When Maralin walked into the room, “I felt like I couldn’t breathe! I knew immediately she was the one for me,” Joe said. It took 20 years for them to get together, and they have been married now 14 years. They’ve renewed their wedding vows 11 times since then, with Joe’s goal of getting married every day of the year, “so every day is our anniversary,” he said.
Last June, Maralin was diagnosed with Stage II ovarian cancer. Her doctor told her and Joe to go on vacation for a week, “before your life changes completely.”
Two weeks later, Maralin had surgery, and prepared to start chemotherapy. Because treatment took place in the middle of the pandemic, she frequently was isolated, away from Joe – her husband and best friend. She was always tired, and sometimes slept 18 hours a day. Joe changed around his work hours to make sure he was available for her, but often, he felt very alone. “Guys have to be tough,” he said. He was devastated, but never allowed himself to break down.
For Maralin, she felt her most vulnerable after treatment ended. “They start you in chemo and walk you through the process of what might happen. You know what to expect. But when it’s over, you ring a bell, they pat you on the back and say, ‘See you in three months.’ It feels like you’ve fallen off a cliff with nothing to catch you.”
After surgery and the completion of chemotherapy, Maralin went looking for help on what to do next. “There’s no guidance after treatment is finished. It’s as scary as the diagnosis, because you don’t know — Will my hair grow back the same? I’m so tired. Will that go away? I have anxiety. Will that stop?”
She spent a lot of time searching the internet for answers, and that’s where she found A Time to Heal. A lifeline!
“We’re taking this class,” she told Joe. She liked that they could take it together — she as a survivor, he as caregiver. They didn’t miss a single class, even when traveling. “We joined our session on Zoom while we were driving in the car, and another time from a hotel room.”
It was during class that Maralin first learned of Joe’s feelings of helplessness. They didn’t look at each other as Joe spoke, but Maralin heard. “When she was breaking down and crying, the only thing I could do was hold her,” Joe said. “I couldn’t fix it. I couldn’t make it better. I find it easier to let my emotions out now that I’ve been through ATTH. The most special time of my day is waking up with her next to me. I’m able to express this, thanks to opening up in class.”
Maralin said it gave her a better understanding of what he was going through. She was shocked and surprised. After class, they stood up and hugged each other.
“ATTH is a lot more than a course,” Joe said. “It’s an EXPERIENCE! It helped me realize and understand, you don’t go through treatment and just go back to normal life. You can’t just put it behind you. It changes the way you do things going forward. It changes your life.”
“I told every cancer survivor I know, ‘You need to take this class,’ It helps the person as a WHOLE. How you’re thinking, what you’re feeling. It covers how to get yourself back together,” Maralin said.