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Love In The Time of Cancer

Posted on October 17, 2012, 1:34 PM
Love In The Time of Cancer
Photo credit: Sparrow and Crown Photography

By Joel Baumgard

“What’s up with your hair?” As in my shock of white hair that seemed out of place on a guy in his early 40s. It was one of Denise’s first questions, back on our first date in the summer of 2009. I asked her if she wanted the short answer or the long answer. She looked at me and said she wasn’t going anywhere.

I told her that I was terminally ill with cancer. That I have stage IV follicular thyroid cancer that has metastasized to my lungs and is radioiodine resistant. That there are no other cures for thyroid cancer other than radioactive iodine. That I was diagnosed on December 29, 2005 – my son Ross’s first birthday. That, at one point, I was being treated with pazopanib, which had some pretty adverse side effects, including turning my hair from dark brown to white.

How’s that for small talk? But it was the truth – one I didn’t want to hide from a potential partner, and one that had driven others away. Not that I blame them.

Denise, who is a special ed teacher, was different. I told Denise on our first date that I was a train wreck. She went home that night and posted on Facebook, “I love train wrecks.” It was pretty much then and there that I fell in love with this incredible, caring woman. Soon, she was accompanying me to every single doctor’s appointment, there to support me when the news was good and when it wasn’t so good. Now our life is lived three months at a time. That’s the interval between my appointments with my oncologist, when we look at scans and talk about life expectancy and treatment options.

Knowing that eventually my cancer will progress and take my life has changed my entire perspective. I used to define my success by the salary I got, by the awards I received. In November of 1999, I lost my dad to cancer and I was awarded salesman of the month selling Chevrolets. In 2003, I lost my stepdad, who had raised me, to cancer and I was again salesman of the month! Between their passing and my diagnosis, I’ve come to realize that winning “salesman of the month,” the size of your house, or the type of car you drive really don’t matter much at all.

Cancer is the best and worse thing that’s ever happened to me. It has made crystal clear what is important in life – my relationships with my loved ones. That’s why, despite my diagnosis, Denise and I will surround ourselves with family and friends to express our love and get married on October 20th, 2012. So while obviously I wish the circumstances were a little different, I consider myself so blessed for the time I do have to spend with Denise and Ross. 

I wish I could give them so much more in life. Denise and I will not be going on a honeymoon… unless you count a trip back to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN a couple weeks later for our usual routine of scans, treatment options, and discussions about life expectancy. But one thing is for sure: I can give them all my love, as they have done for me. Maybe we’ll celebrate with an extra slice of pie from the hospital cafeteria. No matter what, we’ll have lots to talk about. I don’t feel like a train wreck anymore. But I know Denise – the kindest, most caring, and beautiful woman in the world – still isn’t going anywhere. 

Joel L. Baumgard lives in Brooklyn Park, MN with his fiancée Denise and his 7-year-old son Ross. Joel is a graduate of University of Phoenix. He has worked in the automotive industry since 1996. Joel and Denise’s wedding date is October 20th, 2012.

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Posted by sarah | October 19, 2012 3:20 PM

Tears tears and more tears. This is so beautifully written! Joel you deserve the absolute. Best in life! No matter how long you have or don’t have you have found TRUE love…that my friend I am so happy for you.

Posted by Greta | October 19, 2012 6:03 PM

So happy for you two! So much love!  : )

Posted by Holly | October 20, 2012 9:35 AM

My sister died as a result of complications from breast cancer, and her birthday is on Tuesday. I have been very emotional about this lately. Your post helped me to see beyond my pain and realize that every moment I am here on this earth is precious and should not be wasted on sadness and pain. I need to look at every day as a miracle and not take it for granted, and to spend as much time as I can with my family and friends but especially with my 3 little boys. Thank You!!

Posted by Shelby smith | October 20, 2012 9:38 AM

And may you have as much time as possible to love one an other

Posted by Angie Carter | October 20, 2012 9:39 AM

Wow, I am actually jealous that you have the love I have ached for and searched for ..  after having the love of my life walk away because he doesn’t want to be a burden to me, selfishly believing that he is saving me from grief and heartache in the long term.  How I wish he would share the time he has with me.
I am so grateful that you have accepted and cherish the love Denise has for you and that you are committing your life to her today.. I KNOW you will cherish every second together, and make wonderful memories. I am so thankful for Denise and her love for you, what an amazing woman, an amazing man, and a wonderful story.. God is good.. I will be praying for your healing..

Posted by Jacquie Laskey | October 20, 2012 9:39 AM

Wishing you a blessed and joyful wedding day with many memories to share.  Positive attitude, spending time with loved ones and making memories is the lifeline. 

Posted by Shane | October 20, 2012 9:41 AM

Wow.  Incredible story.  Best to both of you.

Posted by shari duff | October 20, 2012 9:41 AM

I am so heartened by your story.  My husband just went thru chemotherapy, radiation, and numerous scans.  We know your lifestyle well. Not one of us ever knows the day or hour we will leave this earth. It is not in our hands. Enjoy the love, give the love, and be grateful (as I’m sure you are) for every single minute. This disease DOES indeed teach you what is important in life and my husband and I are learning to live and love each day we wake up as if it is the most special day of our lives. You are winning, and you will keep winning with love of your fiance’ and love for others…much happiness to you both.  I just realized TODAY is your wedding day. May you have the happiest of marriages because you are going into it with so much more of an understanding of what life is truly about…...Much love and happiness!

Posted by Christiane Lamont | October 20, 2012 9:52 AM

Miracle happen every day….keep the faith, live love and laught…

All the best, you are in my prayers..

Posted by Dianne | October 20, 2012 9:52 AM

What a blessing that you found one another. My best wishes for a beautiful wedding day, Joel & Denise. May the love that you share so fill your souls that those appointment intervals just fade to the background of your special life.

Posted by Maryann Dingman | October 20, 2012 9:59 AM

I am absolutely in awe of your courage and willingness to share such an intimate part of your life with complete strangers.  My brother has been diagoned with follicular cancer and is currently being treated.  I pray his prognosis is one of many more years and I am adding you today to those prayers.  Joel and Denise, I wish you love and many years together.

Posted by JP | October 20, 2012 10:06 AM

Lovely words, hope the Lord give you more time with your love ones… Keep it strong and God Bless you…

Posted by Rich Holderrieth | October 20, 2012 10:06 AM

Congratulations to you Joel, and your lovely bride. May God grant you a lenghty stay so you and your wife can enjoy each other to the fullest. GOD BLESS! My prayers are with you.

Posted by karen parent | October 20, 2012 10:06 AM

hi my name is karen. i got breast and cervical cancer. i want to tell you two gods with you always. i hopegods blessings will watch over you both.

Posted by Ron Hanney | October 20, 2012 10:07 AM

Congratulations onyour very special wedding day! All God’s very best to you both! smile

Posted by karissa | October 20, 2012 10:13 AM

You deserve the world! I agree once you are faced with your own mortality you see what’s really important in life. The people you love! I am so happy for you! Congrats!

Posted by Ronnie | October 20, 2012 10:18 AM

Beautiful story!

Might i suggest that you consider reading or listening to the book Dying to be Me by Anita Moorjani. In it, Anita relates her experience after fighting cancer for almost four years that had ultimately spread throughout her system. She had a near death experience and when she regained consciousness found that her condition had improved rapidly.Anita shares all that she learned from her experience about illness, healing,fear,being love, and the true magnificence of each and every human being.

I gave the audiobook to a friend with stage 4 cancer and it has brought her much comfort and hope.

All my best to you both.

Posted by Barbara | October 20, 2012 10:25 AM

Congratulations on this very special day! :>

Your story is so fantastic & emotional!  Enjoy every day with each other.. you are both an inspiration to all!!

Posted by Patti | October 20, 2012 10:47 AM

Congratulations!!!!  Wishing you and your family much joy and happiness!!!

Posted by Nicole | October 20, 2012 10:49 AM

Congratulations on your marriage. May you have all the happiness the world has to offer!!;-)

Posted by teresa | October 20, 2012 10:50 AM

Godbless you both

Posted by Asad Javed | October 20, 2012 10:52 AM

life dos not ends with cancer ....... you found your true love that will make you remaining life charming and i prayer Allah for your lang and happy life…....may you both live together happy and forever…..

Posted by Rod Mc Gaha | October 20, 2012 10:55 AM

Joel & Denise may God shower with his love a mercy on this day all to follow. Not many people can say they have and know true love in their lives, I believe you both can say you have . God bless you and Congratulations on your Wedding Day. I only wish I could have officiated it for you:-)!

Posted by Jackie | October 20, 2012 11:07 AM

I’m in Minnesota too!  Joel, I’m sending you healing prayers.  Believe in God, he can do miracles.  I think it’s great you two are getting married.  I’m praying for a total healing and many happy years of marriage ahead for you two.

Posted by Kelly | October 20, 2012 11:24 AM

Many, many blessings to you and your family Joel!  Congratulations on your wedding day and finding the love of your life.  God Bless You!

Posted by Kat | October 20, 2012 11:32 AM

Congratulations Deni and Joel and of course Ross.
Today being your wedding day as I read this.  I cried, yes.  I also felt immense joy for you both.  No matter how long and short the time you have?  you have love and THAT is the only thing in life that really matters.
Enjoy and relish i your happieness NOW.  That is all we really have, NOW. Any of us.

I would give anythig t have my love back(yes, lost him to Prostrate Cancer)but I KNEW true love and though I only had him for 23 years? that’s more than I had before I met him.
I live on the memories now.

Posted by Louisa | October 20, 2012 11:35 AM

Wishing you many blessings on this very special day.  You already have what most people yearn for - unconditional love.

Posted by Joan Burton | October 20, 2012 11:35 AM

God bless you both! Congratulations! Wishing you the very, very best.

Posted by Terry Myers | October 20, 2012 11:47 AM

I am a cancer survivor,there’s so much hope!.You are in my prayers,as that was what helped me! You have a very special love with Denise and son. That’s what life is all about!
Good luck to you and your family! I pray everyone can find someone special.

Posted by Bobby Walls | October 20, 2012 12:40 PM

God bless you and wishing you both many years of happiness..

Posted by Tatiana | October 20, 2012 12:43 PM

So inspirational… thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing your story. It gives more hope and more faith. God bless you.

Posted by Silvana | October 20, 2012 1:25 PM

Congratulations on your WEDDING! and for finding the love of your life. Doctors may say “terminal”, but with your attitude you will live many many many years!!!!!

Posted by Karen | October 20, 2012 1:26 PM

Congratulations to you both. When my husband and I first got together his voice was a little horse and as the months went on it got worse. He’s children and friends kept asking him to have it checked which he finally did when I told him I would be there every step, which I was. What you don’t know is we went to high school together, no we didn’t date nor did we hang out with the same group of friends. We reconnected thru FB. lol He also lived in upstate NY and I live on Long Island NY. Yes I made the trip for every procedure and every appointment that was important. We just got married July 7th. So far he is still in remission but it hasn’t been a year yet since his last treatment and he just had a follow up PET scan so… As you know we are keeping our fingers crossed but not letting it run our lives. God Bless you both, you are in my prayers.

Posted by kay | October 20, 2012 2:14 PM

Hope you had a beautiful wedding day.  You are courageous, to say the least.  I, too have a nasty cancer, ovarian.  3 yr. survivor.  Never stop fighting!!  Live life to the fullest, and a special thought goes out to Denise.  My husband is a real gift, so supportive in so many ways… good luck to both of you!!

Posted by Gerry & Joe | October 20, 2012 2:22 PM

Dear Joel & Denise….My husband and I send you blessings and love. The story you have written is beautiful, and God must have put your loving Denise in your life for a reason. That is how I feel about my husband, Joseph. We have only been with each other since 1999 after both of us going through a divorce. We knew each other as friends back in the day when I was in college. We went in separate directions for 20 years and Joe looked for me in 1999. We became walking partners, then a couple in love. We lived with each other and was married 2 years ago. He is also the love pf my life. Eight years ago, one year after my mother passed from ovarian cancer, he was diagnosed with colon cancer. On what would have been his 8 year cancer free anniversary, he was diagnosed with stage IV stomach cancer. That was this past May. He has been fighting ever since and I am right along side of him. This cancer is not related to the first. It is different. He is also terminal and we try not to focus on the time element because his plans are different from what he’s been told. We want to remain positive. I know you understand how difficult it is. I want you to know that we are praying for you, Denise and your son. God Bless you…Gerry & Joe…from Massachusetts.

Posted by Mande | October 20, 2012 3:14 PM

God Bless you and your family

You are in our prayers and we are beliveing in total healing for our Father is our healer. Best wishes on your wedding day.

Posted by linda | October 20, 2012 3:54 PM


Posted by Rebecca | October 20, 2012 4:01 PM

What an inspiring story! Joel you are genuine! You have found the love of your life! What a special couple you are! I think its better to find that positive resource in your life to keep you strong and able to fight harder. Thank you for showing me how to SU2C!!!! Very happy or you! Love to you both and congratulations!!!!

Posted by marie | October 20, 2012 9:32 PM

My payers are with you

Posted by kb | October 21, 2012 1:59 AM

WOW I am not ALONE… husband and I just married in July.  He was diagnosed in February 2012 with brain cancer, We had been dating for 3 years, and I couldnt just walk away.  We got him through surgery and treatments.  Decided to get married and that is what we did.  Today he is 8 months post diagnosis, we know the odds arent good, but our love is stronger.  Congratulations and I pray for healing and strength for everyone effected by cancer!

Posted by Michele | October 21, 2012 5:32 AM

What a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing. I only wish that others had your crystal clear perception of life and what’s really important.  Wishing you all a “lifetime” of happiness, regardless of how long it may be!!!  Congratulations!

Posted by Christine | October 21, 2012 6:19 AM

Congratulations Joel and Denise! What a beautiful reminder that we shouldn’t sweat the small stuff and instead, we should remain focused on our relationships with our loved ones.

Posted by Tracey Benzel | October 22, 2012 7:20 PM

Congrats on your nuptials. Sounds like you were blessed to meet such an understanding and caring person. Bless you both. I found your words profound and words to live by everyday.

“Cancer is the best and worse thing that’s ever happened to me. It has made crystal clear what is important in life – my relationships with my loved ones.”

Posted by Joel and Denise | October 22, 2012 8:20 PM

Thank you for all the thoughts, prayers and well wishes as Denise and I shared a beautiful day with family and friends! We are touched and blessed beyond words! Thank you!

Posted by jf | October 28, 2012 12:43 PM

Hi Joel & Denise - hope that you are enjoying married life so far! I, too, battled thyroid cancer. What a strange disease, isn’t it? I was given the all-clear earlier this year, but was just recently diagnosed with leukemia a few days ago, so the fight continues! I’m so glad that you both have each other to get through this together. You hit the nail on the head when you said that cancer changes your perspective, and it makes love seem that much more of a beautiful gift. smile Best wishes to you both, and keep fighting the good fight!

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