IMAGE: Healing cancer

From the joy of newly wedded bliss to the dread of being newly diagnosed. A mid-Michigan man is undergoing a rigorous regimen of chemotherapy to fight an aggressive cancer. While his wife promised to be with him in sickness and in health, she's also prescribing her own therapeutic medicine to help her and others in her situation find their voices through their emotional pain.

“I started writing when I was really young,” Natasha Maxwell told TV5.

She has always found peace in putting pen to paper.

“It helped me find my voice,” she said.

Eventually, she wrote her own small-town love story with fellow Sanford native Rob Maxwell. They jumped into their next chapter together last April.

“It’s been quite the first year of marriage,” Natasha said.

They created a beautifully blended family and welcomed a darling baby girl, but their newlywed bliss was cut short.

“So, we’ve been married through a pandemic, had a baby through a pandemic and now, a cancer diagnosis in a pandemic,” Natasha said.

Like so many life-altering events, this one has had them replaying the last several months over and over. They realized what they thought was just an illness were actually warning signs.

“The first few symptoms started in the summer,” Natasha said. “Tenderness in his chest.”

But it went away.

“And I wrongly thought that was good,” Natasha said.

Then, the symptoms progressed.

“Fall was more of illness,” she said. “Unexplained headaches and fatigue, feeling sick, night sweats, feeling hot, feeling cold.”

Around the first week of December, she noticed his thinking had changed. Finally, after months of pleading, Rob went to the hospital before New Year’s.

“I, at that point, knew he was hiding something very serious and I was concerned we were running out of time,” Natasha said.

At just 34, Rob was diagnosed with advanced choriocarcinoma- a form of testicular cancer.

“This one is very rare and it’s extremely aggressive,” Natasha said.

Rob’s oncologist, Dr. Tom Regenbogen of MidMichigan Health, put that in perspective.

“The chance of getting the subtype of choriocarcinoma is about 1 in 100,000,” Regenbogen said.

Regenbogen said choriocarcinoma primarily affects men between 25 and 30 and it can spread quickly.

In Rob’s case, it was found in his testicle, brain, liver, lymph nodes and lung.

While testicular cancer is usually discovered by a painless lump in the scrotum, Regenbogen said choriocarcinoma often presents in more subtle ways like tenderness in the breast, coughing or shortness of breath. It makes it hard to diagnose.

“The symptoms can be vague and not really, necessarily something you might have heard of based on other people you’ve heard of having cancer,” Regenbogen said.

Rob was prescribed four rounds of aggressive chemotherapy six days a week.

It’s sidelined him from precious lessons with his children, adjusting their roller skates and hearing those sweet baby coos.

But as his caregiver, Natasha also needed something to quell her emotions amid mounting bills, never-ending appointments and overwhelming uncertainty. Her prescription was to start a blog.

“When I felt the anxiety building up, I was starting to feel sick and nauseous and just really anxious, I could write or journal or do photography,” Natasha said.

Natasha is finding peace in typing out their most private, painful moments for the public to see. It’s not just to relieve her racing mind, but others’.

She provides resources like links to healthy cookbooks and free yoga classes, as well as raises awareness about the rare cancer that’s become all too familiar.

“I want all of this to mean something,” she said.

Choriocarcinoma may have moved their date nights to a hospital bed and confined jam sessions to the length of an IV line, but the Maxwells are determined to strum to their own beat. They won’t allow cancer to take their hope or rewrite their future.

Regenbogen said Rob’s first two rounds of chemotherapy have shown progress. He’ll have two more and then they’ll reevaluate.

As you can imagine, these treatments are expensive and the cruelty of the pandemic has also hit them hard. Rob was home handling virtual school with their children and Natasha was moved to part-time before he was diagnosed, so they are struggling to keep up.

You can donate to the Maxwell family’s fight here.

If you’d like to check out Natasha’s blog, click here.

If you’d like to learn more about testicular cancer, click here.

Copyright 2021 WNEM (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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