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 hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemoperfusion (HIPEC). 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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It has been such an awesome experience for me to look back at all of the things I have done the past few years since completing treatment. I have been doing everything I ever wanted to do. I have been living. To say I am a different person, would be an understatement. My whole life, I have been filled with anxiety and fear and have been hesitant to do many things out of my comfort zone.
One of the many positives that I got out of my fight with cancer was a love for life and a desire to try new things like never before-and I’ve been doing it! I have been traveling, playing, and exploring all I can. I discovered a love for the outdoors and even convinced my husband to buy me my dream trailer so I can be outside as much as possible. I discovered I love traveling so much that I even became a travel agent! I bought myself a Volkswagen beetle convertible that I wanted since I was a teenager and don’t worry about my hair blowing in the wind! I have a newfound love and compassion for other people. Being sick, makes you realize how many good people there are in the world. It makes you want to help those around you that are struggling because you know the difference it can make. I am loving living with a new mentality of not worrying about little things. Other than health and family, nothing else really matters. I am content with every day—little things I used to take for granted.
I have my next scan in a few weeks and after that, I will only have one more scan next year. I should hit the five-year clean-scan mark and then I will officially be declared free of cancer! I will never forget the love I received from Huntsman Cancer Institute, neighbors, family, friends, and so many strangers. People are so good and miracles really can happen.