My physician husband was diagnosed with nonHodgkin’s lymphoma at age 39, one month before our third child was born. It was a sweet time in our lives. Our other children were ages 4 and 6.
After the initial treatments we had two good years with no detectable disease. When the lymphoma returned it was a brutal ride – no other way to describe it. As a young family we endured the side effects of my husband’s chronic chemotherapy, full body radiation, months living away from our children for a stem cell transplant, middle of the night runs to the emergency room for stomach bleeds and unexplained fevers, a ten-day coma, thirteen leg surgeries to remove infected bone, walkers, wheelchairs, and reconfiguring our house to accommodate treatment induced physical disabilities. By age 45, six years after he was diagnosed, my husband was forced to sell his medical practice.
Along the way we lost friends, rekindled old, and made new. We watched as my husband’s former patients, who would always exuberantly thank him for his medical care, stood speechless, shocked by his changed appearance. We would overhear on occasion other’s ask, “What’s wrong with him?” and then have to explain to our youngest why they ask.
The stories I share are about my experience being an unexpected caregiver and parenting our three children through my husband’s cancer. The stories reflect the challenges and fears we as a family faced. My hope is that, together, we will start a larger conversation about the impact cancer has on young families.