Written in loving memory of a dear friend’s beautiful mother who passed as this article was in production.
Behind every survivor and every fighter, there blossoms a true love story. Whether it’s a daughter gently holding her mother’s hand, a dear friend embracing another, or a husband wiping a tear from the cheek of his wife, true love embodies and emanates from the Susan G. Komen Denver Race for the Cure. This Sunday, as a sea of pink charges the Pepsi Center in in celebration of life, in commemoration of loved ones, and in solidarity against breast cancer, these love stories will prevail. And, 303 was lucky enough to sit down with one of the most inspiring love stories of all – the story of Sarah.
April – Sarah began to notice a lingering pain in her chest. However, she and a friend had recently begun one of Denver’s infamous boot camp fitness workouts, and Sarah figured she over-exerted on a fly press and had torn a pectoral muscle. A few weeks later, Sarah and her husband happily discovered that they were expecting their first child; and, while the pain in her chest remained, the couple presumed pregnancy’s effects on a woman’s body to be the culprit.
July - Seventeen weeks later at a routine checkup at the University of Colorado Hospital (UCH) Center for
Midwifery, Sarah mentioned to her midwife that the pain in her chest continued to linger and that the lump had grown larger — from a grape to a tennis ball. The midwife intuitively suggested she visit the UCH Diane O’Connor Thompson Breast Center for an ultrasound. The ultrasound revealed a tumor and in the following weeks, Sarah and her husband awaited the results of her biopsy.
Our whole world was so different then.
Throughout these weeks, Sarah and Ryan focused on their new role as parents. While other family members remained concerned about the test results, the couple resumed their daily lives, anxious to find out the gender of their baby.
August - On August 6th, Sarah and Ryan returned to the hospital, eagerly awaiting the exciting news of their little one. During the appointment, doctors from the the UCH Breast Center caught wind that the couple was in the hospital. In an act of compassion (that the couple praises has been characteristic of the hospital staff), the oncologists made a personal visit to Sarah and Ryan. In one appointment the doctors delivered the news: Sarah is carrying a healthy baby boy, and she is also battling breast cancer. Looking back, Sarah recalls, “Our whole world was so different then.”
Like pregnancy, cancer offers its own timelines and milestones. A pregnant woman measures in trimesters, marking significant dates with cherished moments — hearing the heartbeat, finding out the gender, feeling the first kick. A woman with cancer measures in signs of progress – rounds of chemotherapy, the loss of hair, the mastectomy.
To date, Sarah has undergone three rounds of chemotherapy. The baby continues to develop healthily inside his mother. In November, Sarah will undergo a double mastectomy; shortly after, Sarah and Ryan will welcome their first child.
However, neither pregnancy nor cancer can be summed up by its individual dates on a calendar. Both represent an emotional journey of moments — moments that undoubtedly have fostered and nourished the couple’s love for each other.
First Round of Chemotherapy
Sarah began the first round of chemotherapy on the same day as her and her husband’s second wedding anniversary, and the day after they moved into their new home. The couple jokes that they received a number of cards during those weeks, and they tried to guess the contents of each card: New home? New baby? New job? Cancer? As they share this story and a moment of laughter, they gaze into each other’s eyes in appreciation for those little moments.
I told Sarah… that every inch of her hair we cut, every inch of her hair that falls out to every inch of her hair as it grows back – they all make her more beautiful to me – inch-by-inch.
They say one of the best cures for cancer is found in a constant and supportive spouse. Upon Sarah’s diagnosis, Ryan spent numerous hours researching exactly how to provide that support. Sure, he needs a golf game every now and then, but his priority remains the love of his life. Sarah and Ryan rely on each other more than ever these days. Upon beginning chemotherapy, Sarah’s immune system remains too weak to travel, rendering her unable to visit her family back East. She can rarely go out in public (she hasn’t been to the grocery store since July), making it difficult to meet friends.
However, Ryan dutifully remains her constant companion. Every morning the couple takes a walk, hand-in-hand, before he heads off to work and every night Ryan rushes home to cook dinner for Sarah. And, as they shared their story with me and talked of their relationship, the couple often caught each other’s glances, and smiled.
Sarah has always had long, golden hair. When she was diagnosed with cancer, she felt as though she was losing a part of her feminine identity. However, after the chemo began and her hair started falling out, she embraced a different outlook. First, she regarded the loss of hair as a good sign – it meant the chemo was working. Second, losinghair is painful, and subsequently, “annoying.” One day, in a brave act of defiance against the cancer, she determined to shave it all. In supportive solidarity, Ryan shaved his head as well. He now endearingly calls his wife “patches” and “peaches.” Ryan writes, “I told Sarah… that every inch of her hair we cut, every inch of her hair that falls out to every inch of her hair as it grows back – they all make her more beautiful to me – inch-by-inch.”
After shaving her head, Sarah visited Wigs Today in Cherry Creek. She was overwhelmed by their compassion and kindness, and describes her experience with the staff fondly. However, doesn’t always wear her wig. Ina moment of raw feeling and emotion, she describes her first experience going out in public with only a hat, “ Everyone is just going about their lives as normal, bustling to get their errands and daily tasks done, and you’re dealing with something so much bigger. I wish I could just run errands around town and stress about whether our house would be decorated cute for our dinner guests. But instead I’m worrying about keeping my life, fighting Cancer, and whether I’ll be there for a future with Ryan and our son.”
Sarah and Ryan both confidently look forward to their future as a family. Ryan says, “The last bad news we had was that Sarah has cancer. Everything since then has been good news.” The chemotherapy appears to be working and the mass in Sarah’s chest continues to shrink. Last month, Sarah’s close family and friends surprised her with a baby shower in Denver, her mother and mother-in-law each sewing curtains and bed skirts for the nursery. And, they have big plans for next August — a second honeymoon to celebrate their third anniversary and her successful battle against breast cancer.
The 20th Susan G. Komen Denver Race for the Cure takes place this Sunday, October 7th. You may register online until October 6 at noon. You may also register the day of the event between 6:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. at the Registration Tent (located at in the east parking lot of the Pepsi Center, closest to Speer Boulevard).
To keep up with Sarah’s story, please visit her CaringBridge.org site.
Kaelyn Gustafson is the Desk Editor for Health and Sports at 303 Magazine. She is an avid runner, eager cyclist, and yogi-lovin’ Denver enthusiast. Follow her posts on Twitter.