It’s not uncommon for a husband or wife to face the role of either a cancer patient or caregiver at some point in their lifetime. It is uncommon, however, for each spouse to face both roles for the same disease. Steve and Marilyn Blethen are two of those unique heroes who have both survived and co-survived breast cancer. The story they share is one of hope, strength and faith that they desire to use to encourage and inspire others facing a similar challenge.
In June of 2008, Steve, an avid bicycler, was on his daily ride when he noticed his pulse monitor giving him problems and a pain in his left breast. A visit to the doctor, followed by a biopsy, revealed that Steve had breast cancer. Marilyn was in Ohio at the time caring for her mother who was very ill with cancer. The following month, the Dallas County couple traveled to Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) in Chicago for Steve to receive surgery.
The day before the operation, Steve and Marilyn met with the surgeon, who asked how they were doing. Marilyn expressed concern for her mother’s declining health, and the surgeon postponed the surgery and arranged travel for the couple to Ohio so they could be with her mother, who passed three days later. Steve’s surgery several weeks later was successful, and Marilyn cared for and supported him as he battled through 36 radiation treatments while working 12 hours a day, seven days a week as an inside adjuster for victims of Hurricane Ike.
CTCA had arranged for him to receive radiation in the location where he was working so that he could continue with his normal schedule. After a strenuous journey, Steve was given the news that there was no evidence of disease.
A few years later in 2012, after an abnormal mammogram, Marilyn was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had planned to travel to Tulsa with Steve for his check up at CTCA at the end of that week, so they called ahead to arrange for Marilyn to be seen there as well. They got her in immediately, and within a week, she was scheduled for Intraoperative Radiation Therapy (IORT). This cutting-edge procedure allowed Marilyn to receive radiation directly into the tumor bed, during her lumpectomy, and immediately undergo reconstruction, eliminating several additional weeks of radiation that would have been necessary with a traditional treatment and the accompanying side effects.
The couple now sees their Oncologist Dr. Jaggernauth together each time they visit CTCA. “The Blethens are a very sweet and down-to-earth couple,” says Dr. Jaggernauth. “They are heroes in their support of each other, their positive attitudes and their will to use their journey with cancer to make a difference in the lives of others battling this disease.”
During and after their treatments, Steve and Marilyn both took advantage of supportive therapies, such as nutrition, naturopathic medicine, mind-body medicine, physical therapy, acupuncture, massage and spiritual support, which made a difference in their overall recovery and healing and helped them maintain their quality of life. They are grateful to continue work, exercise and spending time with their four grandchildren.
This month, Steve will attend Celebrate Life at CTCA, a celebration to mark five years of survival for CTCA patients, and is excited to put his leaf on the survivor tree to celebrate his survivorship. These past five years have brought them four grandchildren. Steve and Marilyn are both thankful that they are here to see them grow up and be a part of their lives.
Through their journey, Steve and Marilyn were blessed with the gift of perspective. Marilyn shared that her cancer helped her realize what her priorities should be in her and put her focus there. She said it also helps you examine the purpose for your life – what have you been put here to do? The words of advice Steve shares with other survivors and caregivers is to “put your faith in God – He will not fail you.”
Steve and Marilyn look forward to making a difference and using their lives to enrich others. Marilyn is passionate about early detection, which is what allowed her to be a candidate for her the unique treatment of IORT. Steve, who discovered his cancer at a later stage and had a longer road to recovery than Marilyn, is passionate about awareness for men about breast cancer. “Men need to get screened, and they don’t do it,” says Steve.
They and their family have been involved in various community events, with their daughters running in the Komen Dallas Race for the Cure each year to celebrate their survivorship. They are endeavoring to get more involved, and are both signed up to run the Komen Dallas Race for the Cure for the first time this year.
“I am almost grateful for the cancer because of the experience we’ve had and the perspective it’s given us. Our eyes have been opened to the way medicine should be practiced, and I feel very sad to hear about what a hard time so many other have with their care,” says Marilyn. “We feel very grateful to have had the experience we’ve had and want to offer hope to other individuals battling cancer.”