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My Husband’s Cancer Diagnosis Taught Me About Strength in the Face of Chaos and Uncertainty

Arlie taught me how to stay resilient through the most challenging times.

 PRO Stock Professional/ Shutterstock
 PRO Stock Professional/ Shutterstock

I’m no stranger to uncertainty and chaos.  I think we’ve all spent some time in the ring with the formidable foes that are uncertainty, fear, doubt, confusion, anger, and grief. The monster known as hardship is an unpredictable beast, and it strikes in the unseen places that can cripple you to the core. Right now, we’re all feeling a bit overwhelmed by different forms of uncertainty, chaos, and hardship. It’s something I’ve surely put in a few rounds with before, and what helped me was having people to support me through it, to tell me that I wasn’t alone, and knowing that others had faced hardships before as well. So if you’re dealing with hardship, uncertainty, or chaos right now, I want to teach you a lesson my late husband taught me about facing uncertainty, chaos, and hardship. I think that if he inspires me to face this pandemic the way that he faced terminal cancer — head-on and with vengeance — maybe you will be able to take some of Arlie’s fight and apply it to your own monsters. At least, that’s my hope.

On March 14th, 2020, my seven-year-old niece spent the night for her birthday date with auntie. We had planned to wake up early and ski at Eldora, which is only an hour’s drive from my house. We were so excited! I had heard a couple of things about the virus, but I was happily focused on the matter at hand — a seven-year-old’s birthday sleepover and ski day. I was so focused on this that waking to the news that all ski resorts were ordered closed by Governor Polis was actually a huge surprise.

Maybe this is more serious than I thought.” 

It was like we had received the official diagnosis and the prognosis was not good. Medical diagnoses seem to have a particular amount of chaos, uncertainty, and hardship, don’t they? 

After that awakening, I found that I no longer could fall asleep with ease and sleep through the night as was the usual (most of the time). Instead of turning off the TV and resting quietly until I fell asleep, as was my usual habit, I only fell asleep when I passed out. When I woke up during the night, I couldn’t fall back to sleep.  I had to resort to playing music throughout the night to calm myself. The chaos and uncertainty started to release waves of energy inside of me at odd hours. It was a reminder of another hardship I’ve endured.

I experienced this five years before when my forty-five-year-old husband was diagnosed with kidney cancer that had metastasized to his bones. The doctor told us his life expectancy was two and a half years, and my world was crushed, turned upside down, emptied, and tossed into a new dimension. When that happened, I found I could no longer sleep through the night.  I was filled with dread and found it difficult to concentrate on anything else.

Four years before that, my husband had been diagnosed with MS, and I had fought to continue our adventure. I found him an electric scooter. We both went on strict Paleo diets; we refused to be defeated — until the haymaker came out of nowhere. This terminal diagnosis squashed all the fight I had left, but for my husband, it was an awakening. He had so much he wanted to do, and little time to do it. His fight is what would change this awful news into another adventure — not without blows and abuse from the unrelenting beast in the other corner — but that fight instilled a fire that allowed us to continue. It still burns in me today as I continue my entrepreneurial endeavors without employees or the normal human contact I so love. 

My husband had worked at Costco for over twenty years; he was the people’s person. When the diagnosis came, we were scared and asked for the support of the community. He specifically asked a member of Costco to pray for him, and not only did she do that, she also asked her friends on Facebook to pray for him too. 1 turned into 10, and 10 into hundreds… she was taken by surprise by how many of her friends knew and loved Arlie. She created a private Facebook Group called Arlie’s Angels, hoping to raise enough money to send us on vacation. 

On March 10, 2015, over fifty people, Costco members, our neighbors, and even reporters ambushed us at Costco and presented us with a four-night beach vacation. Arlie was in tears and said that he didn’t need this and that he was grateful for all he had. He always spoke so highly of Costco and said he worked in Heaven, “where co-workers and members loved and supported him and went home to an angel.” He already felt like he was spoiled by the life he had been given, and didn’t think he deserved the trip as much as those in need. After some convincing, in true Arlie fashion he agreed on the condition that if they wanted to make his dreams come true they’d help him to be the top fundraiser for Children’s Hospital through Costco. Every year for the month of May, Costco would raise money for Children’s Hospital, and in previous years he had been the number six fundraiser in the U.S. and Canada.

He remained positive and it showed… people were inspired by his fight and the story went viral. People started flooding into Costco practically throwing money at him. Working as the greeter, he had to call for assistance and finally asked for a cash register at the front door. Arlie’s Manager had a plexiglass case made so people could put their donations into the box. Arlie raised over a hundred and twenty thousand dollars that May for Children’s Hospital and was in UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital’s Annual Report for 2015 as being responsible for raising $1 million as Costco’s entire Bay Area region, raising a million dollars more than projected. 

Arlie won the Hero and Most Inspiring Philanthropist awards from local organizations, which gave him the opportunity to speak in front of large crowds. I would have to help him walk up to the podium, and I was terrified, never knowing what he would say or if we’d make it up there without falling. Standing there next to him, I got to see the faces of those in the crowd go from tears to laughter and back to tears again. 

While I battled the fear and uncertainty in one way, his strength, courage, and bravery to fight on for what he believed in will always inspire me. 

Thanks to my husband, I learned another way to approach a scary diagnosis. I learned to be vulnerable and let people in on the fight. I learned that pressure can create diamonds, and that hardship is only as negatively or positively consequential as you allow it to be and use it to be. Arlie showed me that even though hardship can come out of nowhere and blindside anyone’s reality, when you embrace the community, fight for what you believe in, and spread love and gratitude to everyone you meet, the positive consequence can be a formidable foe for even the most heavy-weighted hardships. He did just that. I feel so lucky to have witnessed the love of a community, and I’ve learned that whatever we are going through, we are not alone. Facing it head-on, together, can be a beautiful experience, and lead you to places and impact you never thought you might go.

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