Living Out Loud After Heartbreak

Losing your husband to cancer while enduring chemo for Stage III breast cancer yourself is almost unimaginable. Yet this is Cheryl Hutchings story.  She has experienced loss and financial hardship, illness and trials, yet come out the other side an even richer version of herself. How did she do it? She learned to surrender and let others help.

“New Day was an emotional life preserver,” Cheryl explains.  “I’m a task-oriented person, and what I’ve learned is to let go of control; you have to surrender.  Learning how to ask and receive has been life- changing for me.  New Day brought me back to that day when I told Greg that we would be ok. Because of organizations like New Day and people who give, I somehow knew, in my scariest, most fear-filled moment, I knew things would be ok. Not because of me, but because of others who were listening and supporting me and my kids.”

The journey that Cheryl, along with Greg – her husband of 26 years – and their six children, have taken over the past two years was often both terrifying and gratifying.  When Greg was diagnosed with Melanoma, he and Cheryl both made major changes to their lifestyles with the motivation of wellness.  They lost significant weight eating a plant-based diet, exercise became a priority, and they practiced “finding gratitude and living with their hearts more open.”

“He did so well,” Cheryl said. “The gift – and the difficulty – is that we changed how we do life.”

Greg had surgery and he was doing well until this past summer, when intense back pain led to the discovery of a compression fracture from a tumor on his spine. He was in the hospital twice over the summer as further complications developed.

Meanwhile, Cheryl was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer in September, undergoing a lumpectomy followed by chemotherapy throughout the fall.  She had recently gone back to teaching, but was now in need of time off for treatment.

“I call it my s*#tstorm turned tsunami,” she said.  “I felt knocked over by this giant wave. His work called while he was in the hospital. They said ‘if he can’t come in, he can’t be on the payroll any longer; he has to apply for disability and you lose your health insurance.’ I remember feeling like I had laid down in the middle of the road and a truck ran over me, just the gravity of it. He has medical bills and I’m in the middle of treatment; how do we do this? They don’t offer discount rates for cancer treatment.”

“I called the village and they showed up for my family,” she added.  “The kindness that lives in people when you go through this. I told my kids to keep their hearts open and that’s how the love will come in and healing can happen. People show up in ways that boggle my mind.”

Employees at Greg’s company donated their vacation time to keep him on payroll and stay on his insurance. At first it was through January. They called back many times, extending the coverage with more and more time, until the family was covered through April.

Greg came home in December to begin hospice care and passed away on December 19.

“The morning of his funeral service, I had to get my blood drawn,” Cheryl recalls.  “They called my voicemail during (the service) with the news of my low counts and recommended I wear a face mask in public.  Well, I had hugged about 300 people that day, but I never did get sick.  She called me a ‘chemo flier!’  I have worked very hard to stay healthy, drinking green juice and smoothies daily and practicing yoga and meditation.”

“One of the last times we were out, we had a beautiful conversation,” Cheryl recalled tearfully. “I told him ‘I need you to know that our hearts will be broken, but we will be ok.’  After he passed, I had to remind myself that we would be ok.  Through all of this, I was going through chemo.”

That’s when New Day showed up in the biggest and most giving way,” she added.  “From the financial help to a phone call asking if we needed holiday dinner, to asking if we wanted to be part of the Holiday program.  Looking back, those were the things – mentally – that I needed to see happen. Going from two incomes with a big family to it being just me, I needed to know help was out there.”

She has realized that by simply asking, and by being specific in that ask, people will help.  One of her favorite examples centers on a pair of earrings she wears today.  Greg had found some woodpecker feathers and brought them to her. She set them aside, intending to use them for something one day.  After he passed, she decided the feathers would make great earrings. She reached out to friends, and one of them knew a jeweler who could create the earrings. Now she wears them joyfully, as a reminder of the village that will come to your aid if you just ask.

Today, Cheryl has finished radiation and is confident that the changes she has undergone have made her into a new person.

“It’s been a huge transformation, I’m not that same person.  I’m not ever going to be that girl again. In ways, I’m an even richer version of myself.”

Her advice?  “Try to find the gifts in each day.  I do that and they just keep showing up. Through heartbreak, my heart has been flung wide open. I’m living with more abandon, less fear and uncertainty, and really living out loud.”