WHAT IS

For most of us, it’s difficult to imagine receiving our spouse’s Stage 4 cancer diagnosis on our 31st birthday.  It’s difficult to imagine holding our 6-month old daughter while discussing treatment plans, researching side effects, and still trying to work and lead a normal life.  It’s difficult to imagine coming to terms with the certainty of our husband’s death at a young age.

For Angel, this is reality.

And she’ll be the first person to tell you that she’s not the only one walking this road. “For a while after Kevin’s death it felt like I was the only one who’d been widowed with young children at such a young age.  And then I started to hear other stories and realize that I’m not the only one going through this, that there are lots of people whose spouses die and are even worse off. And you realize, that’s life. It is what it is, and you have to remember that life is what you make it.”

Upon Kevin’s diagnosis, he and Angel worked hard to keep everything as simple and normal as possible, even though life quickly became the furthest from normal that they could have imagined. Angel, who kept her funny, witty, irreverant tone throughout the course of Kevin’s treatment, was determined to make the best of a shitty situation by focusing on the positive rather than on what was clearly out of their control. The two of them determined to shift their focus away from the unknowns and the “what ifs” and instead focus on what IS - on the present moment, on the importance of being together and with their family, on saying the things that needed to be said and doing the things that needed to be done.

Now, 15 months after Kevin’s death, Angel continues to focus on each moment as it comes. Here’s a peek into 3 aspects of her current reality.

A shift in perspective. Kevin’s diagnosis abruptly and definitively divided their lives into 2 chapters: Life Pre-Cancer and Life Post-Cancer.  Before cancer, Angel shares, she lived her daily life without much of a perspective on a bigger picture. She was going through the motions, doing what she thought she should do in order to accomplish the things she thought she should accomplish. Before cancer, she didn’t really understand what it meant for someone - particularly someone so young - to be diagnosed, to face treatments, to encounter the possibility, and the reality, of death.

It was after Kevin’s passing that Angel noticed her perspective shifting.  The things that had seemed so important before - making money, achieving “success”, being an overachiever - didn’t matter.  The momentum of her life changed. The important things? Taking time to be with her children and reminding them of who their dad was.  Spending time with friends and family. Traveling, with and without the kids. Enjoying simple tasks like gardening. Sharing her newfound perspective with us: “Stop complaining. Take time to enjoy one another. Smell the roses. Do what you want. And remember that each day is a gift.”

The Second Year Slump. “Widowing the 2nd year comes with its own challenges,” Angel says. “Different ones from the first, and they’re not talked about as much. In the first year, everyone checks on you. The first Christmas, first anniversary, first birthday.  You anticipate the breakdowns, the emotional roller coaster, the anxiety of those dates because there is so much hype around them.” For Angel, those breakdowns and that roller coaster never materialized.  She got out of bed each morning. There were no crazy outbursts, no uncontrollable tears.  The firsts came and went. Each day she could think about what they had been doing on that date the previous year and have a memory of Kevin, so it was easy to feel like he was still around. “But the day after the first anniversary of his death - that was hard. All the anticipation of the firsts was gone, and Kevin was still gone. And then it’s like, Now what? Now what do I do?”

As Angel works through her second year of widowing, she faces many new questions: How do you mark those significant days now that they’re 2nds? Is it okay not to celebrate, okay for those dates to just be dates now? When she thinks about what she was doing a year ago, she’s faced with the reality that Kevin wasn’t around and that her daily memories with him are now 2 years old. She notes, “I have to remember that life goes on. That the world still turns. That my children and my well-being are my main focus.  So I wake up and put on my big girl panties and go through the day just like anyone else.”

The importance of continuing Kevin’s legacy.

Angel is amazed to see the ways that her kids’ personalities and mannerisms mimic Kevin’s in spite of how young they were when they lost him. One of her top priorities is ensuring that their children, now 5 and 3, know who their father was, and she is grateful for the many family and friends who regularly share their stories.  “Most important,” Angel says, “I want them to know that their father was a warrior. Someone who never gave up, who never slowed down. Someone who was a fighter till the very end. That’s why Packed Kits is so important. It’s Kevin’s legacy, and he wanted us to continue. It’s a reminder that even during the worst times, something great can come; that during the hard times, family comes together to stay by your side.”

Kevin and Angel’s cancer journey provided them with an unexpected gift - new relationships with people they love, respect, and cherish.  In particular, Angel mentions their doctors and nurses: “These people stood by our sides and went above and beyond patient care to become our friends and family.” Packed Kits is a nod to them.  It’s a nod to Kevin, a valiant warrior who continued to baffle the medical world with his tenacity while remaining humble, respectful, and courageous. And it’s a nod to the patients currently going through cancer treatments, a way to encourage them to keep going and to get through the tough times, to hold tight to peace, to know they are always loved, and to f*ck cancer.