Nov 19, 2019 11:00 AM


Dusty never thought taking his wife, Amber, to urgent care would lead to a cancer diagnosis—an experience that changed his role and their lives. 

“I had to take a lot on in a different perspective at home,” Dusty explains about Amber’s appendix cancer diagnosis in May 2018. “I had to focus a lot more on getting kids where they needed to be, homework, taking care of Amber, and making sure she got to her doctors’ appointments. A lot changed for me.”

A self-employed business owner, Dusty often looked to his employees to take care of the company so he could focus on his wife and their three children. It was a big shift for Amber, too. “Our five-year old told her preschool teacher that her mom was just really lazy now,” Amber laughs. “That’s how my role changed. I went from the dance mom and soccer mom to ‘just lazy.’”

Being different ages, Dusty and Amber’s kids understood the cancer diagnosis at different levels. Their five-year old suggested mom’s illness could have been caused by eating rotten broccoli. Their nine-year old knew it was more serious. It hit their 12-year-old daughter the hardest.

“A few days after we told her, we were out at dinner and she wasn’t talking,” Amber remembers. “I kept looking at her across the table. I could tell she was holding in tears, so I asked if she wanted to go with me to the car for a minute. We went to our car and both burst into tears—like scream crying. We just held each other. She was screaming, ‘I cannot live without you!’ Oh, horrible,” Amber says, shaking her head at the memory. “But it was good to see her finally be able to let it out.”

Their family each had their moments to express emotions and fears and not bottle it up. “We were accepting what it was, knowing it was real and it was happening, but we were going to do everything we could to get through it together,” Dusty says.

Amber’s treatment started with a special surgery at Huntsman Cancer Institute called HIPEC, hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemoperfusion. A surgeon removed the tumor then pumped heated chemotherapy through the abdomen for 90 minutes. This touches and kills any cancer cells too small to see. Afterward, Amber was in the hospital for nine days. Although recovering from HIPEC was hard, Amber and Dusty agree that the six-month chemo regimen that followed was the worst of it.

“She was down a lot,” Dusty says. “Amber was in bed most of the time while she was on chemo—didn’t feel like talking or interacting. Just wanted to be left alone most of the time, not even touched, nothing.”

“I couldn’t even think straight,” Amber remembers. “Dusty was taking care of the kids, a business, me. He took on a lot. He became a nurse, he became a mother, he became everything.”

For those wondering how to help caregivers and their loved ones going through cancer treatment, Dusty and Amber recommend just showing up. They say it was most helpful when people wouldn’t ask what they could do, but would just bring groceries or meals, take their kids for a few hours to do a fun activity, do yardwork, or clean the house. And their advice before starting a chemo regimen is to prepare and pre-plan. Prepare the house by moving things to make areas more comfortable or safe. Get meals pre-made, pre-plan carpools for kids, pre-clean your house—plan anything you can beforehand.

After Amber finished chemo, she had a follow-up CT scan. “That’s where we learned the beautiful acronym NED—no evidence of disease,” Amber says. She will continue to have cancer screenings.

“You couldn’t do it without a caregiver,” Amber says of her treatment and recovery. “There’s no way. Caregivers are the unsung heroes. They go through everything the patient goes through, but the attention’s not on them and the weight is.”

“I feel different,” Dusty says. “In a way, I’m proud of myself that we got through it and I was able to step up. It was a lot and I did it.”

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