Six months after my wife Carmen and I got married, she told me that she was pregnant. As older would-be parents, (she was 38, I was 41), we were ecstatic. Our lives as a family were coming together quickly, and we fully embraced settling down.
Unfortunately, our joy was short lived.
Eight days later, my urologist sent me to a facility for an ultrasound because I had been experiencing intermittent pain in the past week. That night, the doctor called and told me the scan revealed the presence of a tumor, and ultimately testicular cancer.
The morning after surgery to remove the tumor, I rolled out of bed sore and depressed, but determined to go to Carmen’s doctor appointment to share the experience of seeing our son on an ultrasound for the first time. All of my worries about how stress caused by my cancer might be affecting my wife and unborn son washed away as we both listened to the sound of his little heart beating and were given reassurance that all looked good.
Life seemed to be getting back to normal.
However, four months later, a routine CT scan revealed the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. I spent the next nine weeks on a harsh chemo regimen wasting away physically as I struggled to hold on to my humanity. Although my biggest fear was that I might not live to see my son, my desire to meet him became my greatest drive to never give up hope.
Five weeks after my last treatment, I helped the doctor deliver our little boy, Buck Breedlove, on lucky 7/11.
Over the next two years, as my strength returned, I began to notice that my wife, Carmen, was tiring more easily. She’d often head to bed immediately after dinner. She had been to the doctor many times complaining about stomach pain, but when a significant amount of blood showed up in her stool, she underwent a colonoscopy. Carmen was diagnosed with colorectal cancer just one week after I was officially granted a two year remission from my disease.
A week later, we were devastated to learn that Carmen’s cancer had been classified as stage 4 and had metastasized to her liver. Blindsided, we headed back to the same place that had helped save me: Indiana University Health.
The familiarity of hospital was haunting. While a few of the faces had changed since I’d last been at IU Health’s Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center, those who remained still remembered us. Many of the staff who saw us return assumed we were back because of my disease. But, when they learned of my wife’s condition, I saw many tears. Even my oncologist was stricken when he ran into us in the hallway during Carmen’s first oncology appointment. Having young children of his own, he had enjoyed sharing infant caretaking tips with her during my previous appointments. He was saddened to hear our story.
Despite being overwhelmed by Carmen’s cancer diagnosis we were at peace with our decision to return to IU Health. The staff had always taken care of us. As a patient, they always made sure I got whatever I needed whether it was a glass of water or a blood transfusion. They would even pull over an extra comfy reclining chair in the chemo ward for Carmen to sit when she accompanied me for treatment because they could tell how uncomfortable the regular chairs were for her being pregnant.
Through six cycles of chemo, radiation, and five surgeries Carmen has kept a positive attitude. She is currently minus five tumors. Her most recent scan was clear and bloodwork normal.
Each day that we have together as a family, although not always easy, has been a blessing. Not only has the Simon Cancer Center staff given my family hope and comfort, but when we come to appointments with our son Buck, we know we’re giving them hope as well.
By Tom Breedlove