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Fighting Breast Cancer, Building Bonds: One Family's Story

Jim Kirkpatrick, 66

When I learned about Glenna's illness, I thought I'd be prepared. My ex-wife died of breast cancer in 1989, after we were divorced, and our eldest daughter, Erin, who lives in Seattle, was diagnosed with it 10 years ago. Then I saw my sister die from it in 2005. As painful as all that was, this was even more of a shock because this time the illness was so close to home. In my darkest moment I remember thinking, "What if I lose Glenna? How am I going to raise Cole? My second daughter, Kelly, was only 11 when her mother died, and it affected her profoundly. I didn't want to see Cole go through that as well.

Once we had a plan in place to fight the cancer, I focused on that instead of fretting all the time. Every day I tried to figure out what Glenna needed and what I could do to support her. She's the business manager at our architecture firm and kept working whenever she could—a good thing, because lying around would have given her too much time to worry. So for the most part I encouraged her. But it was hard knowing when to push and when to back off and be more sensitive to her moods. Once she had just come back from chemo, exhausted, and wanted me to sit with her all day so she wouldn't be lonely. I couldn't because I was working, and she got angry. I regret that. Taking care of Glenna was like a dance, and I made plenty of missteps. Plus, on top of it all she and I had to be parents and keep doing all the usual things for Cole, like sitting down to family dinners and overseeing her homework. We tried not to change anything for her sake.

Three years have passed, and Glenna's prognosis is excellent. I know there's always a chance the cancer will return, but I don't live in fear. And while I grieve for those who didn't survive, I also know that those who do, like Glenna and Erin, come out stronger for it. And I have a far greater respect, admiration and bond with my wife than ever before. I make sure to take the time to give a little pat here, a kiss there. She's still here to do that with. I could have lost her, but I didn't—and that affects every decision I make.