Read Time: 5 minutes
Jason Coombs’ journey as a caregiver began with an emotional whirlwind. Upon learning of his wife, Brin’s, cancer diagnosis, he was unsure how to navigate the path ahead. A conversation with his father provided the pivotal moment of inspiration needed.
“It’s time to take the bull by the horns,” his father said.
These words ignited a sense of determination and purpose within Jason. “It’s okay; this will be okay. I just need to get to work.” And that’s when his journey as a caregiver truly commenced.
The Coombs have been married for 12 years. They met at Westminster University, where Jason was beginning his master’s degree and Brin was wrapping up hers. Their love story unfolded quickly with an undeniable connection, despite the challenges life had previously thrown their way. Brin became widowed at a young age, losing her first husband in a tragic accident. Jason was two years into his recovery from substance use disorder and the management of mental health challenges. Their shared experiences formed the foundation for their deep and profound love, leading to their engagement within six weeks of meeting.
“I made the decision that the business could fold up, and it would still be okay because I don’t want to be away from my kids as they’re going through this. I don’t want to be away from these moments with my wife.” – Jason Coombs
As a spouse and caregiver, Jason has had to adapt to the role, acknowledging the difficulties it presents. He emphasizes that being a caregiver isn’t about achieving perfection or knowing when one is actively caregiving; it’s a continuous process. Jason’s dedication to his family and the adjustments he’s made in his professional life have been crucial in providing Brin with the support she needs.
“Life balance is a myth. It’s about priorities,” Jason says. “When you put priorities on caring for yourself and caring for your family, the rest just has to go. You just don’t have time to do it all. And that’s okay because your priorities are where they need to be.”
One major decision was to pivot his attention from his business ambitions. The Coombs are owners of a substance use treatment program with multiple locations throughout Idaho. To be present for his wife and their 7-year-old twins, Jason made the conscious choice to allow the business to operate more independently, relying on the strong leadership team. He recognized the importance of being there for his family during their time of need, even if it meant letting go of some professional duties.
“I made the decision that the business could fold up, and it would still be okay because I don’t want to be away from my kids as they’re going through this,” Jason says. “I don’t want to be away from these moments with my wife.”
Additionally, Jason began attending caregiver support groups offered by Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah (the U). These groups provide valuable insights and suggestions for coping with the challenges of being a caregiver. Jason found solace in the shared experiences of others, learning the importance of daily check-ins, creating traditions, and being prepared for unexpected changes in plans. He expressed the impact of letting go of unrealistic expectations and focusing on the present rather than an uncertain future.
“Acceptance means that I am able to thrive in the day and be present and show up for the children and show up for my wife,” he says.
Jason also took advantage of Huntsman Cancer Institute’s many wellness and support services suggested by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to reduce caregiver burden. Uniquely, Huntsman Cancer Institute provides most of the wellness services offered to patients to their caregivers.
“Exercising, getting rest, and eating well are all important ways to ensure caregivers don’t also become oncology patients, and the services we offer also provide caregivers some respite,” says Shelley White, PhD, manager of the Wellness & Integrative Health Center at Huntsman Cancer Institute and adjunct assistant professor in the adult division of the Department of Psychiatry at the U. “The physical and emotional distress experienced by caregivers can be treated through acupuncture, massage therapy, and music therapy. We offer group activities that include artmaking, creative writing, and music-making at no cost to enhance caregivers’ quality of life and reduce stress.”
“Life balance is a myth. It’s about priorities. When you put priorities on caring for yourself and caring for your family, the rest just has to go. You just don’t have time to do it all. And that’s okay because your priorities are where they need to be.” – Jason Coombs
Jason also highlights the evolving roles within the family, noting that Brin, despite her own health challenges, still cares for him and their children. Recognizing her efforts and empathizing with her struggles has helped him become a more patient and understanding caregiver.
“My wife is also a caregiver. She cares for me. She cares for the kids. She’s always thinking about us. I can’t imagine the guilt and pain that she feels when she can’t do what she wants to do for them and for me,” Jason acknowledges, showcasing the mutual caregiving within their relationship.
Brin says she’s been impressed by her husband’s ability to advocate and care for her. “We always say, in my family, ‘We're living in bonus days.’ Those bonus days could be forever, they could be years. We don't know. But whatever it is, I'm just super grateful.”
Through their challenging journey, the Coombs remain an inspiring example of unwavering love in the face of adversity. Their story serves as a reminder that caregiving is a journey filled with ups and downs—but ultimately, it’s the love, compassion, and dedication that shine through the most, making them an inspiration to all.
To hear more about Brin’s diagnosis, treatment, and the challenges of seeking treatment far from their home in Idaho, listen to a Cancer-free Frontier podcast.