If you’ve been marked by what might have been, you don’t forget. You know the day, the years… you know exactly what anniversary you’d be celebrating…you’ll never forget the…last time cancer was a word about someone else’s life, or the day that changed absolutely everything. It makes the calendar feel like a minefield, like you’re constantly tiptoeing over explosions of grief until you day you hit one, shattered by what might have been.

-from Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist.

I met Mary and her daughter Hadley one year ago when Mary asked me to take pictures for Hadley’s second birthday. (I wrote about that here.)

Mrs. M and Miss H.

March 14 is the start of Mary’s minefield. This is her story…


Jim and I had been trying for awhile to get pregnant.  We found out we were expecting while painting the house we were moving into that fall.  We were both so very, very excited to have a little one on the way.  We didn’t do any of the major testing because we both said it wouldn’t make any difference what we found out, it wasn’t going to change anything.

My best friend gave me a baby shower on February 23.  In my mind, that is the last happy day we had together.  Jim left for a work trip the following Monday.  He called me from the hotel each night, always sounding extremely tired and kind of out of it.  I chalked it up to having too much fun.  He was going to sleep around 8 or 9 each night; usually he stayed up until midnight or later.  When he got home and it seemed as though he was a little sick.

Jim went to work the next week, telling me he wasn’t feeling very good and he hadn’t eaten much.  One day he vomited, however he had never really told me how awful he was feeling.  On Friday, March 14, he asked me to make him a doctor’s appointment.  I didn’t get to it, I had too much to take care of at work so he had to make the appointment himself.  I still feel very guilty about that. The doctor ordered a blood test and Jim told me he’d lost 15 pounds since his last visit to the doctor 5 weeks earlier.  Hadley was due the on March 24th, this was the last weekend to set things up and get the final few things for the nursery, so off I went while he stayed home.  The doctor called…on a Saturday…to give him the results and told him he wanted him to go in for a CAT scan on Monday the 17th.  On Monday afternoon, the doctor called to tell him they’d seen spots on his liver and he needed to go in for a biopsy the next day.

Tuesday he was feeling horrible and when we talked to the the biopsy surgeon he said if Jim had taken an aspirin he would be unable to perform the biopsy. We were going to have to wait.  Wednesday, as I was leaving for work I checked on him. His stomach was swollen and he was in pain.  I called the doctor to get him admitted to the hospital.  Thursday, they did a biopsy and confirmed that it was pancreatic cancer.  Thursday, the 20th.  4 days before our baby was due. The hospital was terribly worried I was going to go into labor.  I was trying to wrap my head around the fact that Jim was probably going to die in less than a year.  On Friday, they discharged him.  If he was going to be hospitalized, I wanted him in the hospital where I was delivering so at least we wouldn’t be separated for Hadley’s birth.

On Sunday the 23rd, I took him to the ER at the hospital where I was supposed to be admitted later that evening for an induction.  I delayed my admittance as long as the doctor would let me, but finally had to go up at around 9 that evening.  Monday, Hadley was born.  Monday night at 7, Jim started vomiting blood.  They discovered he was bleeding into his stomach and if they didn’t operate, he would bleed to death.  The operation had a 50% chance of success.  At that moment, it was possible that our daughter would come into my life on the same day that my husband would go out of my life.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen.

When I was discharged, I moved into a hotel room at the hospital and stayed there for a week and a half.  Other people took care of me.  I was dividing my time between an infant and a sick husband and I’m sure I didn’t serve either one very well.  Thank goodness for my sister who stayed with me for a week and then for my mom who stayed with me the rest of the time.  The rest of my family took care of all the other things that needed to be done.

On Thursday, April 3rd, the oncologist stopped in to see Jim at 10:30 pm.  As she left, she told me that he maybe had a month because the cancer was much more aggressive than they’d thought. Typical Jim…he had to overachieve on the aggressiveness of cancer.  Couldn’t be satisfied to just let it progress at a more controlled pace. Jim was supposed to have an operation Friday morning to drain fluid from his abdomen and relieve some of the pressure.  That was the last thing they could do; hospice was going to take it from there.

Friday morning came and his surgery got delayed…and delayed…and more delayed.  At 11, I told the nurse to call the doctor because we weren’t doing the surgery and Jim just wanted to go home.  I wish I’d told them that at 9, because it was 5 in the afternoon before he was discharged.  Another thing I feel guilty about…

On Saturday, my brothers came to finish replacing the fence around our new backyard.  Jim had built the first fence, but the architectural committee decided they didn’t like it and wanted it down.  Jim held on until my brothers finished the fence.  I’m sure he knew they were done; I’m sure he wanted to stay until he knew I was taken care of on this one last thing.

And then I sat with him.

I told him he could go, that I would be all right, that I was glad we’d had the years we did and that I’d rather have a few good ones than 60 mediocre ones.

I told him thank you and that I would take care of our daughter.

I don’t know if he heard or understood any of it.

I don’t know if it made me feel better.

I do know that I wanted everyone to be gone but I didn’t want to be there by myself.

At 3am on April 6, he was gone.

Hadley was 2 weeks old.


Last year I asked Mary if she’d be willing to tell her story when she was ready. It’s one that deserves to be told and she is a woman who deserves so much support for everything she’s been through. Especially at this time of year. People with stories like Mary’s are around us everyday, everyone is damaged in some way. But everyone is unbelievably strong in some way whether they realize it or not, and strength needs to be recognized.


  1. Sobbing. Thanks for the reminders.. Love and strength to her.
    What was a great picture now is that much more.

  2. Oh this made me cry.. I am so sorry, but so glad she has her precious daughter… Reminds me how much I have to be thankful for …. And I was having a down moment…

  3. I am so sorry for your loss. Sending HUGS from Ohio.

  4. damn u cancer!
    the suffering just goes on….just too much to bear.

  5. I don’t know what to say. I feel sad for her loss, but glad for her courage. Sad that her daughter will never know her father, glad that her mother will never let his memory die.

    This is going to stay with me for a while.

  6. Stupid stinkin cancer. I hate it.

    Mary & Hadley are so beautiful and strong.

  7. Thank you for sharing Mary’s story with us. It does deserve to be told, her strength is phenomenal, and you are blessed to have her for a friend.

  8. I worked with Mary when all of this happened. Her patience and wit made her one of my favorite supervisors ever.

    Her quiet courage made her one of my favorite women ever.

  9. Thanks for sharing the story.

    cancer sucks. 🙁

  10. Thank you so much for sharing this story. Mary is such a strong and courageous woman and her story did deserve to be told and will stay with me for a long time!

  11. Jen @Mommy Instincts says:


    Wow. With a story like this, i feel sickiningly guilty for complaining about my husband and the things he does to annoy me. My heart hurts for Mary & Hadley.


  12. Thank you for sharing this. Reminds me to be grateful for everyday…even if some of those days aren’t easy. Sending so much love to her and that gorgeous baby. xoxo

  13. Devastating. I hope that Mary and Hadley continue to heal and feel peace.

  14. Mary my heart goes out to you. Thank you for sharing your story. You and your daughter are so beautiful and I’m sure your Jim is watching over you both. I hope that in these coming weeks you are able to feel him close to you and remember all the great times you shared.

  15. Mary, you gave all of us perspective today. Thank you, and bless you and your beautiful little girl.

  16. Completely in tears over this. I don’t know how I could survive something like that. The strength of the human spirit is amazing!

  17. wow. I just got a huge dose of perspective reading this post.

    Mary, if you are reading this, I want you to know you are amazing. You are an inspiration. You are beautiful, and so is your daughter.

  18. Oh wow, what a powerful story. Thank you to Mary for sharing it with us.

  19. Sunshine says:

    Eric’s mom had a mammogram come back showing ‘something’ she has a biopsy tomorrow morning. Her mom had cancer. Her dad had cancer. Her sister had cancer. We’re pretty sure it’s cancer. Hoping for results on Thursday..which seems really far away.

  20. What tremendous and inspiring bravery. Thank you for sharing Mary’s story and to Mary for reminding us to be grateful for every day we have.

  21. So heartbreaking 🙁

  22. Mamaspeak says:

    This week especially, it just feels like there’s so much loss in our world. I wish there were words that would really offer some comfort. I’m grateful for her that they got those two weeks. Years from now, I think that will matter greatly. It’s no where near what they all deserved, but it’s better than 2 hours or 2 days.

  23. I’m so very sorry for your loss. 🙁 *big hugs*

  24. This story was needed today. My thoughts are with her and her beautiful little girl.

  25. Cassandra says:

    I sometimes wonder if a sacrifice has to be made for some of the little spirits that enter this world. That is was neccessary for Jim to go home to Heavenly Father so Hadley could come here. Her spirit is so wanted by the advasary that Jim is now in a better place to watch over her and protect her. I feel that way about my twins. I can only imagine the power of Rhyanna’s spirit, that her sister was called home to watch over her. Loss is hard, but how grateful I am for the little girl I get to love everyday!

  26. Yup just rolled over and hugged my husband so tightly. Thank you for sharing your story. Much strength and love to you and your beautiful wee one.

  27. Weeping. Big weeps.

    My husband got diagnosed with cancer five days before our second son was born. Tumours everywhere – horrific. Stricken. I didn’t care about the baby or me or anything – I just wanted him to be ok. And he is – 2.5 years later, hair grown back, still in remission. But I am deeply damaged. Mary, my most heartfelt love to you. Casey, thank you for sharing this here – Maya (Gemini Girl) sent me this link.

    Speechless now.

    Go gently.

  28. wow.

    mary thank you for sharing your story and Casey for giving her a place to share it.

  29. My goodness. What a terrible thing when all should have been so happy.

  30. I have no words…

    Just heavy sadness on my heart for Mary and what she endured during that difficult time and the bittersweet sadness she must have felt. Mary~Emerge yourself in the blessing that is Hadley…

  31. casey, thank you for providing mary with a space to use her voice. love and light and healing to mary and her beautiful hadley.

  32. Oh, bless her heart. What beautiful words for this heartbreaking journey.


  33. Thank you so much for sharing your story, Mary. I lost my mom to pancreatic cancer when I was 3 years old (and my mom was only 32). I’m kind of glad I wasn’t older so that I don’t remember the time she was sick, but at the same time I’m sad because that means I don’t have any memories of her.

    But no one ever tells me about her, either—maybe because she’s so painful for people to talk about?—so it’s like I never had a mom. Always share Jim’s memory with Hadley. It means so much.

  34. elizabeth says:

    “…everyone is damaged in some way. But everyone is unbelievably strong in some way whether they realize it or not…”

    Beautifully stated. Thank you for this heartwrenching post.

  35. I hate cancer, so, so much. My heart hurts for you, Mary.

  36. Beautiful

  37. Mary- I am so sorry that one would have to go through such heart ache and joy in such a short amount of time. The picture of the three hands is powerful…I too have a picture like that it is of my mother and fathers hands- completely unexpected. May God lift you up and may Jim surround Hadley and yourself.
    Someone once told me that the door to us is through the children. Jim will forever be with you— you and Hadley are his Heaven. Take Care.

  38. I just ‘strolled’ across your site today and this post had me in utter tears. I know first hand what cancer can do but my god I can’t imagine the things this sweet woman went through – is going through.

    Many thoughts and prayers headed her way.


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