How my late husband’s positive attitude continues to inspire me

My late husband and I had only known each other for a couple of
months when he was diagnosed with stage IV synovial sarcoma — a rare type of soft tissue cancer — in November 2014.

I’d just helped a close friend with a breast cancer diagnosis, so I knew what a battle
with cancer looked like and what it would take to get through it. My
heart was broken. But I also knew that Josh and I shared something
very special — and I wasn’t about to let cancer get in our way.

One of the first things Josh said to me after being diagnosed was
that if I decided I didn’t want to see him anymore, he would
understand, and that he wouldn’t think any less of me. I told him he
wasn’t getting rid of me that easily. I knew that if anyone could love
him through this, it was me.

A synovial sarcoma diagnosis

Josh first noticed pain in his lower abdomen in 2013, right after
graduating from West Point. But he didn’t want to get kicked out of
his U.S. Army Ranger regiment, so he waited until he earned his tab to
see a doctor. He’d had a sports-related hernia repaired in that same
area a few years earlier, so he associated the pain with that surgery.

Josh first saw a physician here in Nashville in October 2014. That
doctor was pretty certain that Josh had a tumor, and that it was
malignant. A needle biopsy proved inconclusive, though, so Josh had an
open biopsy done at a local hospital. About a month later, we learned
he had synovial sarcoma. Josh was only 25.

A second opinion

Josh received synovial sarcoma treatment at a Nashville hospital for
about a year before traveling to MD
Anderson
. After multiple complications, some negative
experiences and being told that his only remaining surgical option was
amputation of his entire right leg and hip, Josh and I decided to seek
a second opinion.

From day one, MD Anderson gave us a
renewed sense of hope. Dejka Araujo, M.D., had experience with cases
exactly like Josh’s and wasn’t just throwing spaghetti against a wall
to see what would stick. And Josh’s surgeon, Valerae Lewis, M.D., was confident she could
remove the tumor without amputating his leg and hip.

Staying positive

Dr. Lewis performed Josh’s surgery — called an internal hemipelvectomy — on
Jan. 21, 2016. She removed his tumor, part of his pelvis and a lot of
his lower abdominal muscle. Muscle flaps from Josh’s legs were used to
reconstruct his abdomen, and he spent 10 weeks in the hospital and
months afterward regaining his strength in physical therapy.

After his hemipelvectomy, Josh had to say goodbye to snowboarding,
his motorcycle and his career in the military. He developed a bowel
obstruction and a painful ileus after surgery (where the bowel stops
moving stool through the intestines). He also had to use a nasogastric
tube for nourishment for a while. But he maintained a positive
attitude despite it all, and he never let those setbacks get him down.
His tumor had been removed successfully and eventually, he recovered
from the surgery.

The happiest day of my life

Josh proposed to me on May 29, 2016. It was the happiest day of my
life. But a few months later, Josh’s doctors told us that his cancer
had returned. It was spreading rapidly. There were no more treatment
options, so if we wanted to get married, we needed to do it soon.

There wasn’t even a question as to whether or not Josh and I would
go through with our wedding. We both had plans for a future together,
and that included marriage. We also shared a belief that when
something like cancer happens, you don’t put life on hold and wait to
see if the man upstairs is going to give you more time. You live now.

After looking at our options, Josh and I made our engagement party
date our new wedding date. We found the perfect venue in Nashville and
got married on Nov. 12, 2016.

A magical ceremony

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when Josh and I recited our
vows. Everyone could feel the love between us.

The fact that Josh was able to show up at all was a miracle. We’d
spent the week before the wedding in the ICU after his health took a
turn for the worse. We didn’t know if he‘d make it. But Josh had made
me a promise, and he wasn’t going to miss our wedding, even if it
killed him.

My one regret

Josh and I only got to enjoy one month of matrimony before he passed
away. But he is and always will be my one true love. We experienced
things in our short time together that most people never even dream of.

Looking back, I wish more than anything we would’ve gone to MD Anderson for a second opinion
before starting any treatment. Had we done that, I truly
believe that Josh would still be here today, and much of his needless
suffering could’ve been prevented.

One of the things I admired most about my husband was that he never
gave up. He never let cancer define him, and he didn’t let it ruin or
steal the joy from his life. That mindset is why he continues to
inspire me and everyone who knew him — and why his legacy lives on today.

Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by
calling 1-877-632-6789.