fight she didn’t get the chance to. Mom did some thorough research on lung cancer associations and quickly realized the best organization in the field is Lung Cancer Alliance.

We have spent the last year working with this incredible organization and preparing for the first ever Lung Love Run/Walk in Florida. The work they do is unmatched in its dedication to patients and caregivers and raising awareness.

In September, we spent a life-changing two days with the organization and some of its many inspiring survivors and advocates in Washington D.C. storming the capital. We knew then that we could not have picked a better partner and we are so happy that they decided to open the Lung Love Run/Walk to West Palm Beach.

Our walk took place March 7th and the one word that comes to mind when I describe it is ‘magical’. For months, we had watched the teams increase and our funds raised grow. We cheered when the five person team, “George’s Crew”, hit $1,000. We had never even spoken with these people – but we were now forever connected to each person that signed up.

I could not be more proud of the incredible movement my mom has spearheaded in West Palm Beach and I am so thankful she has shared this experience with me. What started out as a way to honor and memorialize an incredible piece of our family has turned into a responsibility to allow others to do the same while we celebrate the increasing amount of survivors in our area!

 

Every Little Bit Counts

Carol Tietz, lung cancer survivor and LCA Phone Buddy

Carol Tietz, lung cancer survivor and LCA Phone Buddy

By Carol Tietz, lung cancer survivor, advocate and Phone Buddy

My name is Carol; I am a 5-year small cell lung cancer survivor.  I’m one of the lucky few that make it this far and I am thankful to still be here.

I joined the Lung Cancer Alliance (LCA) Phone Buddy program two years ago after a Shine a Light on Lung Cancer event at Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn Illinois. Being a Phone Buddy has been a rewarding experience marked with the satisfaction of speaking with and helping other small cell survivors as well as the sadness of losing others – one buddy passed away last December.

I signed up for the Phone Buddy program to help others going through their lung cancer journey, but have come to find it has helped me just as much. The people I have met through volunteering with LCA have touched my life in so many ways. The lung cancer community gives me a strength that I never knew I had.

I am looking forward to seeing this community, including my fellow Phone Buddies, at the National Lung Cancer Summit next week! I attended last year and had an amazing, unforgettable experience where I met some incredible people all committed to fighting lung cancer and raising awareness. We went to Congress and met with our state representatives. I feel that we made a difference by giving people a personal connection to lung cancer just by sharing our stories. I can’t wait to see old friends, meet new ones and, together, give a voice to lung cancer.

Whether you share your story, attend an event or host a fundraiser, every little bit counts, not only in the lives of those you are helping, but also in your own.

Find out how you can get involved as a Phone Buddy and other volunteer opportunities!

Health Policy: A Look Ahead

Marianne Myers, LCA Director of Health Policy

Marianne Myers, LCA Director of Health Policy

I have only been working at Lung Cancer Alliance for three weeks and in that short period of time I have connected with more amazing people, heard more inspirational stories and been more motivated for a cause than ever before. This cause is personal to me. Every day I come to the office I am not only fighting for each person in our community, but also for my father who was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2012.

My role at LCA is Director of Health Policy. I have spent more than 18 years on and off Capitol Hill raising awareness, securing funds and advocating on behalf of several public health and education entities. I am jumping right in with our 7th National Lung Cancer Summit coming up on April 12th where we will have 100 lung cancer advocates to Washington DC to share their stories and impact direct change up on the Hill by speaking with their local representatives about the needs of our community.

Leading up to the Summit, I want to share with you some of the items we will be fighting for on the Hill that day, looking ahead this year and how you can help bring a voice to this important cause. Below are our two main focuses this year.

 

LUNG CANCER SCREENING AND EARLY DETECTION

Where It Stands: Under the Affordable Care Act, lung cancer screening is considered an essential benefit which requires private insurers to now cover the service for those at “high risk.” Additionally, earlier this year Medicare decided to also cover this life saving benefit.

Taking Action: At the Summit, as well as throughout the year, we will build upon the most recent designations by focusing on public education and implementation of lung cancer screening. We are working with Congressional Members and staff to ensure that HHS (US Department of Health and Human Services) and CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) are conducting proper outreach and working with states and physicians to reach everyone who falls within the at risk population and educate them on the importance of lung cancer screening.

 

21ST CENTURY CURES INITIATIVE

What Is It? The 21st Century Cures bill is legislation that seeks to address the way in which new drugs, therapies and medical devices are approved across all diseases.  Sometimes it can take up to 15 years for a new drug or device to be approved, which is unacceptable. The bill promotes new and advanced technology, reduces “red tape” in an effort to get new drugs, and technologies to market sooner which, in turn increases the quality and timeliness of patient care.

Taking Action: As Congress works through this comprehensive legislation, we are ensuring lung cancer is a key focus, including provisions that focus on improving patient survivorship, supporting new pipelines for research funding and increasing transparency and accountability.

 

Look out for ongoing updates on our Health Policy work throughout the year!

The Meaning of Green

I’ve never had to find an excuse to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. I come from a large Irish family where there is predominance of red hair, pale skin and Guinness lovers. And I suppose it doesn’t hurt that I was born on the day adored by Irish and non-Irish alike. I am a St. Patrick’s Day baby, arguably the best day to celebrate a birthday. Yes- I am Irish through and through, and wearing green isn’t a bandwagon I jump on once a year- it’s a birthright.

Meg and Dan

Meg and Dan

Eight years ago, the color green became significant to me in an unexpected way. In May 2007, I met the man who would eventually become my fiancé after just 10 months of dating. Dan Waeger is impossible to describe in just a few short paragraphs. He lived life with the wisdom of an old man and the wide-eyed wonder of a child. His energy and smile were infectious. He was the type of person that you could spend a few hours with, and leave happier and more inspired. When we first met, he casually mentioned that he was a cancer survivor. It was hard to believe- he was 24, and we were standing in a bar after playing football in a social sports league. He certainly didn’t look or act like he was living with cancer. As we started dating, I learned that not only did he have cancer, he had stage IV lung cancer and had been in treatment since he was 22. Dan didn’t look sick, and was the most “happy go lucky” person I’d ever known.

As the weeks went by, I would accompany Dan to treatments and hang out during recovery. It was easy to see he was a passionate cancer advocate and survivor who strived to make a difference for others living with cancer, both through his job as development director for the National Coalition of Cancer Survivorship and through the National Collegiate Cancer Foundation, the organization he founded to help young adults with cancer pursue education. In addition, he found time to advocate for the Lung Cancer Alliance and spend hours on the phone mentoring others living with lung cancer.

We made weekend road trips to Livestrong events and public speaking engagements. When I asked Dan why he spent so much time devoted to cancer advocacy, he replied “Almost immediately after I was diagnosed, I realized that I would spend a great deal of time thinking about cancer. And I didn’t want to just sit around and think about it. I want to do something about it.” And even though cancer was second nature early on in our time together, our life never revolved around it. We had fun and laughs wherever we went, and pretty soon, we were together every day.

Meg and Dan 2

Dan and Meg at the beach.

Falling in love with Dan was the easiestthing I’ve ever done. And he certainly swept me off my feet with each romantic and silly gesture. When it came to love, Dan was over the top. When he proposed, he took me on an all-day scavenger hunt to all of the places that held significance in our relationship- the bar where we first met, the park we played Frisbee after our first date because neither one of us wanted to go home, to church to pray for a long life together. Each stop also had a small gift. And one of those gifts was a green bracelet with the words “Waeger Will Win”.

Dan’s friends had the bracelets made when he was first diagnosed. The phrase he had used to trash talk during any competitive event and especially on the golf course soon became his mantra as a survivor- Waeger Will Win. When we first met, I asked about the bracelet. After giving me the backstory, Dan asked if I wanted one. At the time, I felt it was reserved for his close friends and family, and not someone he had just met. But as the months went on, I really wanted to wear that green bracelet! And so on the day that he proposed- 3 days after St. Patrick’s Day and my birthday- I finally got the best piece of green I will ever wear. My own Waeger Will Win bracelet. I joked that I knew Dan was the one because he loved the color green, and that qualified him to marry a girl born on St. Patrick’s Day.

Tragically, we found out that Dan’s cancer spread just three months after we were engaged. And even though treatment options were slim, Dan continued to face each setback with his “Will Win” attitude. He continued to go to work, run his foundation, advocate for other survivors, hang out with friends and even try to run a 5k. And he never once felt sorry for himself. He never got angry if someone asked if he got lung cancer because he smoked. Rather, he used those comments to educate people about the stigmas associated with the disease. He continued to live life every day. We continued to plan our wedding, celebrate holidays and take a vacation.

Dan and I were never able to get married. He passed away March 16, 2009, the day before my birthday and 12 days before our wedding day. Looking back, I don’t think either of us felt we really needed the piece of paper to prove our commitment. Some people think it is a blessing that Dan didn’t pass on my birthday. But I don’t think I’ll ever look at St. Patrick’s Day the same.

He still lets me know I am loved. Each year on my birthday, Dan still sends me flowers. I long since took off my engagement ring and have moved forward in life with yet another amazing man who stands by me as I serve as a cancer advocate, caregiver mentor and run Dan’s foundation. But I still wear my green Waeger Will Win bracelet- seven years strong as of March 20th. Where the green once meant St. Patrick’s Day to me, it now means so much more.

 

Why the Opdivo Approval is a Big Deal

By Jennifer King, Director of Science and Research for Lung Cancer Alliance

If you happened to read last week’s Weekly Breather, you may have picked up on a few pieces of interesting news.  An important one, that also hit major media outlets, was that Opdivo (nivolumab) was approved by the FDA last Wednesday for the treatment of lung cancer – more on that in a minute.

Also mentioned in the Breather last week was my hiring as Director of Science and Research for Lung Cancer Alliance.  (I know that at least a few people read all the way down – I really appreciated the welcome emails that I received!) One of my roles will be talking about current research with all of you in the lung cancer community, so why not jump right in…  Here’s my perspective on why last week’s decision is a very important, step forward.

Jennifer King, Lung Cancer Alliance Director of Research and Science

Jennifer King, Lung Cancer Alliance Director of Science and Research

The Opdivo approval came months sooner than the scientific community expected and this was due to how significantly the drug improved survival.  But if you read the fine print of the news last week, you may have realized that the FDA’s approval of Opdivo was only for patients with a very specific type and stage of disease: squamous, non-small cell lung cancer that has already metastasized and is already resistant to platinum-based chemotherapy (like cisplatin, carboplatin, or oxaliplatin). This is only a small percentage of the patients living with lung cancer.

However, there is hope. The Opdivo approval is actually full of promise.  This drug (and many others that are currently in drug company pipelines, including a rival named Keytruda (pembrolizumab)) is in a brand new class of therapeutics called immunotherapies or immuno-oncology drugs.  Most cancer-fighting treatments are designed to kill cancer cells. But immunotherapies are different.  They are not designed to kill the cancer cells.  They are designed to help your own body’s normal immune system work better so that IT can kill the cancer cells.

There are multiple types of immunotherapies being developed and Opdivo and Keytruda are in a class called “checkpoint inhibitors”.  The body’s normal immune system has “checkpoints” that stop the immune cells from attacking everything.  If the immune system went after all the normal cells in the body, we would all have auto-immune diseases like lupus.

Tumors, including lung cancer, often fool the body’s immune system by producing proteins that activate this safety checkpoint.  Then the immune system doesn’t fight the cancer effectively.  In this case, the tumor produces a protein called PD-L1 that can bind a protein on the immune cell called PD-1. When the two proteins bind, it activates the checkpoint, halting the immune system.

Opdivo and Keytruda are both anti-PD-1 inhibitors: they bind PD-1, preventing it from binding PD-L1 and thereby surpassing the checkpoint. This keeps the normal immune system active and working to fight the tumor.   There are also multiple new drugs in clinical trials that bind PD-L1, which should have a similar effect.  PD-1/PDL-1 isn’t the only checkpoint.  In fact, there is an FDA-approved drug in metastatic melanoma called Yervoy (ipilimumab) that targets a different checkpoint protein called CTLA-4 and it is being tested in clinical trials in lung cancer.

One of the most interesting things about this class of drugs is the type of response that has been seen in trials.  Targeted therapies such as EGFR and ALK inhibitors tend to be very effective for patients with the right mutation; however, the response often doesn’t last very long and the tumors become resistant to the drug.  Both in lung cancer and in melanoma (where much of the pioneering immunotherapy work has been done) these immuno-oncology drugs have shown a different pattern.  It’s not a high percentage of people that have tumors that respond (15% in the Opdivo study).  However, in those patients, the effects of the drug are “durable”- meaning that they last a long time.

In the Opdivo study, approximately 60% of those patients that had a response were still responding to the drug six months later. There were similar findings in other studies of PD1/PDL1 inhibitors and for Yervoy. If your immune system fights the tumor well after a checkpoint inhibitor, it continues to do so for quite a while.

For a researcher like me, now there are tons of fascinating questions that could lead to big breakthroughs in patient care.  How do other types of lung cancer respond to immunotherapy? What if you don’t have chemotherapy first? Why do only that small percentage of patients respond to the immunotherapies? If we knew who to treat, it would save money and improve quality of life and we know that these drugs could have long-term effects in the treated patients.  How can you best combine immunotherapies with each other and with other cancer treatments?  Combinations of PD-1 and CTLA-4 inhibitors are showing promise already in melanoma trials. Researchers are looking at the combination of these drugs with targeted therapies as well.  And what about other types of immunotherapy? Could they be just as or more effective for patients with lung cancer?

It’s early days and there are so many questions to be answered. But this is a huge step forward: we have a new type of drug that works very differently approved by the FDA for the treatment of patients with lung cancer.  I anticipate the approval of many more immuno-oncology drugs for lung cancer as well as more indications for Opdivo over the next few years.  So I’m looking forward to writing more of these blogs with many more advances and success stories to share with all of you.

“Home”

by John Armstrong

When was the last time you went “home”? Not to visit a sick friend or relative. Or for a funeral. Just to visit with the people who shared and shaped your life.

My wife, Diane, values these trips more than anything.

A former member of the Navy and volunteer firefighter, her life has been filled with family and friends that have always been there for whatever has come down the road. This has meant so much, especially since Diane was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer on December 22, 2014. Yes, the dreaded C word.

Her response is probably not what you would expect. Diane is not weighed down by this news at all. Quite the contrary. Her diagnosis has made us both more appreciative of the important things in life – family and friends – and celebrating all life has to offer to the fullest.

That is why Diane decided she wanted to host a celebration of life and friendship as a way to connect all her friends and family who have meant so much over the years.  Essentially, bringing “home” to her.

The celebration will be held at the Harmony Fire Company at 440 Brainards Road , Phillipsburg ,NJ 08865 on Sunday, March 29 from 12:00 noon to 6:00 pm. We will be having an old fashioned pot luck dinner (with beer) and a silent auction. We are very fortunate to have businesses from New Jersey and Pennsylvania donating everything from gift cards to 3,000 square feet of sod to the fundraiser!

All proceeds will be going to Lung Cancer Alliance (LCA). We chose LCA after researching non profits on line and speaking with patients and their loved ones.

We are happy to say that in addition to the many folks who still live in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, Diane has old Navy friends coming from Minnesota as well as classmates driving up from North Carolina, and relatives from Indiana and Georgia.

It’s been a tough road, but we’re excited to see everyone.  Food, family and friends. All for a good cause.  Not a bad way to think of “home.”

To Help By Healing

By Michelle McMahon

I’m beginning my 6th year of tracking time closer than I had in my 49 previous years.  My sojourn began in May 2009 with a small, nagging, non- productive cough.  After a few weeks my husband encouraged me to go to the doctor and have it checked out. Initially it presented as pneumonia but after a course of antibiotic therapy with no noted improvement, further testing revealed it to be lung cancer.

I lost my mother to this disease when I was a teenager. She too, a non- smoker, passed away at 52 years of age making my situation both surreal and daunting. I chose a pulmonologist and a surgeon who collaborated with my primary physician, oncologist, my family and me. We worked through 2 surgeries, recoveries, follow ups and a two year long clinical trial for a new application of an oral chemotherapeutic medication.  I committed myself to beating this disease.

McMahon Family

Michelle and her family.

To help my healing and to help me make sense of this hand I was dealt, with family and friends by my side I started a foundation to raise awareness and funds for lung cancer education, research and treatment. Over the past 5 years we have hosted an annual event which has generated $45,000.00 toward that end. We work hard to improve other’s chances at beating this terrible disease and to bring the white ribbon into focus.  Partnering with the Lung Cancer Alliance gives a larger voice to these efforts. I had no control in my having this disease but I’ve certainly acquired some in my fighting it. We’ve seen great gains in the science and treatment of lung cancer and hopefully my contribution and commitment along with the wonderful support I have will play a small role in helping to end this disease or at the very least help ease the suffering of so many. That’s my story in a nutshell. My quick advice: be your own best advocate, don’t be shy about asking questions or for help, keep a positive attitude, surround yourself with humor and remember prayer can be as powerful as any other treatment.


 

Join Michelle and other survivors to make a difference in Washington, DC at our 7th National Lung Cancer Summit! Click here for more information and to register today!

Time Yet to Love

By Leah Herzing

Dan and I will have a little impromptu wedding vow renewal ceremony this Valentine’s Day. Throughout our marriage, I expected to have a ceremony like this later in our lives—perhaps for our 20th anniversary. However his diagnosis of Stage 4 lung cancer five months ago changed everything. At this point, there are no more distant dreams of the decades ahead. We live in the moment.

Dan’s brother, Doug, and my sister, Rachel, will travel to Oregon from Illinois to be our best man and maid of honor. Our three year old son, Raine, will be our ring bearer, and has a bow tie for the occasion. I found a little white dress and Dan will wear an extra layer to stay warm. There is a delicious cake, carefully baked by a friend to comfort his taste buds thwarted by chemotherapy. He is in the middle of his fifth infusion and is overwhelmed with fatigue and weakness. Should he need to sit during our ceremony, we will have chairs. If he can’t dance during our song, we will just sit and hold hands and look in each other’s eyes.

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Leah, Dan and their son, Raine.

We will recite our very same vows that we wrote to one another ten years ago. In 2004, we stood outside in an orchard in Metamora, Illinois, and quite nervously spoke in front of our 200+ wedding guests. The devotion and tenderness that Dan felt for me was so eloquently evident in his vows that many were brought to tears–including more than a few rather stoic men.

I was twenty-two when Dan met me—young and wistful. A year later at our wedding, I felt redeemed to have suffered heartbreaks, traumas, health struggles and hardships, and made it through my personal veil of darkness to an opening of comfort –a clearing in a forest that was a single, quiet confidence in my heart. I had found Dan, whom I loved, and I could commit to him all of my deepest esteem and everlasting faith. Of course I knew that life’s surprises awaited us, but what could we not conquer together? With Dan, my kindred spirit, what storm could not be weathered?

A storm of incurable disease is not something I expected. And I certainly didn’t expect it to strike him—my strong, resilient, healthy, and young husband, in a mere decade. Dan was only 37 years old when we were given his diagnosis. Please note, I choose the word “given” carefully because this is how I choose to weather this storm. Of the many gifts our marriage has received, a cancer diagnosis is surely the most unusual. However, it is valid. Dan didn’t die the moment that they discovered his tumors. We didn’t die the moment we heard his diagnosis.

There is time yet to love. And that is a gift.