How Cancer Changed Everything

Two weeks ago, if you’d have asked me what was on my mind, I’d have answered with a rather ordinary response.  I likely would have told you that I just signed a lease to a new apartment, and was excited about moving into the new place.  I likely would have told you that I had started taking piano lessons again, and that I was happy with my recent progress.  I likely would have told you that nothing else exciting was going on — that I was really only working and keeping busy.  Life, in a word, had become “routine.”

That was two weeks ago.  Now, things are different.  Not necessarily different meaning bad, just … different.  My perspective and priorities have changed.  My relationships with friends, family, and co-workers have changed.  The reason for the change is that my girlfriend Cassie was recently diagnosed with cancer.

It started out with Cassie getting sick.  We thought nothing of it because she’s always getting sick:  She works several jobs, all of which involve interacting with large crowds of children — so she’s constantly coming home with something.  The difference was that this cough she just could not kick, and it was getting worse every day.

What started out as an intermittent cough on Monday turned into a scary, constant, can-barely-breathe coughing onslaught by Thursday night.  Neither of us could sleep, she could barely catch her breath sitting down, and it was clear she needed medical attention.  I took her to the Emergency Room around 4am.

They gave her a steroid and oxygen to calm her coughing attack.  At first, the doctors guessed it would be bronchitis or pneumonia.  A chest X-ray was administered to check for pneumonia, which they did find a small amount of in Cassie’s left lung — but that wasn’t their biggest concern.  They were concerned most about the “huge, abnormal mass” they found near the top of her lungs in the X-ray.  The doctor did not reveal this gently, he just said “We found a tumor.”

And that was the moment that everything changed.  A moment I’ll never forget.  A moment where seconds before I was thinking my girlfriend might have bronchitis, maybe pneumonia, but was now thinking holy fucking shit, my girlfriend might have cancer.

Cassie was transferred to the main hospital where they set her up with an IV antibiotic to treat her pneumonia.  All day Friday she was carted in and out of her room for different tests and scans.  Different doctors came in to see her every few hours, all of whom asked the same set of questions.  Surgeons came in to talk about the two different options for biopsy:  A catscan-assisted needle biopsy (less accurate, less invasive), or a scope-assisted surgical biopsy (more accurate, more invasive).

Meanwhile, I had four phones going:  The hospital room phone, my personal cell, my work cell, and Cassie’s cell were all occasionally ringing because after word got out that Cassie was in the hospital, people who cared about us wanted to get an update on her condition.  The frustrating part was that for a long time we didn’t know anything new.  Maybe it was an infection, maybe it was cancer.  Nobody would say anything for certain until after the biopsy, so it was a painful waiting game.

The weekend was less exciting only because the hospital staff thinned down somewhat.  They wouldn’t schedule the biopsy on the weekend, so we had to wait until Monday for an answer.  People visited Cassie in shifts.

On Monday the catscan-assisted needle biopsy was scheduled for either 10:00am or 1:00pm.  I no longer remember because by then the days had all blurred together.  I followed Cassie on her stretcher as transport brought her to a holding area.  Waiting for the biopsy to begin was probably the worst half hour in the hospital just because we were across from another young girl who had just finished the procedure Cassie was about to start — she was doubled over in pain and crying her eyes out.

I wasn’t allowed to go into the procedure room with Cassie.  I was given a vibrating token — like the kind used at restaurants — and was directed to a small waiting room.  Something about the Academy Awards was on TV.  Cassie’s mom called and I told her the latest.  She said “Thanks for being there,” and the genuineness in her voice caused tears to well up behind my eyes.

They paged me and I returned to the holding area.  Cassie was now in the spot where the crying girl was previously, but Cassie seemed fine.  She described the biopsy as mostly painless, as the only thing that hurt was the needle’s initial entry.

Now, at this point we were confident that we’d have an answer soon.  Everyone we had spoken with had said that it might take a day, two at most, before the test results would be revealed.  We were therefore shocked, when the “main” doctor said in her experiences the results would likely not be in before Friday.

I was aggravated because it seemed like we were already waiting forever, lost in this limbo of uncertainty hoping for good news but fearing the worst.  Thankfully, that doctor didn’t know what she was talking about and we got the result Tuesday, on the day Cassie was discharged from the hospital.

Cancer.  Specifically, lymphoma.  Since being discharged from the hospital we’ve met with the oncologist, who told us the specifics:

  • The official diagnosis is Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Stage 2.
  • Hodgkin’s lymphoma is not only treatable, but curable.
  • Chemo/radiation treatments will start March 16.

The next year will likely be rough, but the statistics are in Cassie’s favor.  Having been diagnosed with a curable form of cancer at the young age 24, things could certainly be worse — and we’re confident that she’ll be okay.

As for Cassie’s cancer “changing everything,” that’s obviously exaggerated.  Yes, it has changed my priorities.  It has helped me recognize what’s truly important in life.  It has redefined and strengthened my relationships with Cassie’s family, and it has allowed me to realize how sympathetic and understanding my workplace is.  What has not changed, is how I feel about the girl I love.

I love you Cassie.  We’re in this together babe, and we’ll beat it.

Update 11-07-2009: She’s cured!

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42 Responses to “How Cancer Changed Everything”

#1 Ryan on 05, Mar, 2009 at 9:24 pm

Sorry to “hear” that Shaun. I’ll pray for her tonight.

Good luck, in the end everything is gonna be alright. Positive thinking!

Best wishes.

#2 Gair on 06, Mar, 2009 at 1:20 am


Oh, I am so sorry to read this. You, Cassie and her medical team will be in my thoughts and prayers.

#3 Mary on 06, Mar, 2009 at 12:32 pm

Dear Shaun,

Give Cassie our love and please tell her Dave and I will be praying for her and the ensuing treatments. Be Encouraged!

#4 Steve on 06, Mar, 2009 at 1:43 pm

Hi Shaun,

Our thoughts and prayers are with you and Cassie.

Positive thoughts my friend, nothing but positive thoughts.

Be Good to Yourselves

#5 Madelaine on 06, Mar, 2009 at 2:18 pm

Hi Shaun – I’ve been there, cancer at a young age. It’s hell on the patient and just has hard for caretakers. Dealing with the never-ending phone calls was hard for me, so I set up a blog to keep friends and family updated. That may help with the onslaught of phone calls.

On a personal note, for me chemo was a breeze, but radiation was the worse; I thought it was going to kill me.

Madelaine in Philadelphia

#6 Francis on 06, Mar, 2009 at 3:02 pm

Our prayers go with you both! I don’t want to go into the details of treatment but you have a hard slog ahead of you. With your support Cassie will make it through. Take care of yourself.

#7 Rosie on 06, Mar, 2009 at 4:40 pm

One of my good friends had this same type of cancer. She went through treatment for about a year or so and it was tough, but, she could still attend grad school like normal and finished on time! Now she is cured and everything is fabulous! I wish you both well, and I know you’ll get through this. Thank you for sharing your stories with us.

#8 Jan on 06, Mar, 2009 at 6:07 pm

Hi Shaun,

Sorry to hear about this unvoluntary lifereboot. I hope Cassie gets better fast.

(disclaimer: I’m no doctor, this is no medical advice)

If her doctors don’t object and if this article and the studies it refers to are right, she may want to quickly get her vitamin D to the mentioned levels:

All the best to both of you. Cassie’s lucky to have such a supportive partner.

#9 melissa on 06, Mar, 2009 at 9:31 pm

Oh Shaun!

Many hugs and prayers to you. I don’t know what else to say.

#10 Rondo on 07, Mar, 2009 at 12:51 am

Shaun, she needs you now more than ever. I hope everything works out for the best and keep on thinking positively.

Rondo – Philippines

#11 twenty-six on 07, Mar, 2009 at 1:01 am

Dear Shaun,

Sorry to hear this..i am clueless but as your new reader and i think all your readers will pray for you both..

Hope you and Cassie going through this positive & take care and good luck.

best regards

#12 » Pray on 07, Mar, 2009 at 1:11 am

[…] I would like to take an opportunity to pray for Shaun and Cassie as they go through their life changing event and hope that all things work out for the best. Please keep them in your thought and prayers. If you would like to know more please go to […]

#13 Lauren on 07, Mar, 2009 at 11:14 pm

Shaun! Even though I knew all this already, reading that last little bit made me cry (happy tears?). I’ve always been super glad that Cassie has you in her life, but now more than ever.

#14 Sinhue on 08, Mar, 2009 at 2:30 pm

My best wishes for you and your girl Shaun.

Love, from MExico

#15 Stephen Hopson on 08, Mar, 2009 at 5:02 pm

Wow, that brought tears to my eyes. I wish the very best for you and your girlfriend. I’m glad you are sticking through this with her because some BFs would jump ship in a situation like this.

Thanks for sharing.

#16 Jon Phillips on 09, Mar, 2009 at 4:06 am

Hi Shaun! Well for sure news like that can change your perspectives on a lot of things! My thoughts are with you and Cassie – you guyz will get through it I’m sure, just need to keep the positive thoughts going!

Take good care!

#17 Lj on 09, Mar, 2009 at 10:15 am

Hey Shaun,

I am so sorry to hear all this. I wish you both the best. I know you’ll both be able to get through it. You guys are fighters! Let me know if you guys need anything… I’ll be in touch soon.


#18 Carla on 09, Mar, 2009 at 12:27 pm


I’m so so sorry to hear. I’ll keep you and Cassie in my thoughts. If there’s anything that you need feel free to drop me a line.

#19 Kumar on 11, Mar, 2009 at 11:37 am

Hi Shaun : Sorry to hear what happened to Cassie — the person you love so much.

I will keep you both in my prayers.

Your support & positive outlook will mean a lot to Cassie. Wishing you both the very best from the bottom of my heart.


#20 Dan on 12, Mar, 2009 at 7:46 am


I am sorry to hear about this terrible news. I too have recently had a similar experience that has changed the way I look at everything.
Two weeks ago, after having worked for 80+ hours a week for 3 months, I received a voicemail message from my mum. I put off listening to it for an hour or so as I was at the cinema and thought it could wait. When I finally listened to the message it turned out to be her suicide message to me.
Once i got over the initial shock which involved me freaking out for about 30 seconds, I called the emergency services and instructed them to break into my parents house which is 60 miles away from where I currently live.
As it was past midnight on a Saturday night there was no way I could get to my parents home by public transport so I had to ask fro my girlfriends parents to give me a ride which also meant explaining what happened.
Once I arrived at the house the ambulance was just pulling away as they had found my mum unconscious after swallowing 98 sleeping pills and pain killers.

The next few days were spent taking shifts at the my mums bedside waiting for her to wake up. Thankfully she did awaken by Tuesday after being on a ventilator for 48 hours.

Now she is being looked after by her doctor and friends. I am back at work as I have a high pressure job in the film business with deadlines that I cannot miss but in true LifeReboot style I have quit my job from the end of this project and will take on a much less stressful position in the same field to focus on spending more time with my friends and family. I have come to the conclusion there is no point in living to work. I have a healthy bank balance but have lost everything that is important to me and I will not let this job take my mum from me.


#21 Filipa on 13, Mar, 2009 at 12:43 pm

Hi Shaun,

Sorry to hear it. My boyfriend had the same thing ate age 19. I did not known him then but he told me everything about it. He is healthy now! Everything is gonna be ok, you’ll see!

My best wishes for your girlfriend and you!


#22 Marnie on 13, Mar, 2009 at 3:20 pm


Thank you for for sharing your thoughts ….. Your story is well written and inspiring. You and Cassie are in my thoughts and prayers.

Just know – it WILL be OK.

Blessed be. M

#23 Jinno on 15, Mar, 2009 at 3:10 am

I was very concerned as I read the post until I read the word “curable”. That’s a fact I’m happy was part of the diagnosis. I send my best wishes and hopes to a quick and effective treatment of Cassie’s lymphoma and hope that she gets back to singing and teaching soon.

Jya na,

#24 Zarin on 15, Mar, 2009 at 10:13 pm

I thank God Almighty, I’m really happy that it was caught on time and that it is curable. Really, God Almighty really should be thanked endlessly. I hope God keeps Cassie well and that both of you are able to continue on with your lives.

I felt bad when I started reading the entry and I’m sorry both of you had to go through that. Yet, you guys are now stronger than ever.

I am a new reader to your blog and I think you are a responsible and a caring person.

#25 Shaun Boyd on 18, Mar, 2009 at 11:42 pm


Thanks for the prayer and encouragement. Cassie began chemo on Monday the 16th. A year from now, this stressful time will hopefully be nothing more than a memory.

#26 NANA on 25, Mar, 2009 at 10:46 am

Shaun and Cassie too,
Yes cancer does change things but as you say mostly our priorities change. Finally we realize what is important in life. Not our job, not the money, not fame – it is our friends and family and our relationships with them that make us think. We realize life is short – don’t sweat the small stuff. You really find out who your friends are in a time of crisis. I know I have in many circumstances in my life. I am so sorry that Cassie has to go thru all this. I truly wish I could take it away from her. She is just too young. Cancer is not good at any age, as you know my “Eddie-Boy” went thru it too. It is not fun. Faith in God makes a great difference too. The Lord definitely gives us the grace we need for all phases of life. I have asked people all over to pray for Cassie and I know that they will.

Your cancer blog was very well done. You have expressed so much of yourself in words that are sometimes hard to say outloud. You are a terrific guy and I am so glad and thankful that you and Cassie are together. Everyone needs a wonderful and devoted person in their life and I am sure that you are Cassie’s and Cassie is yours. Right now there is a big cloud around you but as I told Cassie this is a learning experience. Live and learn as they say. May God bless and be with all of you at this time. I love you all very much and I am here for you too. You are my family. Hang in there kids. We all need each other right now. Cassie and Sarah both are like my own and I love them with all of my heart. Take care, Shaun. Love, Nana

#27 mosab on 02, Apr, 2009 at 12:28 pm

God help you both..

#28 Helen on 03, Apr, 2009 at 6:18 pm

*hugs* I’m so sorry that I’m late here. I really need to get on the mailing list.

This really sucks for you guys. I’m so sorry that you’re going through it but grateful that she has you, Shaun. Cancer is one hell of an eye-opener. And yes, the mantra certainly is “hurry up and wait.” All you can do is think…OMG it’s cancer. Gotta take care of it ASAP..can’t wait. And the doctors make you wait. Frustrating, I know.

I hope the reactions Cassie has are mild. Radiation wasn’t that bad for my mom, but then neither was the chemo. Both DO weaken you though, so definitely make sure she takes vitamins and stays hydrated. Paying attention to the stupid things like eating everyday(and yes, I mean that) become very important. My mom would forget to eat on a regular basis if I didn’t “make” her eat…cook and serve her. She merely had no appetite and so forgot. So she would lose energy and strength. Not good when you’re fighting cancer.

Seriously, if you ever need someone to talk to, feel free to call me. Anytime, day or night.


#29 Glen Allsopp on 10, Apr, 2009 at 6:24 am

Excellent post Shaun, despite the sad circumstances. I have no doubt that you’ll both get through this fighting!

#30 mr.ven on 17, May, 2009 at 1:57 am

hey worries everything will be alright..i will pray for her.

#31 Jasti on 18, May, 2009 at 3:14 am

very sorry to hear this. i hope and pray she will recover soon.

Best Wishes,

#32 Andre on 29, May, 2009 at 11:42 pm

Shaun, I’ve been following your excellent blog for awhile. My prayer for Cassie and you… I have no doubt you’ll both get through this just fine.
I don’t usually post comments, but this is a subject that has been lingering in my mind, as my mother was diagnosed with CLL and the doctor suggested chemo. Both my mother and I have reservations about chemo, especially after reading the book “Cancer is not a Disease – It’s a Survival Mechanism” by Andreas Moritz (excerpt available at ). I know it is up to each of us to choose which treatment option to go with, but I just thought I’ll share it with you.

Take care and be well,

#33 cescfiberglass on 13, Jun, 2009 at 1:43 am

Hey.. i am in the exact same situation. my cuzin, who is 26, just got diagnosed with Hodgkins disease. He has been through 4 rounds of chemo, and is holding up quite well. 2 more rounds to go, then radiation :S. life is definitely seen through a different light, and you appreciate the finer, simpler things. Our families are MUCH closer, and are more happier in a sense..May good be with my cousin…

#34 Marcelo on 23, Jun, 2009 at 12:57 pm

Shaun, I’ve had cancer last year. Things really change for us and for the people who care for us. Life will have a different meaning to you and Cassie for now on. Just be strong and positive. Cassie will need you always looking for her. I’m very thankful I had so many wonderful people – my wife, family and friends – supporting me and doing their best to cheer me up. BTW, our emotions play an important role during the treatment. You’ve got to keep a good spirit. So think positively and try and avoid thinking about the worst. Hopefully, she’ll be back in her good old shape in no time.

#35 Deanna on 05, Jul, 2009 at 11:09 pm

I’m so sorry for this experience you will go through, I will keep your girl friends health in my prayers. I have gone through the same type of experience with my son, except his was brain cancer. Our stories are so similar though….we were on a vacation and his head hurt so bad I took him to an ER and the ER doctor burst into our room following the CT scan and said with as much drama as a soap opera that they “have found a MASSIVE brain tumor!!”. My son was 14 (I was angry at the doctor for being so callous), we both felt like we’d been hit by lightning, there was no other word, there was no room to even cry. We are almost to the end of that “trying year”… is hard. Life is hard. Your blog is an excellent forum for the “REBOOTS” you will go through during the process….I mean that in a good way. Cancer is bad, but life is GOOD and you are going to learn more about the beauty and majesty of life than you EVER would have known. Blessings to you both.

#36 Marthie on 06, Aug, 2009 at 3:35 am

Hey, I was referred to this by a friend. I’m really sorry about your girlfriend. My grandmother was diagnosed with lymphoma just last year and it was extremely hard on our whole family to see what she had to go through. Unfortunately she passed away just two months ago.

Consider your girlfriend really lucky that her lymphoma type is curable. I really wish you guys the best of luck. The best advice I can give you is keep and have hope and faith. Make every day count, so cliche, but so true. I’m sure you know this already, but when times of frustration arise, remember the love you have for her to keep you calm. And lastly stay strong. I hope to see a positive update soon about your girlfriend.

#37 Leane Roffey Line, PhD on 08, Sep, 2009 at 1:02 pm

Dear Shaun:

I got to your site by searching for info on moving to another state. That article was excellent. While on the home page, I saw this link.

I have Stage III metastatic breast cancer. Every day is a tour de force for survival. They considered me terminal, but I have responded to chemo and my tumor markers are going in the right direction. I may never be cured, but I’m regarding this as a chronic disease, not a death sentence.

My husband was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins b-type lymphoma a month after I was. I had events similar to Cassies, with the lack of breathing (typical with cancer, the shortness of breath is an indicator), and I had a history of pneumonia. Six docs missed the diagnosis, my type of breast cancer doesn’t show up on a mammogram. My husband and I used the same GP, and he was flabbergasted when our biopsies came back within a month of one another. My husband is at his 5th of six chemo sessions (his therapy is called “RCHOP”) and they expect 100% cure. I’m hoping your Cassie will also have that.

Anyway, I’ll be looking in on this site for updates. My heart is with you, and I wish you both the very best.

Leane Line

#38 uberVU - social comments on 07, Nov, 2009 at 6:45 pm

Social comments and analytics for this post…

This post was mentioned on Reddit by jxmac: Sounds like someone’s gotta look at the half empty glass.

#39 9 months ago my girlfriend was diagnosed with cancer. Yesterday was her last treatment. It’s been a tough year, but she’s finally cured! « Netcrema – creme de la social news via digg + delicious + stumpleupon + reddit on 07, Nov, 2009 at 11:31 pm

[…] 9 months ago my girlfriend was diagnosed with cancer. Yesterday was her last treatment. It’s b… […]

#40 Kevin R on 09, Dec, 2010 at 3:44 am

I went through the same with my late wife. Hers was in the liver. Hang in there, you have a good chance of winning.

#41 Fanie Pretorius on 02, May, 2011 at 9:35 am

I write from South Africa. I am recovering from a major brain operation (not cancer) 8 months ago.

SO glad to see that Cassie has been cured!

#42 AJ on 11, Feb, 2013 at 7:51 pm

I almost cried reading this, as I am 24. It seems like we shouldn’t have to deal with this stuff so young. But I was so, so glad to see that she is cured. It gives me hope for others in her situation as well.

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