‘They found something. I don’t want to ruin your Christmas Eve.’ I sat with my head against the closet, ruined.’: Woman loses husband to Stage 4 Stomach Cancer after multiple misdiagnoses, claims his death ‘saved 3 family members, daughters’

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“In high school I am sure I crossed paths with my husband many times since. We went to the same large school, but we were complete opposites. He was the football player and guy that was always getting into trouble. I was the shy, quiet girl that kept to my small group of friends. I was the girl taking classes for college credits and he was the one trying to get through as a dyslexic.

Courtesy of Autumn Chaptini
Courtesy of Autumn Chaptini

Years later, I was asked to be a bridesmaid in my best friend’s wedding and since she lived out of state, we had a lot of gatherings when she came into town. At one of them, I was introduced to Ray, her fiancé’s friend. I quickly felt at ease with him in a way I had never felt around anyone else. He was a Detroit Public School teacher and loved kids. I was working as a counselor with children. We quickly hit it off and within a few weeks we were living together and planning our future. Within 4 months we became engaged, pregnant, and had a large wedding. After I had our first daughter, I became pregnant quickly after and I remember being upset, thinking, ‘How could I love more than one? Was it unfair to our older daughter to add to our family so quickly?’ I now feel this was all part of a bigger plan.

Courtesy of Autumn Chaptini
Courtesy of Autumn Chaptini
Courtesy of Autumn Chaptini

Shortly after our youngest daughter’s first birthday, we decided to go away on a short vacation. I had searched vacations quite often and could never hit the ‘book’ button because I never wanted to leave the girls. For some reason this time felt different, and we decided to go. This is when I first remember the stomach issues. He was constantly complaining of a stomach ache and needing to use the bathroom.

Courtesy of Autumn Chaptini

Over the next few months, my healthy 30-year-old husband who was never sick, was constantly downing Pepto Bismol. He started eating less than me. His energy level was extremely low and he was missing work, which he never did. He wasn’t the kind of guy who hated doctors or wouldn’t go, so he made an appointment after I pointed out how he was feeling wasn’t normal. Our doctor sent him to see a specialist that diagnosed him with IBS and gave him meds. He still wasn’t feeling right and went back to see the doctor who then ordered a colonoscopy. After having the colonoscopy he couldn’t get off the table he was in so much pain. I knew something wasn’t right. I was watching 80-year-olds get up and walk out.

That night he was running a fever and still in pain, so we were sent to the ER. He spent a few days being observed and was sent home, no diagnosis, follow up with the doctor. The doctor continued prescribing more meds and he continued to lose more weight. My husband noticed that even though he was losing weight, his mid-section was getting bigger and he started using a measuring tape to measure it. One night, he again was in so much pain, we went to the urgent care. The urgent care doctor did some tests and said he needed his appendix out. We were transferred to another hospital system in the area for surgery. When we arrived, that doctor said he didn’t think it was his appendix, kept him overnight to be once again observed and released him in the morning.

I was exhausted, he was exhausted and we wanted/needed an answer. We went back to our primary care physician and she told us she was calling the hospital to have him admitted with the orders to not release him until he had a diagnosis. We all knew from all of his symptoms it wasn’t good – and was getting worse.

Courtesy of Autumn Chaptini

I remember sitting on the floor Christmas Eve in my daughter’s bedroom watching my 1 and 2-year-old play with their dollhouse when my phone rang. It was him. He just said, ‘They found something, but I don’t want to tell you today. I don’t want to ruin your Christmas Eve.’ We hosted Christmas Eve at our house every year and we were having all the family over in a little while. I remember sitting there with my head against the closet thinking my Christmas Eve was already ruined without him there. I remember the tears started streaming down my face even though I tried to keep it together for him and the girls. My older daughter came over and wrapped her arms around my neck because she could tell I was upset. I pulled it together and still hosted Christmas Eve dinner a few hours later.

Courtesy of Autumn Chaptini

That Monday we met with a team of doctors to discuss what they had found, and it wasn’t good. He had stage 4 stomach cancer. Stomach cancer? How? Why? And stage 4? How did the doctors miss this after all the appointments we had and all the tests that had been done?

I was a mess. I didn’t eat and ended up going to the ER myself for anxiety. All I kept thinking about was the girls. Ray was the best dad. He loved kids and all he wanted was to be a dad, and now that was going to be taken away. How would we survive without him? Taking him away was taking away all our future plans.

Courtesy of Autumn Chaptini

He had always found a way to overcome everything, like becoming a teacher even though he was dyslexic. He felt he was going to beat this too. He quickly started chemo and for the next 8 months I watched him deteriorate. Eventually he couldn’t eat or drink because of the tumor and a tube had to be inserted with a bag attached so he could even drink. He reminded me of one of our daughter’s dolls, you feed it the bottle and it ran through the tube right back out. He had food bags that I had to be up at a certain time every morning to hook up and couldn’t go to bed until it was unhooked. The hands-on dad that took his girls everywhere with him could no longer take the noise of the girls being home. He went from the couch to the bed. He had to sit with a heated blanket and fleece pants on even though it was summer because he now weighed less than me.

Courtesy of Autumn Chaptini
Courtesy of Autumn Chaptini

During one of his hospital stays a genetics doctor came in and asked if he wanted to be a part of a study to see if his stomach cancer was genetic. They were finding young Italian males to be diagnosed with it and wanted to see if his had a genetic component. The doctor didn’t think that there would be a link since his grandfather had died of cancer, but in his 80’s. The testing would take months to be completed even though it was a simple test. We agreed there was no reason not to do it, so he had it done.

I spent many nights crying. Why was this happening? I had everything I had ever wanted. Two beautiful, healthy daughters and a husband that loved us and did everything for us. I would go out to eat and look at the family next to me eating dinner and start to cry because I knew we would never be able to go out to dinner as a family again. I remember telling my Dad one time as we were driving to the hospital I couldn’t stop thinking about who would walk the girls down the aisle when they got married. I still struggle at every wedding when this part happens and when the bride dances with her dad.

Courtesy of Autumn Chaptini

August 10, 2010, we decided I needed to go finalize the funeral and cemetery arrangements. At the cemetery they told us we should do it before he died because it was cheaper than if he had already died. Ray had been in hospice care at our home at this point and we knew we didn’t have much time. My dad and I left him with his family and went to finalize the arrangements. As I was signing on the line at the cemetery, his brother called me. ‘I think you should come home,’ he said. I knew right then he had died. I feel like this was his first way of letting me know he was there and giving me a little laugh. One of my biggest fears was him dying while I was there or the only one home. He also was always about saving a dollar and it made me smile to think he saved a buck even on his dying breath. I was literally signing the paperwork when he died.

Courtesy of Autumn Chaptini

If you are living with someone with a terminal illness, as much as you don’t want them to die, you know it is being selfish watching them suffer to stay alive for you. Watching my husband die of stomach cancer was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. He was in so much pain and a shell of himself when he died. It was a relief to see him go and no longer be in pain. The one thing I wish he had known before he died though are the results of the genetic testing… his cancer was genetic. It wasn’t anything he did or didn’t do that caused his cancer. He was going to get stomach cancer if he didn’t get his stomach removed, and since he didn’t know, it was only a matter of time.

So far his mom, aunt, and brother all have had their stomach removed because they carry the gene. My own daughters have to wait till they are 18 to be tested. By him dying, he has provided all of us a gift and maybe, this is the reason why he had to die. I know he would have done anything for his family and he has given his family the knowledge that they could carry the gene for stomach cancer. So far, he has saved 3 family members, and maybe even his own daughters. I have since started a blog to share our story and to raise awareness of stomach cancer. I hope his story, our story, reaches others and brings support and awareness. We miss him every day.”

Courtesy of Autumn Chaptini

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Autumn Chaptini of Macomb, Michigan. You can follow her journey on Instagram and her blog. 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.

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