You and I.
We are all in this together. Let’s face it, the shared human experience is why we exist. It is why we live. The relationships we build are the foundation of everything. So when another life is hurting, one we have touched, or one which has touched our own, we reach out, we give, we help, we love.
The Sunday Series (49): Hearts Wide Open
Bringing a new life into the world is one of the greatest of all human experiences, the chance to witness a miracle, the opportunity to extend the love in your own heart and give it unconditionally to another. An invitation to immortality.
This new life, one Josh Begley could see on the horizon, was the very first thought that ran through his mind when he got the news.
Its been a little more than a year since Josh and his wife Kelsey moved to Maryland from upstate New York. The couple came south for Josh to build his practice as a chiropractor in Cockeysville and help with another in South Baltimore, while Kelsey worked in her profession, as a senior accountant for Stanley Black & Decker. Just five months ago the young couple, Josh, 28 and Kelsey, 27, bought their first home and are just two months away from the birth of their first baby – a boy. “The very first thing that crossed my mind was our son coming in February”, says Josh. “Will I be healthy when our son is born? Everything branched off of that one thought.”
“I was just having run-of-the-mill GI (gastrointestinal) issues.” Apparently there had been some discoloration when Josh went to the bathroom, a problem he couldn’t even see, one which might have been there longer than he cares to imagine, because Josh is colorblind. But whenever or however it started, the decision was made to refer Josh to a GI doctor and order a CT scan and a colonoscopy. “Being a healthcare practitioner I had in the back of my mind it could be some sort of tumor”, says Josh, “but it didn’t fit, age, family history, risk factors, it just didn’t fit. The doctor was pretty blunt, he said the results are back and there is a large tumor in your sigmoid colon and lesions on your liver. That’s when it started to sink in.”
The colonoscopy just days later confirmed the diagnosis: adenocarcinoma. Cancer – Stage IV. Tumors so large and close to Josh’s liver that the cancer is deemed to be inoperable, as too much of the liver would have to be removed. Radiation would also be too toxic for the organ. The only hope, chemotherapy.
A new home, a fresh start to his medical practice, a baby on the way. Josh felt fear, shock and sadness. Josh says Kelsey shared these same thoughts, but she was the one who almost immediately jumped into action. “It’s a team effort and it all starts with Kelsey. Right away she started reading online and getting books and going to Wegmans and Whole Foods and changing our diet to make us as healthy as possible to deal with the chemotherapy. Josh’s family, though miles away in Syracuse, was also jumping into help. “My brother is also a chiropractor”, says Josh. “He started sending me articles night and day about alternative treatments which can help people through this and have found to be effective. He was calling other chiropractors and doctors who have treated cancer. He has been working non-stop to help me. My extended family, aunts and uncles making connections at the best hospitals and making sure I would have the best care in the world. It’s pretty fantastic.”
And that was only one week into Josh and Kelsey’s new life, the life battling the beast. The couple kept the news close to the vest for the first week or so, calling only family and either calling or e-mailing close friends. But as word spread, the couple reached out on social media. Josh says once the “cat was out of the bag on social media”, the love poured in. Letters, e-mails, Facebook posts, phone calls – from grade school teachers, former classmates, other chiropractors, all offering support – emotional and financial.
“In Syracuse I played youth and high school hockey and we were close and have stayed close since then”, says Josh. “Essentially my whole team has reached out to me, saying ‘anything you need, we’ll take you to doctor appointments, cook for you, do whatever it takes to be there for you.’ There was a Broomball League I played in as well, they guys are holding a tailgate/fundraiser soon in Syracuse to raise money.”
Josh played college lacrosse and says there has been huge support from the lacrosse community. He says a former teammate who moved out of the country reached out to him and sent a touching e-mail titled, “Lets Get Better”. Josh didn’t know it, but two years ago his teammate was diagnosed with his own challenging illness, and shared the story of how he has battled back, even as the illness has resurfaced. Josh says this was particularly touching to hear the story from someone his own age who also had to deal with the shocking news and how he has responded. It’s all about the shared experience – hearing from someone else who has walked a mile in your shoes and as Josh told this part of the story you could tell how the commonality of it all has touched him deeply.
For Kelsey, who is carrying another life inside of her own, this has been an incredibly emotional time already and the couple is just getting started. Through tears Kelsey relayed her own thoughts, admitting that when Josh told her the news, the first thing that popped into her own mind was the worst case scenario. But taking action quickly to change the couples’ diet and the assistance from all around them has helped to serve as a distraction. Kelsey says the pregnancy feels OK, but it’s hard to focus on that. “He, (the baby), reminds me he is in there a lot”, she says. “But my life hasn’t really been altered in terms of what I need to do”, she says. Kelsey’s own brother and his wife, who live in Maryland, had a baby one day after Josh’s diagnosis, a blessing right on the heels of the shocking news of the cancer diagnosis. And Kelsey says even with all her brother and sister-in-law have going on, they have been reaching out, offering to help, especially with Kelsey and Josh’s “other kids” – their dogs, Maddie and Ella.
“Josh’s mom came down (from Syracuse), as soon as she heard, says Kelsey, “I think she has been down twice already and she has really helped out, cooking meals, doing the laundry, making our life a little bit easier and not as stressful, taking our minds off things a bit.” Josh’s sister-in-law set up a funding page on YouCaring.org, (http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/help-josh-beat-colon-cancer/259509#.VGObdrKn-oc.mailto), and donations have poured in. In less than a month more than $40,000 of the $50,000 goal has already been raised. Although the couple has insurance, there are still out-of-pocket costs – the first round of chemotherapy is complete, there are alternative treatments Josh is taking part in and his medical practice in Cockeysville has been shut down most of the time since he is the one who treats patients and runs the facility. Josh also helps out at another practice in Fells Point with Dr. Gulitz. Josh says Dr. Gulitz, has been “fantastic about the whole situation. He told me to get well and even told me to send some of my patients down to him and he would treat them.”
The love and support are never-ending. Josh and Kesley say a group of their friends from Syracuse are holding a benefit at the end of December, to raise more money to help them with their out-of-pocket and future expenses. During this time of the year for giving thanks and appreciation, the love is everywhere.
Even with Baby Begley not here yet, the plan is for Josh and Kelsey to have more children, but they know one of the side-effects of the chemotherapy could be sterility, which means they would have to go the route of sperm banks and IVF, which is not covered by insurance. The bottom line is Josh and Kelsey are thinking about the future, not accepting some imminent fate. The prognosis depends on who you ask. Josh says it’s not definitive, but the initial prognosis is anywhere from 6 months – to years, though the oncologist says Josh is unlikely to be cancer-free inside the next 18 months. The next round of chemotherapy is scheduled for this week and if the doctors can shrink the tumors then by early next year surgery could be possible. The journey is just beginning.
What will see the couple through all of this is the same support which has been there since day one. Josh says his biggest takeaway from all of this so far is that people are just good and kind. He says “what it comes down to is when someone is in need, people stepping up and helping one another is amazing and it has been overwhelming for us. It is hard to put into words. The outpouring of love we have received is spectacular. We are asked probably ten times a day, ‘how can we help, what do you need?’ I don’t know what to tell people anymore. I think we are OK for now, until the baby comes.”
Kelsey feels the same, but the emotion of all of this gets to her. Through tears she expressed, “This is not something I would wish upon anyone, but it’s been kind of a blessing with people reaching out, from our community, to strangers. It’s really amazing to see how much support you have around you.” She added, “one of the most thoughtful, selfless, loving things I’ve heard since Josh was diagnosed, or maybe ever, came from Josh’s brother. He said, ‘I wish, like you wouldn’t believe, that I could trade places with you, but God has other plans.”
Right now the plan for Josh and Kelsey is to forge ahead. Work through the present, have hope and faith in the future, in doctors, in treatments, in love and support from all of those around them and prepare to accept a new baby into their world. That one thought – the promise of a new beginning – the miracle of a new life on the horizon – might just the be the greatest motivation of all.
Until next time, thanks for taking the time.
Mark Brodinsky, Author, Blogger, Financial Services
Author of the #1 Amazon Best-Seller: It Takes 2. Surviving Breast Cancer: A Spouse’s Story
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