Read a portion of Judy Blume's essay about the emotional and physical toll of her husband George Cooper’s pancreatic cancer

By Naledi Ushe
June 11, 2021 10:46 AM
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Judy Blume and her husband
Judy Blume and her husband George Cooper
| Credit: Courtesy Judy Blume

Judy Blume and her husband George Cooper's life drastically changed in November 2018.

In a personal essay titled, There is Hope, Blume, 83, revealed how a Saturday night in Key West, Florida turned into a trip to Baptist Hospital in Miami followed by months of chemotherapy treatments once Cooper was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Blume shared that at first, doctors thought he had painless jaundice but tests later confirmed he had pancreatic cancer - which more than 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with in a year, according to Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN).

What followed for Cooper was a trip to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City for a Whipple surgery and then six months of chemotherapy at Sylvester Cancer Center, a part of University of Miami.

In Blume's essay, she shared what the day before chemotherapy was like and an update in Cooper's journey today. Mostly, she thanked PanCAN for being a resource to help her and her family when they didn't know what actions to take.

Blume penned the essay for PanCAN as part of the organization's advocacy efforts that will culminate in a virtual event on June 14 titled "Voices in Action". There is Hope is available on PanCAN.org. Keep reading for an excerpt from the essay:

There was a small park outside the building where we were staying and every morning we walked, usually a mile and a half, and slowly. Almost every evening George wanted ice cream. Like a pregnant woman, he had food cravings, and sometimes couldn't eat a food he'd previously enjoyed. We went to the medical marijuana shop and he stocked up.

There were plenty of ups and downs. He was hospitalized twice, once with bacteremia/sepsis, a serious blood infection. I called [George's daughter] Amanda as I'd promised to do it things took a turn for the worse. She was on a plane the next day and immediately, George was cheered. This was in mid-February. He spent a week in the hospital. His port was suspected of being the infection site and it was removed, but it was clean. At first they tried to continue the infusions through his veins, but he burned so badly they had to implant another port. He still complains that his "great veins" were wrecked by the chemo.

Sometimes, the day after chemo he said it felt like a war was going on inside his body. Sometimes, the day after, he was so up we joked that instead of a walk around the park he was going to swim to Ft. Lauderdale and bike back. This was from the steroid he was given, along with anti-nausea medicines before chemo. Medical marijuana helped with his appetite, pain and relaxed him.

Half-way through the six months we had our week off and he wanted to participate in the Key West St. Patrick's Day 3K run/walk. I went with him. We wore green tutus.  That was the best he'd felt since treatment began and he wouldn't feel this good again for months.

On the day of his final chemo we wore T-shirts spelling out End of Chemo in purple letters. We took photos with Dr. H, who had become very dear to us. We loved his humor, his honesty, his wise care. He and his staff could not have been more kind or helpful. That day we celebrated with lunch at a Miami Beach restaurant.

The next morning George was sick, as sick as I'd seen him since the bacteremia. He was admitted to the hospital and put on IV antibiotics. I called Amanda again. She was already on her way to Key West to celebrate with us but was able to change her flight and get to Miami that evening. He was hospitalized for six days. Cholangitis - an infection around the bile duct - was suspected. He also had a blood clot in his neck. We were all amazed that he recovered from these setbacks so quickly. The magic of antibiotics. (And maybe the magic of George?)

Our grandson was going to be married in Boston in early September. Our goal was to be there. My goal was to dance until I dropped. We made it, and I did.

Now it's June, 2021. We just celebrated George's 84th birthday. We've made it through the pandemic. We're fully vaccinated and have started back to work at our bookstore. We try to walk two miles every day, as we have for the past year. We're also riding our bikes to the store. Maybe George doesn't have the stamina he once did, but neither do I. He falls asleep easily (lucky him!). He's gained back 12 of the lost 20 pounds. He probably won't gain any more. His scans are clear and instead of every three months, we've graduated to every four.