“I grew up in Fallbrook, a small town north of San Diego. My dad was in the Marine Corps and was stationed at Camp Pendleton. My dad wanted to serve his country, and my mom volunteered for different organizations. They instilled this idea that you can always do something for somebody else. I think that’s what drew me to nursing. Once I did my pediatric rotation, I thought, ‘This is something I could wake up every day and do for the rest of my life.’ I came back to California after college graduation to work as a nurse. My dad was on terminal leave from the military and was supposed to retire from the Marine Corps on August 1, 2004, but in June of that year he started having focal seizures. They diagnosed him with a brain tumor two months later. He had about two years of treatment and then passed away, in 2006.
“I went out with some girlfriends one night to this little Irish bar, and I met Nick, a Navy helicopter pilot. His friend had tapped me on the shoulder and Nick said hi. I was not in a place where I wanted to meet someone, and I shut him down so quickly, with one word answers. ‘How are you doing?’ ‘Fine.’ But he was just so nice. I gave him my number, and as we were leaving the bar, I told my girlfriends that if I turned around and he was looking at us, if he called me, I would actually call him back. And I turned around, and there he was, waving to me. And we’ve been together ever since.
“We got married at an old Navy training boot camp, in a consecrated chapel that we had to get special permission to actually have our wedding in. Our reception was at the restaurant where we had our first date. I wish he could have met my dad, but in so many ways, Nick reminds me of him. My dad loved his family, and his wife and kids first. He always made his decisions based on what was best for us, and Nick is the same way. Just a family man. And a good man. He has this ability to love people the way they need to be loved.
“Becoming a mom was amazing. When Madilyn was born, I remember them handing me this baby, and I could see her little eyes, and thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this is my baby on my chest. This is our baby.’ And it almost took my breath away. With our second baby, Jaxson, we knew what to expect, so we weren’t as nervous. But there was something about having a boy that was really emotional for Nick. Having a son was a completely different experience for him, so I looked over and he’s just bawling. He is the best dad. He really is.
“After taking some time off to be a mom, I started working as an oncology nurse at an infusion clinic because it worked better with having a family. It’s difficult, in that a lot of these adults have terminal disease, and you know that, but when you’re treating them that’s not what you see. You see … I’ll just throw a name out … you see Diane, and you talk to Diane, and that’s what you see in the chair. A person. You don’t see stage 4 lung cancer. Ironically, I enjoyed it.
“A month ago, I had planned to take the kids to Disneyland, and Nick was going to meet us there. I had gone to bed and had pretty bad abdominal pain, but I thought it was just heartburn. It got worse overnight, and I ended up in the ER. Being a nurse, I had self-diagnosed myself with gallstones. In the ER, they started doing tests and I could tell something wasn’t right. They would do a test and I’d wait forever for a result and they’d say, ‘We need to run another test.’ Three tests later the doctor came in and said, ‘We think you have something on your pancreas, but we aren’t sure. You need to follow up with your physician,’ and then he gave me a copy of the report. I poured over the results for three days.
“We followed up with my doctors here, and they thought I was fine but set me up with a gastroenterologist, and that’s when I started to have some fears, because I felt like he was worried. He ran another test, and the next day called me, and he said, ‘I’m sorry to tell you this, but your imaging is a classical presentation for carcinoma of the pancreas, and we think you have something called adenocarcinoma. And being an oncology nurse, I had treated patients with adenocarcinoma, and I knew what that outcome meant. I don’t remember everything I said, but I do specifically remember saying ‘I know what this means,’ and repeating that. And crisis thinking took over and I just remember knowing I had to get off the phone and call Nick.
“I called Nick sobbing and said, ‘You have to get home right now, they think I have cancer.’ And so he rushed home. And I called my mom, and I still feel so bad about this, I was on the floor and was sobbing and told her on the phone ‘I’m going to die, and I don’t want to die, but I’m going to die…’ and you know this is a woman who has already buried her husband and now her child is calling her and telling her she’s going to die… but in that moment those were the only words I could find.
“Initially we thought it was adenocarcinoma, which with some patients only gives them weeks or a few months to live, and I was literally walking around thinking it was the last of everything. Going to the kids’ school, thinking, ‘I don’t know if I’ll see this person again, or experience this again.’ And looking at my kids – they’re 4 and 2 – and thinking, ‘I can’t leave you here. Who is going to hug you when you need your mom? You need your mom. Kids need their moms, and their dads, too, and I need them. I would put them to bed and frantically write these letters, ‘Open on your first day of kindergarten; open when your friend is being mean to you,’ frantically trying to do all these things and also take them to school and not totally lose it.
“We walked around for about three weeks thinking that I was going to die really soon. But we believe in the power of prayer, and in the absence of having any medical treatment options available we asked people to pray for us. We have so many prayer warriors. We finally got a biopsy scheduled and I had surgery, and last week I got a call saying we finally had some good news. It’s not adenocarcinoma; it’s a neuroendocrine tumor, which means we hopefully have some options back on the table. When Nick and I got the call, we sat and cried. Because we finally have some hope. The reality is, this tumor will take me from Nick and the kids. It has spread to my liver and it is terminal cancer, but I still have so much hope, and I still want so much more time.
“I have a grateful heart. If they call me tomorrow and tell me I don’t have options, I will still be grateful for my life. I want people to know how much I love my family. I am grateful for all the blessings the Lord has given me. I love my husband and my children fiercely. I would and always will fight for them. I believe in Heaven, and Jesus, and redemption, and I do believe I’ll go to Heaven, and I do believe I’ll see my dad there, but I just don’t want to go yet. I’m 37. We still don’t have all the answers for treatment, or what comes next, but I will never stop fighting for my husband and my kids. We still have to have hope.”
Our beloved fans and readers: All of the stories that we share on Humans on the Homefront have a special place in our hearts. This one in particular hits especially close to home as this woman, Esther, is one of our founder’s (T. T.) dearest friends. Please help us support this amazing military family in their hour of need by sharing this story, donating to the Go Fund Me established for them, and keeping them in your prayers. Every little bit helps. Thank you and God bless.