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A young mother, a cancer diagnosis, and a year of grieving her loss

By Rachel Hutton, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Parenting News

So Rob and Emily got married in a simple backyard ceremony. It was May Day, Emily's favorite day of the year, because she loved Powderhorn Park's famous parade, and used to work on the costumes when she was a kid growing up in the neighborhood.


Emily treated her tumors with chemotherapy and, later, immunotherapy. While the physical toll of living with cancer was immensely difficult, so was managing its impact on her relationships.

Among the most challenging aspects of interacting with others, Emily said in an interview a few weeks before her death, was dealing with suggestions that she quash her cancer with everything from qigong to mushroom tea.

It was also hard to be inundated with positive-attitude platitudes - "Everything happens for a reason" or "God doesn't dish out anything you can't handle" - that didn't align with her beliefs.

Or to be viewed as a warrior combating cancer. "The fight metaphor - you're fighting cancer, you're going to beat cancer, you're going to kick cancer's ass - doesn't resonate with me, either," she said.


After Emily's diagnosis, Rob became the primary caregiver to both his wife and daughter. He also largely managed the couple's relationships with family and friends, updating various groups on Emily's condition, which he found especially frustrating when people pestered him for details. ("What more do you need to know than, 'She's really, really sick'? There's really nothing more to update because she's been sleeping 16 hours.")

Emily's illness also, understandably, put a strain on the couple's relationship, Rob said, when Emily's rosier outlook on her prognosis conflicted with the more conservative data he found in medical journals.

There were also times when Rob felt upset that Emily chose to spend their limited family time with her friends instead. Rob acknowledges that he couldn't begin to understand what Emily was feeling as she faced her impending death. He sensed she might be pulling away from him and Ruby because those relationships were most dear. "It was probably incredibly painful to spend time with Ruby knowing what was going to happen," he said.

Leaving Ruby, Emily admitted, a few weeks before she passed, was the thing she feared most about dying. Then 3 years old, Ruby had asked her, "Are you melting?" presumably influenced by the Wicked Witch's demise in "The Wizard of Oz." So Emily told Ruby the hard truth: She wasn't going to live much longer.


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