When Your Husband Is Diagnosed With Brain Cancer, You Realize What Matters In Life

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“Last October, in an ER trauma room, I put my head on my husband’s chest and cried as we received the worst news of our lives. In a single moment, the future we had envisioned together, the one we had spent the past five years planning and working toward and looking forward to, evaporated.

He had brain cancer. I was six months pregnant with our first child at the time; we didn’t even know if he would live to see our baby being born.

pregnant woman smiles and holds belly as man holds her waist and smiles at her stomach
Jessica Marcellus

When the person you thought you’d spend the rest of your life with is diagnosed with a terminal illness, the entire course of your existence changes — your priorities shift; you develop a heightened awareness of time; you realize what matters.

So you buy the Eric Church tickets. And the Red Sox ones, because why not?

brain cancer patient gives thumbs up on red sox field with wife, son, and mother behind him
Jessica Marcellus

You take secret videos of him mowing the lawn, or telling a story, or singing along to a song on the radio.

brain cancer patient sitting on lawn mower with baby in lap with headphones on with house in background
Jessica Marcellus

You talk (regularly) about things that make both of you cry. You are so thankful for those rare moments when you find yourselves laughing really, really hard together.

You write down his bits of advice and life lessons that you will one day share with your son. You never forget to say, ‘I love you,’ or kiss goodnight. You realize that one day you’ll desperately miss the things that used to annoy you. You treasure his handwriting.

You do all of these things and you wish you had been doing them all along, before he was sick. But you hadn’t, because the phrase ‘live like you’re dying’ is just a nice idea until it becomes real.

brain cancer patient in new york giants sweatshirt sits on couch with son in his lap with giants onesie on
Jessica Marcellus

Dan did live to see the birth of our son, Sawyer; the three of us were blessed to spend seven beautiful months together as a family before Dan passed away in August. I wish I could say that as time passes, the pain is easier to bear. But really, each day without him has only made the void in my soul more poignant.

As I watch our son growing and changing, learning to crawl and throw a ball and take his first steps, my heart aches wishing his dad was here to celebrate these moments.

brain cancer patient holds his newborn son who is swaddled in blanket and wearing white hat
Jessica Marcellus

Even through the thickest grief, though, Sawyer is my living proof that life does go on, and it is still beautiful. That little boy is my angel and my miracle. My light in the darkness. My hope, my sunshine, my reason for being.

And he will grow up knowing that his dad was a man who valued integrity, protected what is right, and showed strength during the most difficult circumstances.

I may never understand why Dan was taken from us so soon, but I will forever be thankful for the six years we spent together. Thankful that I was able to love someone so deeply and completely.

Thankful that I can look into our son’s face and see his dad. And that just might be my biggest lesson learned through this ordeal: that there is always something to be thankful for.”

brain cancer patient and his wife sit with son on couch while they all look at each other
JM Cota Photography

This loving story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jessica Marcellus, 27, of Fairfax, Vermont. Dan was an Army veteran and member of the Vermont State Police, where he served as a State Trooper for 14 years. His wife, Jess, is a NICU nurse. 

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