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A Bag of Food and Tears

My sigh of relief is audible all the way from the street on Thursday afternoons as I pull  a healthy, homemade meal out of the cooler on my front porch.

This meal is there every week. It is constant. It is nourishing. I can depend on it. It makes my night doable, just at the end of the week when I am exhausted. It reminds me that five years into this cancer thing, we are still supported by Living Journeys.  

When Michael was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2016, our worlds came crashing down. We had just moved back home, had new jobs, a new family, and then BOOM, our world changed.

Living Journeys was there from the beginning with financial support, transportation support, support groups, and all the things you imagine a cancer support group could help with and our entire community rallied behind us. These gestures were amazing and life-changing, but today I am reflecting on the aftermath; the rebuilding after the storm.

Laura and Michael at the 2021 Summit Hike on Mt CB.
The Villanuevas on their 2020 Summit Challenge hike.

We are now almost five years out from Michael’s diagnosis. We are four years past Michael’s St Mary’s ICU stay where he spent days fighting for his life on a ventilator. We are three years past his bone marrow transplant when he lived for six weeks isolated in a hospital room in Denver as they killed every red blood cell, every platelet, and every immune cell in his body, and then brought them all back to life. We are two years past his “radiation vacation” in Denver. We are one year past the stress of having an immuno-compromised cancer patient living in a house with an emergency room physician during a pandemic. And we just celebrated the fifth and third birthdays of our two beautiful strong boys.

Living Journeys helped us through each of these milestones.

Today life seems more normal. We work, we play, and we struggle as most parents of toddlers do. Most of our community and Michael’s friends think he has been cured of his cancer.  This is a good thing. It means he is doing well. It means we don’t have to think of cancer all day every day. The reality however is that there is still not a cure for myeloma. Michael is still taking chemo every day. He still does immunotherapy and steroids every month. He still has no immune system and is threatened by even the smallest cold.

This is the space where Living Journeys shines. Out of the spotlight. Out of the chaos. Just always there. Each week that we get a homemade meal I am brought to tears. Bags of fresh produce left on our porch in the summer remind me the importance of nutrition and providing healthy food as part of Michael’s treatment.  Michael has needed to find a way to exercise more so Living Journeys funded an exercise circuit class weekly for clients, and when Michael got scared to be indoors and around germs, they made it possible for him to have a trainer come to the house to keep him healthy. We enjoyed a date night at the I-Bar ranch at the Lizzy Plotkin concert benefiting Living Journeys this past summer.

These are the little things that have a huge impact on our family. These are the ways Living Journeys is still supporting us five years into our journey.
When I found our first bag of summer produce left on the porch I cried. Then I went upstairs and finally got to sit down and wrote this note. Thank you.

~ Dr. Laura Villanueva, full-time working mother, caregiver, and Gunnison Valley resident

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