While Libby Yu calls her family’s journey with cancer an “emotional rollercoaster,” it’s not the downward dips she wants to dwell on. Instead, she wants to share the valuable lessons she’s learned during the “bonus years” before her husband Cliff So passed away.
“I could talk about how cancer disrupted our happy lives. I could talk about the grief, anxiety and numbness I felt at every stage of his cancer diagnosis. I could talk about the challenge to walk courageously while seeing my life partner weaken, suffer and face his last days,” she says. “But what I want to talk about instead is the gift of increased awareness of the present day, the gift of facing adversity with hope.”
It started with Cliff’s diagnosis of late-stage testicular cancer in 2013, at the time when he was 39 and their children were two, four and six years old. Despite a “poor prognosis,” since the cancer had metastasized to his lungs and brain, “he fought like a warrior for four years,” says Dr. Yu.
Cliff’s battle with cancer included two brain surgeries, six rounds of conventional chemo, two rounds of high-dose chemo with stem cell transplants, and 20 rounds of radiation. Regardless of the countless hours spent in the hospital and living with brain injury, he faced this journey with hope, faith and equanimity, says Dr. Yu, who recently shared her story in a keynote address at the B.C. Cancer Summit.
Shortly before his death, Cliff wrote, “I was supposed to die four years ago. The oncologist estimated that, if I had not started chemo when I did, I would have had only 48 hours to live, such was the tumour load in my lungs. Then I experienced a massive brain hemorrhage during treatment, from which I should have died. [Yet instead], I was given more time to be with my family.”
Cliff’s courageous outlook not only inspired his wife and children, it also shaped their time together. “Supporting Cliff, raising our young children and facing the possibility of a bleak future could have robbed my joy and my sanity,” says Dr. Yu. “But instead, the cancer taught us to embrace each day as a gift from God.”
Supporting Cliff, raising our young children and facing the possibility of a bleak future could have robbed my joy and my sanity.— Dr. Libby Yu
It taught them to embrace life “even when life didn’t seem so joyful,” she says. “As Cliff fought his battle, he inspired us to live and love intentionally. It also opened our eyes to the compassion, generosity and selfless love of our community, which included our medical team, family and friends, all of whom contributed to our mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.”
It was also important to “live with hope,” says Dr. Yu, “hope for each new treatment to cure Cliff or prolong his time on earth.”
She now wants to pass this gift of hope to others and, as a renowned concert pianist, organizes benefit concerts and fundraising events. “It is our family’s hope that the fundraising will help to further cancer research and give other families hope in more time to spend with their loved ones,” says Dr. Yu.
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