He Died Of Breast Cancer, He Died With Hope

She stood there with flowers and a letter, a thank you letter to the medical staff and caregivers.

John trusted and loved you – you always made him feel special and gave him the courage to fight. John did fight the good fight and finished his race. I am so grateful that you were on our team and that you always gave us HOPE. Please know that you will always be in my heart. Love, Cathy.”

These were the people who had cared for the love of her life as he battled cancer and as he fought in his final days. These were the people who gave John hope to fight, even when the hope was slipping away.

Cathy Danyluk had been wanting to tell them what they meant to her – what they meant to John. She’d been thinking about it a while. 

One year after John died, she was back at IU Health West to say thank you.

There were smiles and hugs and tears, tears flowing for John. It wasn’t just Cathy crying. They were crying for John, too. She saw how much they loved him in their faces, in their sorrow.

“I felt totally at peace that I had done it the right way,” Cathy said. “The way John would have wanted it.”

***

The lump in his breast, it had been there a while. But John didn’t think much of it. Then, he had some lower back pain. He thought it might be kidney stones, so he went to a doctor.

While there, he mentioned the lump in his breast, but told the doctor he didn’t think it was a big deal. The doctor, of course, thought it was and insisted John get a mammogram.

As it turned out, there were no kidney stones and nothing was wrong with John’s back.

But that lump? It was breast cancer.

“His message to everyone after that was if you feel like something is going on with your body, do something,” Cathy said.

His message after that was to become an advocate for male breast cancer awareness. Cathy is carrying on that legacy.

John had surgery to remove the tumor, but a year later, he found out the cancer was back. And it was back in a bad way; it had spread to his bones.

Even with the bad news, John always had hope. He had a positive attitude. His IU Health caregivers were good at evoking that in him.

At his last doctor’s appointment in February of 2016, John walked away “extremely happy and hopeful,” Cathy said. There were new things to try.

But in March, John fainted. Then, things took a turn for the worse. The care team came to see Cathy.

“They said, ‘You need to say goodbye,’” Cathy said. “‘I was like, ‘What do you mean say goodbye? I thought I was taking him home.’”

***

In the end, she’s glad it happened that way. John would have hated hospice. He would have hated lying there withering away.

John loved life and he was hilarious. He loved making fun of Cathy. He could always make her laugh.

“I think most people go their entire lives searching for what I had with John,” said Cathy. The two met on a blind date 27 years ago and it was love “at first day,” she said.

Nothing was too mundane to do together, even grocery shopping. John loved doing that with Cathy, not because grocery shopping was his favorite thing, but because harassing Cathy was.

He did silly stuff in those aisles, stuff to embarrass his wife. She always laughed.

John loved music and was an excellent guitar player. The Beatles were his favorite group and he knew everything about them.

At the end of John’s funeral, the priest started singing The Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love.” Everyone joined in.

“It was the most beautiful moment ever,” said Cathy. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.”

John loved Florida. It was their spot. But, as it goes with true love, it didn’t matter where they were as long as they were together.

Cathy will never forget the last words John said to her: “Babe, we’re a team. We do everything together.”

“Yeah, I know,” she said to him sweetly.

They were months away from celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. John was 58 when he died on March 22, 2016.

***

One year later, Cathy was back at IU Health West to tell John’s caregivers what they meant to her.

She was there with a special friend of John’s, Forrest Tafflinger, a boy who has had health issues since birth.

When John was diagnosed with cancer, the two became close, showing one another their “battle scars” from surgeries. They called themselves warriors.

Forrest didn’t get to have that final goodbye with John, so Cathy invited him to go with her to thank the team.  

“I’m so excited because I got to be John’s voice,” Forrest told Cathy after the meeting. “And to say thank you.”

That’s exactly what it was about, Cathy said.

“John loved and trusted them. He wanted them to know,” she said. “People need to know that they made a difference and kept that hope for him, to know that what they do is so important.”

As he battled cancer, John was interviewed for a book about the disease. In it, he is quoted saying that although he was at the mercy of his medical team, “they made me feel like I was their only patient.” 

They gave him hope.

And on the thank you letter Cathy wrote to her late husband’s team is this quote:  “Hope is the thing with feathers…that perches in the soul…and sings the tune without the words…and never stops at all.”

-- By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.
   Reach Benbow via email dbenbow@iuhealth.org or on Twitter @danabenbow.


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