STILL KICKIN HERO MARCH 2018
EVERY MONTH, OUR PROCEEDS SUPPORT A NEW PERSON OR ORGANIZATION WHO DEFINES WHAT IT MEANS TO BE STILL KICKIN.
We’re no strangers to cancer here at Still Kickin. You might even say we’re experts. Many of our board members -- including Nora, our founder -- have lost loved ones to cancer. Several of our previous Still Kickin Heroes were cancer patients. Some of them died from it.
Usually, when couples face a cancer diagnosis, the story concludes one of two ways:
The loved one dies from said cancer, which effing sucks.
The loved one’s cancer goes into remission, which effing rocks!
But Savannah’s story doesn’t fall into either of these categories. Because in her story, the cancer patient is her estranged husband, Luke.
Before we continue, a couple of notes. We’ve changed the names of all the people involved for safety reasons. In addition, Savannah’s story includes details of domestic abuse; please feel free to scroll down to the end of the piece if that is a difficult subject for you.
Savannah’s dad died of lung cancer two weeks after she and Luke were married. And her dad, quite frankly, was a damn heroic dude. He raised Savannah on his own, and he served on the police force. One day, after finishing up a morning chemo session, he overheard a call on his scanner that a nearby building was on fire.
“He ran into a burning building to make sure nobody was in the apartment,” Savannah says. “Right after he just got chemo -- for lung cancer.”
Savannah's dad was her person. Her support system. Until Luke.
And for a while, things were going okay. More than okay, actually. Savannah and Luke had a baby, and she loved being a mom. Then, the same week Savannah found out she was pregnant with their second child, Luke was diagnosed with brain cancer.
As is common when cancer sneaks into a family’s life (and especially when that family is about to welcome a new baby), the wagons started circling. A fundraiser was set up to help support the young couple while Luke went through treatment. An old friend of Savannah’s reached out and offered free child care so the new mama could go back to work.
Through it all, Savannah remained positive -- she was used to being the main breadwinner and taking care of the family finances. So she put those extra fundraising dollars away for safekeeping. In case Luke was never able to go back to work. In case Luke got sicker. In case Luke died.
By the time Luke finished treatment, the tumor in his brain had shrunk significantly, which should've been fantastic news. But Savannah was noticing changes in her husband. Luke wouldn’t let his wife go with him to his doctor’s appointments, anymore. He grew distant and barely spent any time with his kids. Savannah eventually learned Luke had been taking the prescription painkillers given to him by his doctor and trading them on the street for other drugs. They got in a huge argument over it; Savannah was terrified the kids would be taken away from them if he got caught.
But Savannah stayed with Luke. Because Luke had cancer. Because Luke was struggling with substance abuse. When you love someone, you support them through the bad times. Right?
“I felt guilty about having some of the feelings I had toward him,” she says. “Because he had cancer. And he made sure to throw that in my face [whenever we fought]. I had such bad anxiety. I felt like my chest was going to explode all the time.”
It only got worse after that. Luke started getting angry. All the time. About anything and everything.
“I could’ve said ‘the sky is blue,’ and it would’ve set him off,” Savannah says. “He’d yell and cuss and call me names -- while my [toddler] was standing right next to me … We barely talked, because any time I opened my mouth, I was worried he’d get mad.”
The last few times they argued, Luke ripped things right out of Savannah’s hands. One minute, he’d be shouting. The next, he’d tell Savannah how much he loved her. He’d storm outside, then come back in and act as if nothing had happened. He’d demand she leave the baby with him while she ran her morning errands, and she’d return to find him drunk on the couch.
Savannah was done.
Luke learned his wife was filing for divorce after he hacked into her email and found exchanges between Savannah and her lawyer. That fundraising campaign money Savannah put away after Luke got sick? For safekeeping? It’s long gone -- Luke took it. He hasn’t seen the kids in months, though he regularly takes to social media to complain to their circle of friends that the reason for this is because Savannah won’t allow him to. This is untrue, of course; the court has agreed to visitation if Luke enters a treatment program.
It’s ultimately impossible for Savannah to know if her husband’s abusive and destructive behavior is being caused by the brain cancer or not. And it’s not really relevant, either; the only important thing is that she and her kids are safe. Still, Savannah thinks she saw some red flags early on in their relationship. Flags that she’s only now learning to recognize with the help of a therapist. (Have we mentioned yet how great therapy is? Because it is.)
“My dad was sick, and I think I was scared of being alone,” Savannah says. “And here was this person who wanted to be with me. So I did everything I could to make it work.”
Savannah and the kids were recently forced to move after Luke began harassing and stalking her at her previous apartment. Her story is unlike any other we’ve shared before, because it touches on an uncomfortable subject people don’t like to talk about. Generally speaking, we know what to do when someone close to us is going through something difficult, like cancer or substance abuse. But what if that person is treating you like garbage in the process? What if their behavior becomes abusive?
It took some time (and anxiety and tears and sleepless nights) for Savannah to find her own answer to that question, but damn if she doesn’t know it now. She and the kids were recently forced to move after Luke began harassing and stalking her at her previous apartment.
“Just because someone has cancer doesn’t mean they can treat you however they want to treat you. You can cut people out [of your life] who aren’t good for you. That’s okay. You have to do what’s best for you.”
If you jumped ahead to the end, you've reached the right place.
As everyone knows, moving is absurdly stressful on its own without taking into account all that this incredible woman is going through. Your support this month will help Savannah with rent and child care as she gets settled. It will help show her she’s not alone.
Written by Jordan K. Turgeon
If you’re afraid and need help, call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.