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Published on September 07, 2017

steve simpson at home

Cancer and Compassion: A Caretaker’s Tale

This story continues the tale of Steve Simpson and his journey to recovery after multiple myeloma. Read the first part of his account.

Jamie Simpson is no stranger to cancer.

Her family has fought the disease for many years. Her mother’s a 24-year breast cancer survivor, while her father faced leukemia that took his life. The “c-word” is scary to anyone, yet when Jamie learned of her husband’s diagnosis, it was like a waking nightmare.

“When Steve went for the MRI and got the multiple myeloma diagnosis, I was 10 hours away in Illinois for our son’s college acceptance ceremonies,” she said. “He called and had the doctor on the phone. When I heard what he said, I had one of those tunnel-vision moments. It was extremely scary.”

The very next morning she was back on the road with her 6-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter. She again was facing a disease she’d seen take the life of loved ones. Her husband’s spinal damage was a trademark sign of the blood cancer known as multiple myeloma and she was both terrified and baffled.

“He was very healthy and super fit, and I knew it well because I had been his personal trainer. We worked out together before that,” said Simpson. “He was never sick and had this pain and numbness. He lost two inches in height. We raced home to be with him – and it was shortly after our return when I realized how much help we would need.”

The parallel struggles that patients and their family caregiving teams face can be, as Simpson said, brutal. But they can give way to beauty, as family, faith and groups of friends all mesh to offer. Yet it can test your faith, she said.

“You start on the journey and it goes on and on, and you end up using every ounce of the reserves of your faith as you consider all the questions,” Simpson said. “You dig deeper and you can find the end. That’s when others step up and step in. Friends step up. Steve’s parents – God bless them – they stepped up. Our church family, our children and siblings, all of them gave so much to us, on all levels, and especially on the spiritual level.”

Experience with Care

Steve’s multiple myeloma led to several fractured vertebrae and an extensive operation prior to his chemotherapy and other steps needed for an autologous bone marrow transplant. After his operation, he was immobile for weeks, lacking control on his left side. He needed aid with almost everything, from walking to eating to bathing. As Steve fought through each step of this path, Jamie walked a different one.

“It goes without saying that we wanted the best care – Steve getting better was priority for us, period,” she said. “But then you look at how you’re going to pay for it, and how insurance works, and the hoops you have to clear, and the memories of my father. He’d had a bone-marrow transplant and it didn’t work.”

They “Lift You Up”

These times are when Jamie prayed more, and when the help she needed came to her.

While certainly she credits family and friends, she also praised Avera and the team at the Prairie Center in Sioux Falls.

“We got so much help with the parallel journey and all the stress of paying bills and insurance and those sorts of questions. They made what was overwhelming something we could do and we are so grateful. So many people showed us so much kindness. It’s humbling.”

Jamie and Steve recently celebrated their eighth wedding anniversary, spending part of it in the “new normal” an infusion room in the place that’s become home away from home, the Prairie Center. Reflecting on the nearly two-year journey with the man she loves, she summarizes the many lessons learned.

“It’s been hard, but the good things in this journey come to you and lift you up,” said Simpson. “You lose all control and at certain points, you have to surrender. You realize God’s there for you – so don’t be reluctant to get that help and receive those things that can and will lift you up, too.”

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