‘Something had changed. He’d never be the same again. I came undone. I was losing my husband.’: Mom loses husband to cancer shortly after giving birth

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“‘You’re not dying now, but I do believe this cancer will be the cause of your death.’ I’ll never forget these words. Alex and I had only been married six months and found ourselves in the hospital because of a sudden seizure he had. This was the day we found out his brain tumor had come back; a day where doctors’ numeric and scientific words crushed us. I remember being angry at the doctor and asked her to leave, demanding to only speak with Alex’s oncologist who we loved and trusted. How could some stranger say these words to us? She didn’t know Alex’s history or our story. She wasn’t God. I wasn’t going to let her words take away my hope or my fight, but little did I know how her words would haunt me.

Karis Marie Photography

Alex was the life of the party. Hilarious, crazy, and everyone’s best friend. He was wild, but also steadfast, faithful, empathetic, and loyal. I was drawn to him instantly, and after our first date, I knew I would marry him. We dated for four months, were engaged for six months and got married June 5th, 2016. That day was so magical and something I will always cherish. The feeling of being with your person and dreaming of all the exciting things to come is like nothing else.

Karis Marie Photography

Four years before I met Alex, he had been diagnosed with a grade II brain tumor. Cancer didn’t stand a chance against him. He was so brave and fought so courageously. He did the usual surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments and before he knew it, he was in remission and back to normal.

Courtesy of Kelsey Daiber

Alex and I talked about getting married pretty early on. I remember Alex questioning if he should get married, have kids, or even dream about potential future opportunities because he knew his prognosis wasn’t good and that his life would be a lot shorter than most. I told him I wanted to marry him no matter what. We realized maybe our marriage would be shorter, and that his cancer could come back at any point, but I wasn’t going to let the fear of the unknown stop me from saying yes to the man of my dreams. This is how we continued to live out our lives together. We put our trust completely in the Lord and knew he had good plans for us no matter what.

Karis Marie Photography
Karis Marie Photography

When his tumor came back six months into our marriage, we truly believed Alex would beat it and go into remission again. We always knew there wasn’t a cure, but we had so much hope and were going to fight no matter what. He had his second brain surgery and I was amazed at how well he did. He was back to his normal self in no time! Things were looking so hopeful.

Courtesy of Kelsey Daiber
Courtesy of Kelsey Daiber

We had been praying for awhile about whether or not to try and get pregnant. All Alex ever wanted was to be a husband and a father. I wanted to give both of those things to him. The tumor was almost gone again after the surgery and we had a small window we could try to get pregnant before he started taking chemotherapy, so we went for it – and got pregnant! Looking back it is crazy to see the Lord’s hand in that. We only had one shot to try and get pregnant and we did. Our sweet son was always supposed to be a part of this story. Enjoying pregnancy was the best distraction for us both and continued to give us hope.

Courtesy of Kelsey Daiber
Courtesy of Kelsey Daiber

Two months before our son was born in April of 2018, Alex started to slowly decline. He was experiencing left sided weakness in his arms and legs, making it harder for him to walk, pick things up, etc. A couple weeks before our due date, it got a lot worse. We met with our oncologist and neurosurgeon. They believed Alex’s tumor may have progressed to a grade IV glioblastoma multiforme, the worst kind of brain tumor you can have. Our only options were surgery or Avastin, the only chemotherapy option left; all the others were not working to shrink the tumor.

Courtesy of Kelsey Daiber

We decided to move forward with the surgery followed by Avastin a month after the surgery. The timing was terrible. I went into labor five days before Alex’s scheduled surgery. Those five days were a whirlwind. I was filled with so many emotions. Our friends and family gathered in the hospital again to pray over us and sit with me as I waited to see if Alex would make it. I remember walking down these long, cold, white hallways to go see my husband, my heart pounding out of my chest. I saw it right away. He was not the same. Something had changed, and I knew he would never be the same again. This is where I came undone. I was losing my husband.

Karis Marie Photography

For months I had shoved down the dark thoughts. I had so many thoughts and questions and fears. This was the point I began to grieve Alex knowing that one day soon I would lose him. I would cry myself to sleep alone in our bed praying that God would heal him. I begged God not to take him from me or Ezra. I asked God, ‘Why? Why now?’ Alex had just become a dad. I couldn’t imagine my life without Alex. I didn’t know how I would raise our son alone and it killed me to think Ezra would never fully know his dad. I was watching my husband slowly die.

Courtesy of Kelsey Daiber
Courtesy of Kelsey Daiber

I began to question the Lord’s faithfulness. I would bargain with God saying I will endure this suffering if he ultimately heals Alex. I heard the doctors’ calculations and statistics of how long Alex might have over and over in my head. I heard them say, ‘We hope he beats the odds.’ Somewhere in the midst of these dark thoughts, I had to ask God to remind me of his faithfulness. To fill me with his spirit and strength to say I trust you Lord. During this time I was reminded that one day, none of us will have to suffer anymore and our hope is in eternity. I tried to have open hands remembering that nothing in this world is mine and I don’t deserve anything. I clung tightly to the blessings and faithfulness of the Lord and I really only was able to do this because of Alex. He was stronger than me; a fighter through and through. He continued to be positive, honest, bold, hilarious, and always trusting the Lord.

Courtesy of Kelsey Daiber

He encouraged me to pray even when I didn’t want to and I was angry with God. He had the ability to share his fears and doubts, but say that God is still good. This is not always easy for me to do and I wasn’t even the one with cancer! I always joked with Alex that if it were me in his shoes, I would be a hot, emotional, complaining mess always. Alex hardly complained or got frustrated, but rather learned to manage his situation and stay positive. Yes, he wasn’t perfect and I know he struggled with his situation, but he always impressed and inspired me.

Courtesy of Kelsey Daiber

For almost two months after his surgery we were managing. Somehow, I was able to be a full-time caregiver for my husband and a full-time giver for my son. It was exhausting emotionally and physically. I wanted to give all my attention to Alex, while also all of my attention to my newborn. It was a constant juggle and we could not have done it without all the help from our families and friends. The Lord gave me strength to endure. Most times when I look back on this time of our lives, I don’t know how I did it. I loved Alex with everything in me that I would do anything for him. I wanted to remain strong for him and shower him with love and positivity. I was lifting my 230-pound husband in and out of bed, getting him dressed, feeding him, helping him use the bathroom, bathing him, and much more. I remember thinking, ‘I don’t know how people are caregivers for loved ones for years on end.’ It was the hardest thing I have ever done.

Courtesy of Kelsey Daiber

Alex continued to get worse and weaker to the point of being bed ridden. His tumor reaching a size where the doctors believed there was nothing else they could do for him. I was the one who had to break that news to Alex. It was terrible. You never want to have to say those words to a loved one, let alone anyone. We laid together and cried for a long time. We talked about good memories in our marriage and how much we loved each other and were thankful for one another. ‘I am with you until the end. You are not, nor will ever be, alone. We still have hope and trust in the Lord,’ I reassured him. Somehow through the tears we were able to share some laughs and sweet kisses. Little did I know this would be the last intentional conversation I would have with my husband.

Courtesy of Kelsey Daiber

We went home with hospice care and lots of people came to see us. At first Alex was able to communicate with people and process what was happening. We got to have some hard conversations that I’m really thankful for to this day. He shared some of his wishes and expressed all that he needed to. I was there to help him process and encourage him. ‘Ezra and I will be ok,’ I told him, even though deep down I doubted if we would be. What stood out to me the most during this time were the friends of Alex’s that came everyday and talked to him normally. They weren’t there to say goodbye, they were there for him and to be with him. They would leave at night and say, ‘See you tomorrow, we love you man, were here for you!’

Karis Marie Photography
Karis Marie Photography
Karis Marie Photography

We had only been home a week and Alex had digressed a lot. He was no longer talking, in and out of consciousness, and his body was very evidently failing him. All week we had been talking about how all his best friends were coming into town on Friday to spend time with him. By the time Friday came, he had declined even more. His breathing was more shallow, his skin was splotchy, he was unconscious, and no longer eating or drinking. This whole time I rarely left his side, but for the past day and a half, I had been glued to him. I was so concerned about his current state, constantly checking his pulse, kissing him, helping to suction him from all the secretions that were draining out of him, and reminding him how much I loved him. The nurses gave me relief from time to time, but I didn’t want anyone else to do it. I wanted to care for him and be with him. I wanted this to end, I couldn’t bear seeing him like this, but I also couldn’t let him go.

Karis Marie Photography
Karis Marie Photography

That Friday evening, a few of his friends stayed around longer to help me and comfort me. It was then that the hospice nurse spoke up. ‘Have you said goodbye to Alex, and let him know it is OK for him to go?,’ she asked. She stressed the importance of this and how he had so much to fight for. I couldn’t handle what she was saying and refused to do that. Alex’s friends encouraged me to try, and began doing it themselves. I was sobbing, in denial, not ready, afraid. They then let us have some privacy. I finally told him it was OK for him to let go. ‘I’m scared. I don’t want to do this without you, but I will keep fighting and living to raise our son,’ I shared with him, honestly. ‘This isn’t goodbye. We will one day all be together in Heaven,’ I reminded him.

‘I love you so much. I have no regrets,’ I told him.

He was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Courtesy of Kelsey Daiber

His friends and the nurse came back in and within minutes, his pulse dropped and his breathing slowed. We all gathered around him and prayed and reassured Alex he wasn’t alone. I was there, Ezra was there, and so were his best friends. We celebrated that he was about to meet Jesus and be cancer free. I was lying on his chest listening to his heartbeat until I didn’t hear it anymore.

He was with Jesus on August 5th, 2018, around 1:30 a.m. I had to be pulled off of him and carried to a couch so they could take his body away. I was in shock and unable to function. People immediately started cleaning things up, making arrangements, and all I wanted was for everyone to stop so I could wake up from this terrible nightmare.

Courtesy of Kelsey Daiber

All my close friends came into town and literally carried me through the week leading up to his memorial service. They would bring me my baby to nurse and take care of him while I sobbed on the bed. They let me process and grieve in whatever way I needed. Alex and I have both always had amazing friends in our lives and an even more amazing community from our church, Sojourn, that we attended together. These are the people who continue to help me get through each and every day. They point me to Jesus, watch Ezra, feed me food, cry with me, laugh with me, force me to do fun things, process with me, and so much more. Because of Alex and his legacy, Ezra and I will always be cared for.

Courtesy of Kelsey Daiber
Karis Marie Photography

Since Alex passed away I have had a radical shift of living and thinking. I am living in intense grief, missing Alex always, feeling like I won’t make it as a single mom, crippled by loneliness, anxious about Ezra not having a dad, fearful of our future, unable to process all of my emotions, and so much more. But in all of this, I also have this new understanding of eternity with Jesus and this earth not being our home. Heaven gets a little more real when you have a loved one there. I am crushed but not destroyed because of Jesus. I’ve never felt more thankful for the hope and promises that come through Him. My mind has shifted from worldly things to eternal things in a greater way than before. This life here is so temporary and sometimes that’s a hard thing to grasp, but God is changing that in me and I know he has good things in store for Ezra and me.

Until he calls us home to be with Alex, we will continue to live our lives for God’s glory.”

Karis Marie Photography
Karis Marie Photography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kelsey Daiber of Fairfax, Virginia. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read more stories from those experiencing grief and loss:

‘John was my PATIENT, and I was married. With tears streaming down my face, I looked at him. ‘Do you want to get married?’ We held each other in the tightest hug, and just sobbed. Hard.’

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