My late husband, Josh, was diagnosed with stage IV synovial sarcoma — a rare type of soft tissue cancer — in November 2014. He fought the disease bravely for two years, but died of complications on Dec. 13, 2016.
Before Josh passed away, he had black and yellow wristbands made that said, “KEEP GOING/NEVER DIE EASY.” Those words are a constant reminder to me that no matter how hard life gets, I have to persevere. Not only for me, but for Josh and all of the other cancer patients whose lives ended too soon.
Here are three other things I learned from my husband.
Never lose hope
Josh believed that the easiest way to succeed was to always take just one more step. And that’s what he did. Even after receiving bad news, Josh never lost hope. He’d just reframe it as, “So, you say there’s still a chance?” He found power and inspiration in resilience, and loved how challenges pushed him further than he ever thought he could go in order to succeed.
Even before he was diagnosed with cancer, Josh saw life as an incredible gift — and he was going to live the heck out of it as long as he was here. He couldn’t just stand on the sidelines and watch. Even if he got knocked down, he would get back in the fight in this amazing adventure we call life and make the best out of it.
Stay positive in the face of opposition
On my hardest days of missing Josh, I open up his journals and am reminded of how strong he was in the face of adversity. I am constantly inspired to live my life more like he did. I do so by finding purpose in my pain and not letting grief steal my joy.
One thing that hit me pretty hard after Josh died was realizing that at times he felt as though his loved ones were giving up hope. I hate that he felt that way. It took everything Josh had just to stay positive for himself, so I can’t imagine him feeling like he had to do that for his entire support system as well.
In his journal, Josh wrote, “This is just like any other challenge. I feel so good about all of this, and it may just be me being overly positive and somewhat unrealistic, but why not? Why not me?” And he was right. Miracles happen all the time. So why not to me? Or you?
Patients need loved ones to stay positive. They need to know you have hope all the way to the very end. So never lose hope.
Never stop setting goals
One of the last things Josh wrote in his journal was a list of goals. He always kept lists, but this one was made just a few weeks before he died. Among the items on it were: beat cancer, learn, travel and compete.
What amazes me the most is Josh’s use of the word “compete.” On Jan. 21, 2016, he had a major surgery called an internal hemipelvectomy, in which part of his pelvic bone, half of his bladder, and all of the muscles in his lower abdomen were removed. Josh’s MD Anderson surgeon, Valerae Lewis, M.D., used muscle from Josh’s legs to reconstruct his abdomen, and he spent 10 weeks in the hospital recovering and months afterward in physical therapy. Josh was going to come back from this surgery stronger than ever and compete!
Even after being told he was dying, Josh continued to set goals and never gave up hope. He was a warrior until the very end. And it’s this optimistic mindset that allowed him to keep going, and “never die easy,” despite the odds stacked against him. That’s why I believe cancer never really won, even though it took his life in the end.