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Side by Side Hobart couple shares their cancer journey together

Written by Chronicle Staff. Posted in Featured

Published on December 18, 2019 with No Comments

by Steve Euvino

I feel like every single day I am either at a doctor’s office, a hospital, picking up prescriptions, or watching a loved one cry and suffer. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s just the way it seems to be any more.

That is an excerpt from Side by Side: Our Cancer Journey Together by Lisa Winstead and her husband, the late Jeff Winstead. Through journaling, the couple relates their nine-month experience of cancer, from the initial diagnosis to endless hours at medical centers and chemotherapy treatments until Jeff’s death in early October 2018.

Although the book ends with the death of a loved one, Lisa intended the book to be a “positive, upbeat, personal development, self-help type of book,” told from the perspective of the caregiver, in this case the wife.

Lisa was 40 when the love of her life died after just turning 44. The couple seemed to have everything going for them – both had good jobs, both had children from previous marriages, both enjoyed doing things together. Lisa and Jeff had known each other for 10 years and were married for seven years.

Then, on Feb. 2, 2018, Jeff noticed a lump in his groin area. It was diagnosed as Non-Hodgkins lymphoma. It is a cancer that originates in the lymphatic system, the disease-fighting network spread throughout the body. Tumors develop from too many abnormal lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell.

Symptoms include swollen lymph nodes, fever, belly pain, or chest pain. Treatments include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, stem-cell transplants, or medications.

The book, told through journals from Jeff and Lisa, outline Jeff’s stays at St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart, Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, Rush Hospital in Chicago, and the University of Chicago Hospital, where Jeff died Oct. 2, 2018.

I am watching my husband slip away. He is going. He is dying. He is giving up. I can’t do this. He says he wants to fight. I have to keep reminding him. … I keep telling Jeff stories, our stories together, talking about all the things we have done. I don’t want him to forget. I want to give him things to look forward to by remembering all the fun things we have done.

“I told Jeff I should write a caregiver book,” Lisa said. “It would be about a journey of hope, with no idea about the ending. I wanted to finish the book for Jeff.”

She added, “We decided from the beginning that it would help him to keep track of his feelings and appointments and all he was going through.”

As Lisa soon learned, it wasn’t just Jeff feeling the pain. Besides caring for her husband, she had a family to care for, a job with professional responsibilities, coping with the medical society and insurance coverage, while trying to keep her own emotions from going over the edge.

“The toughest part was losing him,” Lisa said. “You don’t realize how much a caregiver does. Looking back, I think, how did I do it? You just do it. It’s hard to watch someone suffer and not be able to help them.”

Through the process, Lisa learned something about herself and caregivers in general. “You’re stronger than you think you are. You take it one day at a time,” she said.

Fortunately, Lisa said, she had support.

“Community was huge for us,” she said. “So many people supported us, prayed for us, made meals for us, helped with the kids. Hobart is an amazing community that always comes together when one of us needs something.”

The couple was hoping that CAR T therapy would help Jeff, but by then the cancer had spread too far.

We cuddled. We hugged. I laid in the bed with him. … After five hours, we could see his breathing starting to slow. “It’s happening,” the nurse told us. “It’s okay, honey. I’ll be okay. Go to heaven now. I hear it’s beautiful. I love you,” I told him. He took some very slow last breaths, then breathed his last one. Just like that, he was gone.

Lisa hopes caregivers can relate to the book. She already heard from one woman who lost her husband to esophageal cancer who experienced a similar journey she described as “pure hell.”

To those who knew the couple, Lisa hopes they see Jeff and the love the two shared.

“Jeff had cancer, but it did not define him,” Lisa said.

This experience, Lisa noted, has taught her “to enjoy life every day. Now I see things in a different way. Life is too short to not see the beauty in everything.”

I am strong. I am resilient. I am grateful. I am alive. I told Gabi [her daughter] my heart is broken and she said, “Yeah, but it’s still beating.” Beautiful words. My heart keeps beating. Jeff is still by my side.

Side by Side: Our Cancer Journey Together is currently available from Amazon or by emailing Lisa Winstead at lisanjeffie@yahoo.com. To watch the couple’s videos, find Lisa&Jeffie on Facebook.

We Love…Because It’s The Only True Adventure

- Nikki Giovanni

 

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