Love In The Time of Cancer
Posted on October 17, 2012, 1:34 PM
By Joel Baumgard
“What’s up with your hair?” As in my shock of white hair that seemed out of place on a guy in his early 40s. It was one of Denise’s first questions, back on our first date in the summer of 2009. I asked her if she wanted the short answer or the long answer. She looked at me and said she wasn’t going anywhere.
I told her that I was terminally ill with cancer. That I have stage IV follicular thyroid cancer that has metastasized to my lungs and is radioiodine resistant. That there are no other cures for thyroid cancer other than radioactive iodine. That I was diagnosed on December 29, 2005 – my son Ross’s first birthday. That, at one point, I was being treated with pazopanib, which had some pretty adverse side effects, including turning my hair from dark brown to white.
How’s that for small talk? But it was the truth – one I didn’t want to hide from a potential partner, and one that had driven others away. Not that I blame them.
Denise, who is a special ed teacher, was different. I told Denise on our first date that I was a train wreck. She went home that night and posted on Facebook, “I love train wrecks.” It was pretty much then and there that I fell in love with this incredible, caring woman. Soon, she was accompanying me to every single doctor’s appointment, there to support me when the news was good and when it wasn’t so good. Now our life is lived three months at a time. That’s the interval between my appointments with my oncologist, when we look at scans and talk about life expectancy and treatment options.
Knowing that eventually my cancer will progress and take my life has changed my entire perspective. I used to define my success by the salary I got, by the awards I received. In November of 1999, I lost my dad to cancer and I was awarded salesman of the month selling Chevrolets. In 2003, I lost my stepdad, who had raised me, to cancer and I was again salesman of the month! Between their passing and my diagnosis, I’ve come to realize that winning “salesman of the month,” the size of your house, or the type of car you drive really don’t matter much at all.
Cancer is the best and worse thing that’s ever happened to me. It has made crystal clear what is important in life – my relationships with my loved ones. That’s why, despite my diagnosis, Denise and I will surround ourselves with family and friends to express our love and get married on October 20th, 2012. So while obviously I wish the circumstances were a little different, I consider myself so blessed for the time I do have to spend with Denise and Ross.
I wish I could give them so much more in life. Denise and I will not be going on a honeymoon… unless you count a trip back to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN a couple weeks later for our usual routine of scans, treatment options, and discussions about life expectancy. But one thing is for sure: I can give them all my love, as they have done for me. Maybe we’ll celebrate with an extra slice of pie from the hospital cafeteria. No matter what, we’ll have lots to talk about. I don’t feel like a train wreck anymore. But I know Denise – the kindest, most caring, and beautiful woman in the world – still isn’t going anywhere.
Joel L. Baumgard lives in Brooklyn Park, MN with his fiancée Denise and his 7-year-old son Ross. Joel is a graduate of University of Phoenix. He has worked in the automotive industry since 1996. Joel and Denise’s wedding date is October 20th, 2012.
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