First Came Marriage, Then Stage 4 Breast Cancer

Rebekah and I dated for six months before I proposed. We met on an online meetup group for Christian singles. I noticed that there was another girl who joined the group the same day I did. She looked cute. I sent her a short email and asked if she wanted to talk. To my surprise, she replied. We were engaged in six months and on August 23, 2014, we got married!

We moved into a little one-bedroom apartment in Santa Ana, California. It was a new start for both of us and we abounded with excitement and plans. We had both been through painful trials and deep brokenness, but about three years out from the trials, we were different people. We had been broken but then rebuilt. We both look back and see the brokenness as crucial chapters in preparing us for each other.

Six months into our marriage I got a call from my dad. He shared that he had been diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer. I had no idea what to say or do.

Two months later

Rebekah was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. After many tests and scans, they learned that not only had Rebekah’s cancer returned, but it had metastasized (spread) to her liver, lungs, kidneys, bones, and brain. They found at least nine tumors in her brain.  One radiation oncologist that reviewed her scans said that even with treatment, she probably had 4-6 months to live. She was 26 years old.

The bottom of our world fell out

The future, that just a week prior seemed so bright, went black. We were lost again. But we clung to each other and clung to our faith. Rebekah vowed to fight. It was not her time. We were broken, lost, and terrified, but we did not give up. We got Rebekah admitted to the City of Hope cancer treatment center in Duarte, California. She got a new team of amazing oncologists and specialists. Since her brain was the primary threat, they immediately hit her with 14-rounds of full brain radiation. After that, she started an aggressive regimen of chemotherapy. That first chemo failed, and the cancer spread. They went to plan B and tried a new chemo. It began to work.  After several months, the cancer in her brain and body was dying and shrinking. After a year of treatment, the City of Hope pushed her cancer into near remission. While not a cure, it’s light-years away from the 4-6 months to live she was given by oncologists at a different treatment center.

It’s been three years since that initial diagnosis

It’s been three years since that initial diagnosis. We have gone through much since then. Rebekah has had multiple rounds of radiation on her brain and hip, multiple chemo-cocktails, and multiple surgeries. We have faced battles with health insurance companies, dozens of medications, and many trips to the emergency room. There is pain, sickness, nausea, and physical changes like the permanent loss of hair and health. Her treatments forced her body into menopause. But those are not the greatest battle. The greatest battle of cancer is in the heart. It’s the fear, the anger, the loneliness, the confusion, and emotional heaviness of fighting day-in and day-out. That is the real battle of cancer. My dad gave up that fight and let the cancer take over. He passed away one year later after his diagnosis. We were at his side right up to his last breath. He was an amazing man and dad. We have learned A LOT since that initial diagnosis. We have fought and clawed our way back out of the darkness, out of the valley, and come to a place of sweetness and hope.

Our love is stronger and deeper than ever

Rebekah’s diagnosis of stage 4 breast cancer remains a constant battle but a huge part of fighting her cancer is that we try to not let it dominate our lives. In fact, we try to live as though she does not have cancer. We are both Christians, and our faith is a central focus of our lives. We are involved with a great local church that has become family. Apart from that, we just really enjoy being together. We like to read, bargain hunt at garage sales and thrift stores, refurbish (upcycle) old furniture, decorate our house, hang out with friends and family, spend time with (Joel’s) kids, and watch Netflix in bed while eating ice cream (double fudge moose tracks). We also enjoy helping people who are hurting and struggling since we know that pain so well. Most of all, we learned to find the hidden blessings that cancer can bring, blessings that most people miss when everything in life runs smoothly. For more of Joel and Rebekah’s story, pick up a copy of his new book HELP! Someone I Love Has Cancer: How You Can Really Make a Difference for free by clicking here.      

Joel Hughes is a husband and father. He is the author of In Your Corner (coming soon)co-producer of the movie A Brave Hope, and director of Rebekah’s Hope.  He holds degrees in Christian ministry and philosophy. Joel lives in Southern California with Rebekah and his two kids.

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