Editor’s Note: We were sad to learn of Todd’s passing in 2013. We appreciate being able to share his story.
“You can either live a little each day or die a little each day” – Todd Mcgovern
Written by Todd and Amanda McGovern
Todd (34) and I (33) live in Allenhurst, New Jersey. We were married in May of 2004 and at that time were living in Boston, Massachusetts. Two weeks after our honeymoon, Todd was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. He has been battling it ever since. We decided to move back to my hometown shortly after his diagnosis so we could have the close support from our family and friends. Despite this long battle, we have tried to remain as active as possible to maintain a “normal” life.
The initial diagnosis was on July 18, 2004 from Dr. Kelly Cornell at Winchester Hospital in Massachusetts. Todd went to several doctors complaining about stomach cramps and it was only until he had blood in his stool that the doctors sent him to the Emergency Room.
We then began treatments with Dr. Kenneth Nahum from Jersey Shore Hospital in New Jersey. Todd’s treatments were biweekly chemo treatments for six months: 5 FU, Folfox, and Oxaliplatin. Dr. Nahum put us in contact with Dr. David Bartlett from the Hilman Cancer Center in Pittsburgh. Dr. Bartlett has remained our Surgical Oncologist since 2004 and has performed two Laparoscopic surgeries. The first surgery was performed in January of 2005 and involved a chemo infusion placed directly onto Todd’s peritoneum. In June of 2005, the doctors told Todd that it looked like his cancer was in remission.
Unfortunately, in October of 2006 his cancer came back. Dr. Bartlett performed his second exploratory surgery to determine the severity of the recurrence. Dr. Bartlett then advised us to seek treatment at University of Pennsylvania with Dr. Peter O’Dwyer.
From February through May 2007, we moved to Philadelphia and Todd underwent daily radiation treatments in combination with daily chemo treatments at University of Pennsylvania. Since this aggressive treatment, Todd has been undergoing chemo treatment cycles at University of Pennsylvania, which are bi-monthly for a period of 3-4 months. Then he gets a break for two months. He just began another 3-4 month treatment cycle on January 19th 2009.
Todd still experiences mental challenges and burdens. He has been facing mortality and feels that he has been given a definitive termination date. He can’t work because of his constant treatments and feels like he has a lack of purpose. As newlyweds, it was challenging for us in the beginning because I took on the role as caretaker. I became more of a maternal figure in certain ways which was quite a challenging role for a newly married person. We have dealt with so many things over the past five years and feel that it has taken us this long to really get a handle on things and enjoy life to the fullest, as best we can.
As a caretaker, I have realized the importance of taking care of myself. Allowing myself to step away for an hour or two once a week to attend yoga class truly helped take my mind off of things. In the beginning, I felt guilty for doing something for myself, but then I realized that if I wasn’t mentally okay, I wouldn’t really be very much help to Todd. For Todd, he coped by being active and forcing himself to get out of bed and by setting small obtainable goals such as: walking around the block, walking on treadmill, etc.
This experience has made us realize how amazing our friends and family have been throughout this whole experience. It has probably been the most difficult on our parents for they are the ones watching their children suffer. It has brought us closer to our family and friends in such a positive way.
Todd firmly believes that an active lifestyle has helped to maintain his positive outlook and overall wellbeing. We have been much more aware of eating a properly balanced diet and of incorporating as many fruits, whole grains, and vegetables into our diet.
During this experience, Todd felt that he was missing accessibility to someone he could relate to and use as a mentor to guide him through this illness. Other than Lance Armstrong, who is super-human, there didn’t seem to be anyone that Todd could relate to. He also felt that he wasn’t really encouraged to recover from his surgeries in an active or meaningful way.
Todd’s advice would be that the moment of you are diagnosed, you must let go of the life you once lived – things will never be the same. You need to create a new lifestyle and experiences with your new condition. Focus on the positive aspects in life. Todd’s motto has become: You can either live a little each day or die a little each day. Todd tries to live a little each day.
My advice would be to make time for yourself and rely on your friends and family to help you through. Also, as a caretaker you have an extreme responsibility to constantly challenge doctors, find new research, experiment with alternative treatments for your loved one, and think outside the box. You have to be the team captain and team cheerleader at the same time. So, make sure you have plenty of reserve within you to handle the task at hand: eat well, sleep well, and exercise. Lastly, engage yourself with other caretakers because you can be of great help to one another.