My Walk to Remember

People come in and out of our lives all the time, some are momentary and some are forever but each and everyone makes an impact on our lives whether we realize it or not. I believe in a God with a plan and that everyone serves a purpose on this earth. I may not understand his plan but I always have faith that he wouldn’t give anyone anything that they couldn’t handle. Over the course of my short 21 years there have been plenty of times that something happened and I thought I would never come back from it because I couldn’t find a solution or relief… I have learned in the past 2 years especially that there are things that no matter how hard we try there is just no solution for and the relief we receive is not what we expected or what we thought we needed. There are going to be things that happen in your life that you may never understand why they happened, but it is up to you to choose how it defines you.

Cancer happens to be one of those things in this world that there is no exact solution or relief for; there are countless types of chemotherapy, experimental treatment plans, surgeries, radiation, dieting, natural remedies, the list goes on. But from the day of diagnosis on you are up against something that no one in this world can say they have a solution for and you are now on a race against time to do the impossible. Justin was 22 years old when he was diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer called DSRCT, it’s a soft tissue sarcoma that was growing in his abdomen. It’s a very aggressive form of cancer and by the time they found it his kidneys were already failing and they needed to start chemotherapy immediately. There was no time to process what was happening, we were already living it.

When I downloaded the dating app Tinder after my break up with my high school boyfriend I had no expectations, I swiped right to Justin and sure enough it was a match. He messaged me and we started chatting and it turned out we had more in common than we thought. I worked at Victorias Secret with his aunt and she just happened to be one of my favorite coworkers so the next day at work I went to her and told her I was talking to her nephew and she told me to stay away from him and that he was nothing but trouble. We kept texting back and forth until one day she came back to work and told me he was talking differently about me and that maybe I should give him a chance, so I did. He showed up on Black Friday with coffee in hand and we spent everyday together after that. I would come home from work to him sitting in my parking lot in his red Honda Civic just waiting for me, we would laugh until our cheeks were sore and we didn’t have a worry in the world. We only got 2 healthy months together before Justin started feeling sick and seeing doctors, after multiple visits he finally got some answers. As soon as they figured out what was going on he was admitted to the hospital immediately. He called me and told me to come as soon as I could so I got in my car and headed straight there. When I walked into his room he grabbed my face and kissed me and asked how my drive over was as if everything was normal, typical JT. I sat on his bed with him in the Providence Cancer Center and he laid it on me, his diagnosis was rare and when I googled it and saw the survival rate I dropped my phone to floor because the numbers I was reading weren’t promising. He then gave me the option to walk away from him right then and never look back or to stay with him through this until the end.

For anyone who got the chance to meet Justin they know just how wonderful of a man he was, he lived to make people laugh and his giggle could put a smile on even the grumpiest persons face. In his short 24 years on this earth his life impacted so many in such a positive way. In our healthy 2 months together he showed me just how incredible of a man he truly was and I chose to stay and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. Though I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I agreed to stay that day. They started his treatment immediately and we were presented with our first major decision as a couple, whether Justin wanted to save his sperm so he would be able to have his own children later on. We had a matter of hours to come up with an answer and the money to do it if he chose to. He again gave me the chance to leave him, he didn’t want to take the opportunity of having my own children away from me. It was in that moment right then that I knew I loved him and I had made the right decision. Here he was right after getting the worst news you can get and he is thinking about me and my future, that man was so incredibly selfless it is an inspiration. I told him he wasn’t taking anything from me, it was my choice to stay. Though I absolutely love children I have never had a desire to have my own, I worked with an organization called Youth Missions International and ended up going to Lima, Peru for 6 weeks to work in orphanages and churches. After my experience there I now have an overwhelming desire to adopt. I told Justin that if God wanted us to have children that there are other ways and I am 100% okay with the other options, he grabbed my face and kissed me again. He did his first round of treatment an hour later.

Justin started chemotherapy and was put on a 6 month schedule before they would do a scan to see if the tumors were shrinking enough for surgery, after a few rounds he ended up moving in with me and we got our puppy Kyah. We were doing our best to have a normal relationship while also dealing with chemo side effects, Justin having to stop working, and a new puppy that needed to be trained. After those 6 months they did a scan and the tumors had shrunk enough for surgery so they scheduled it for August 11th. The debulking surgery took about 4 hours and they removed 2 tumors the size of 16 ounce cans as well as the rest of the cancer they could see and feel. The very next day he was up and walking around and determined to be healed as quickly as possible, a week later we were out of there and back home. He did another 6 months of the same chemotherapy that he responded so well to before, they did another scan except for this time the results were not ideal. The cancer was no longer responding to the chemotherapy and had grown back, they told us that it would be best to start looking at our other options. We contacted almost every hospital in the US that treated DSRCT, we had a consultation at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland and at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and they both had a few experimental treatment plans that they were willing to try but Justin had his eyes set on the hospital MD Anderson in Houston, Texas. This hospital has the top doctors in the nation for his particular diagnosis.

I work at a coffee stand inside of the Kaiser Permanente buildings and one of my regulars happened to be good friends with and a former colleague of the head of the radiation department at MD Anderson. When he heard about Justin he told me he wanted to help, Marc emailed Dr. Hahn over in Texas and told him about Justins situation. Dr. Hahn presented  Justins case to the head of the institute the next day and they accepted him as a patient we just had to get insurance to cover it. A woman named Joy was in that meeting the day Justins case was presented and she took it upon herself to help get us there. She gave Marc her information and he contacted me and told me to call her, I called her immediately and she gave me a list of things to get started on. We hit a few hiccups along the way with insurance, Justins grandpa wrote a letter to the senator and she moved mountains for us. Senator Patty Murray made sure that Washington State was doing everything that they could so that Justin could receive treatment from MD Anderson. By the time everything was settled he was too sick to travel so they sent the chemotherapy from Texas and performed it here in Portland at his normal oncologist office. After a few rounds of this new chemotherapy it was time to go to Houston and meet the team of doctors and get a scan to see if he was responding to the new treatment. His mom and him headed down and got all of the tests done and I flew down the next day to meet them to get results. The results showed that he was not responding how they would like him to and with their experience with DSRCT there are 2 kinds of treatment plans and patients either  respond to one or the other. So they sent us home with the other kind of treatment and a date to come back. Justin completed the new treatment and we went back to Houston to do yet another scan and we were very hopeful that this was it. We walked into that room so hopeful and walked out devastated. The top doctors in the nation had done everything they could, they used every medicine in their arsenal but the disease had just progressed too far. We sat in the waiting room trying to stop crying long enough to tell our families the results. My grandparents put us on a plane home the next day to be with our loved ones, Justin’s dad and little brother already had a trip planned to Michigan and were leaving the same day we were coming back. His dad got him on a plane out of Portland to Michigan that evening, he was home long enough to have a delicious home cooked steak dinner with me and Kyah and his best friend and his fiance before we took him back to the airport. He got to visit his moms side of the family and meet his dads buddies and see where they grew up and he had an incredible time. A few days later he came home and we had one last night in our apartment together before he was admitted to the hospital for the very last time.

Over the course of our 2 years together Justin and I faced a lot more tragedy than most young couples ever will but we never let it affect our happiness. Even when he was sick from chemo we still made it a point to have date nights, they started out as going out to dinner and movies and over time turned into home cooked meals and Netflix series. As he got sicker the things we could do normally kept decreasing but instead of dwelling on it we made the best of it, we may not have left the house much but we never felt like we were missing out. We got the chance to be a family, I am forever thankful that I got to give Justin the opportunity to have a family of his own and to experience such an incredible love before he left this earth.

We had countless ER visits over the years but this time was different, we already knew there was nothing more medically they could do for him but his stomach was swelling and he was in excruciating pain so we went anyway. He was admitted to Providence and his oncologist was out of town so he had an on call doctor, they started pumping him full of fluids and running tests as he continued to swell and the discomfort became greater. The  nurse came in and handed Justin the phone and said the doctor will be calling with results momentarily,  an hour went by and there had still been no call so I went and confronted the nurse in the hallway. She told me he would be by first thing in the morning to deliver results. At this point I knew it was not looking good but I was not going to let him go all night without seeing a doctor or even hearing his results after being told he would. I called Oregon Health and Science University and asked if they had a bed available and they said yes and that he could be transferred I just needed his current doctor to initiate the transfer. Since Justin and I had been living together during his treatment I would sometimes have to call his oncologist office as his care taker to ask questions, because of this I knew that was how to get ahold of the oncologist that was on call and the on call doctor happened to be the one treating him. I called as a caretaker and said I had a question regarding a patient and they transferred me to the doctor, I told him it was unprofessional to leave a patient in the state that he did and that Justin no longer wanted to be treated by him and that he would like to be transferred to OHSU immediately. The doctor told me it wasn’t that easy because he wasn’t an established patient there, well when we first looked at our other options we met with the team of doctors there and Justin became an established patient back then. I told him this information as well as the fact that I already called them and they had a bed available and he started the transfer. I went back into JT’s room where he was with his entire family, I told them what happened and the nurse came in  a few minutes later with transfer papers. He was discharged and moved to OHSU that night where he received 100% better treatment. The doctors were on top of it, they got his swelling under control and really focused on his comfort level. He was in the hospital for 3 weeks before they sent him home with hospice care. He had an awesome set up at his moms house, the downstairs turned into JTs sanctuary. He was there for 6 days before he passed in peace, he took his last breath while sleeping with his mom, his moms fiance, his dad, his dads fiance, his best friend and his fiance, and me all sitting around him.



That day still haunts me, I replay it over and over in my head. After he took his last breath I laid next to him until the color had left his lips and then I realized that they had made the call to have him taken away. I couldn’t watch his body leave so I got in my car and went home to be with Kyah and my mom and my 2 best friends who had come to visit when they found out the severity of everything. I mourned for 4 days before the unthinkable happened. Because Justin and I weren’t married all of his legal assets went to his parents, we got Kyah registered as his emotional support dog because my apartments don’t allow pitbulls under any other circumstance. She was his legal asset and they took her. I woke up the next day without Justin or Kyah, my family was gone and there was nothing I could do about it. There is no relief for that kind of pain.

With the help of my family and friends I pulled it together and chose to not let these losses destroy me. I chose to go search the animal shelters in Vancouver and Portland to find a new companion, nothing could replace the family I had before but it was time to start my own. I ended up getting a puppy named Lola and she has been a tremendous blessing and a huge distraction. I redecorated our room and in the process I found a notebook of Justin’s. While he was sick he had countless nights he couldn’t sleep and while he stayed up he filled this notebook with his thoughts. I read the first few pages and had to stop, I spent the next 3 days after that in bed. It took me almost 6 months to finish reading it, in this notebook Justin wrote me letters describing how he wanted me to live my life after he was gone. The hardest part about reading these writings is that he had accepted that his time was coming to an end. Justin and I talked about everything but him passing away was something we chose to never speak of. We talked about plans for our future, we were looking at homes, breeding Kyah, we were going to have a beautiful life together but cancer cut that short.

I am starting over with an entirely different view on life all thanks to one incredible man. Sometimes people are put in our lives just to help us through the hard times, God put me in Justins life to be there for him during the hardest time in his life. I may never understand why God let me love someone so much just to lose them, but I am thankful I got to love someone that much. I live everyday how Justin would want me to now, I intend to accomplish everything he wanted me to do, and I will always hold him close to my heart. Six months later and everyday I miss him more.

I was asked to start blogging about my experiences through all of this by a few girlfriends and wives who are in similar situations. Living through it is one thing but sitting down and putting it into words is one of the hardest things I have ever done. As you are going through it you are just surviving and when it’s over you take a step back and realize the hell you went through. I may have lost the love of my life and I have to live everyday without him now but at least I got the chance to love a man like Justin. He has set the parr high, moving on will be no easy task. In his letters he talks about someone taking care of me after he is gone but there is no man on this earth that will compare to him. 6 months later and there are still so many firsts to face without him.