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A Widower Recounts the Loss of His Wife From Leukemia

Challenges After Diagnosis

Q: What did you and your wife do when you first learned that Julia had leukemia?

A: It was a combination of fear and being overwhelmed that brought us to tears, and we just cried. One minute we're at the beach on vacation - we go from a normal life - to being told: "Your wife has cancer." Cancer is a big word for anybody. It's a word you associate with death. Julia and her mom were at the hospital and they called me at work and told me she had cancer. Once I saw Julia's face, it was just terrifying to think this is not something that one visit to the doctor's office would fix. We knew then that our lives would change dramatically. We were flooded with thoughts of how we would take care of our son, to how we would spend time as a couple, since Julia would be in the hospital for two months for her first round of chemotherapy. What crushed Julia was that she really couldn't handle our baby for two months straight. She was so broken - he was only 8 months. She cried a lot about that. For the first two months, we were back and forth to the hospital and our son went into a day-care center. Also, maintaining our marriage in a hospital setting, where we were disturbed every 15 minutes, was tough. We had to learn how to adjust with Julia living in a hospital bed and having her meals given to her. She adjusted phenomenally. She strengthened me.

Q: What support did you receive from family and friends?

A: We received financial and emotional support from church members and friends. They also helped cleaned the house and did the laundry. Julia's family helped take care of our son. We had well over 100 people helping us out. I don't know how anyone could go through this without a support group. It was crucial to my personal survival. I couldn't hold it together emotionally - even with my faith. We also got Social Security disability, which was a big help.

Q: How hopeful was your doctor about Julia's prognosis?

A: From the beginning, our doctor told Julia it was not a death sentence. He was optimistic the whole time. He never indicated that we couldn't beat this. That was very necessary. He encouraged us that by March of 2002 we should be working on the downhill toward complete healing. That helped me get over the death sentence. In the first few months, we believed she was going to come home and that life would return to normal as we knew it. We didn't think we'd need to make major lifestyle adjustments.

Q: When did that mindset begin to change?

A: In September 2001 - three months after Julia was diagnosed. While the chemotherapy did a good job of knocking the cancer out - and Julia had been in remission - it came back and it was more aggressive this time. At that point, the doctor suggested a bone-marrow transplant. By December - after more rounds of chemotherapy - we realized it was the only way she was going to live. We broke down and cried.