Before my husband Pat was first diagnosed with colorectal cancer as a 29-year-old in September 2017 just one month after our wedding, he was the picture of health. Pat was a U.S. Marine. He was in the best shape of his life, ate healthy, and had no apparent risk factors.
We were shocked when he was diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer and had to immediately began treatment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Young-Onset Colorectal Cancer Center. In the early stages of his cancer treatment, I didn’t have to care for him physically all that much. I helped him as he regained his strength after surgery and made sure he was eating and drinking enough on days when he went to chemotherapy. Pat recovered quickly from his treatment, which I credit to his indomitable spirit and incredible will to live.
As his treatment progressed over the years, my role as caregiver changed. The weeks Pat received chemotherapy became more difficult for both of us. Due to the global pandemic, I wasn’t able to join Pat during his treatments out of concern for safety for all cancer patients and staff. As the pandemic progressed, we were nervous about what treatment options might remain available and what would happen if Pat contracted COVID-19.
Emotionally, we were also stripped of all the outlets we used in the past to lift ourselves up: being with family and friends, going to church, even just going for walks.
Throughout the course of 2020, we continued to experience a rollercoaster of emotions: I was pregnant; we found out Pat’s cancer had spread to his liver; Pat’s cancer continued to spread from his liver to his brain; I gave birth to our son, Noah Patrick; and then Pat needed emergency brain surgery to treat his cancer, immediately following Noah’s birth.
Through it all, Pat’s care team remained incredible about directing our care around Pat’s safety as a cancer patient and mine as a pregnant woman and then new mom. In the days following Noah’s birth, our care teams helped coordinate a safe way for us to spend a few days in the hospital as a family.
The doctors at Dana-Farber balanced the importance of our time together as a new family and Pat’s need to continue treatment. Although I had just had a baby, we still had to make decisions about Pat’s care. Dr. Ng and the rest of the care team were mindful of everything; they didn’t just think of us as patients, but as a family. On September 6, 2020, Pat passed into eternal life, but I will forever cherish his memory and the time Dana-Farber gave Pat, Noah, and me as a new family.