No Place Like Home

This past Monday marked my husband’s third “birthday.” Of course, I am most certainly NOT married to a three-year-old, but rather it marked the third anniversary of my husband’s autologous stem-cell transplant. 

You see, my husband is a three-time cancer survivor. The late 2010s for us were a jumble of hospital visits, chemotherapy, CT scans, worry, fear, hope, and altogether a sense of ‘suspended animation.’ Such is life when experiencing cancer—either as a patient or as a caretaker for a loved one. 

Finally, in 2019, he underwent his stem-cell transplant and (knock on wood) continues to be cancer-free to this day. 

My husband and I celebrating a wedding anniversary after many years of cancer treatment.


The procedure is very complex and can be dangerous. First, a patient must undergo an initial chemotherapy regimen intended to put the cancer into remission. As with anything related to cancer nothing is ever guaranteed, but patients who successfully go into remission will then have their stem cells harvested from their blood to be preserved and re-infused later. Then, patients undergo a much more intensive chemotherapy treatment intended to kill off the existing immune system. 

Chemotherapy was first discovered as a cancer treatment in the first half of the 20th century.

Chemotherapy drugs are extremely toxic. It helps to think of them as poisons. In fact, the origins of chemotherapy lie in mustard gas, the deadly chemical weapon used in in World War I. Today, cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy receive less-concentrated doses of drugs that will kill off cancer cells while limiting damage to other vital tissue. More aggressive cancers, however, require more aggressive treatment and stem cell transplants offer a way for patients with certain types of cancers to receive more potent (read: toxic) drugs. In a sense, your old immune system is being “killed” by the chemotherapy and then resuscitated with an infusion of stem cells to generate a new immune system. (The parallels with the story of Easter did not escape me as my husband went through this episode in April 2019). 

The effects of mustard gas, a chemical weapon used in World War I, led to the discovery of chemotherapy to treat cancer. This gas mask was used by the Germans, who first deployed mustard gas as a weapon.

At the hospital, when my husband was infused with his stem cells after his previous immune cell count had gone down to zero, the doctors and nurses referred to this day as his “birthday.” This is because he was basically starting at square one, with the immune system of a new-born baby. Just like a baby, over the coming months and years he had/has to receive vaccines that many of us have long forgotten about, as he no longer had immunity to the most common childhood illnesses.

The day when transplant patients receive their stem cell infusion is often called their “birthday.”

A New Normal

Needless to say, it was an extremely delicate time for us. Upon his return home from the hospital, we were essentially quarantining a year before everyone else (as COVID-19 had not yet emerged). 

It was during this time that being at home took on greater significance for me. Things that I had never put much thought to, like dust and mold, suddenly became a serious threat to my husband’s health. It didn’t help that the wet climate of Seattle fosters the growth of all kinds of fungi, moss, and other things that release their spore into the air. 

Seattle’s wet, cool climate makes a perfect environment for spore-producing fungi and epiphytes.

Cooking, too, became more fraught as pots, pans, and utensils required additional sanitization to eliminate the growth of bacteria that could be detrimental. Did you know that putting warm containerized leftovers in the fridge breeds bacteria? It’s best to let cooked food cool down before refrigerating…

I was ardently disinfecting surfaces and utensils a year before anyone had even heard of COVID-19.

Even fresh flowers and potted plants were too dangerous to have indoors, while pet care became my sole responsibility. Our cat could no longer sleep in our bed (which actually greatly improved the quality of our sleep!). 

Kitty was none too pleased with being denied bed privileges.

Yet, this time at home with my husband was a great gift after everything we had been through. We got a real chance to enjoy each other’s company in the home we had built together, strengthening the bonds of our relationship without the distractions of the world outside. 

What Matters Most

As many places closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, home life experienced a renaissance.

As the pandemic took hold a year later, everyone else, it seems, came to experience the same: a reevaluation of the importance of home and family. 

The daily dramas of life played out in private as people across the world retreated to the safety of their homes. For the first time in a generation, family life became a top priority.

I am glad that people have begun to realize that home is not just a place to sleep. It’s not just a way-station between work and whatever else you do outside. For two years and counting the home has had to operate as THE stage of many people’s daily lives, serving as office, school, social venue, movie theater, and many other functions which had previously occurred in the outside world. 

For two years and counting, the home became more than a place to sleep at the end of the day. It became an office, a classroom, and many other things.

Your home is a backdrop for the most important relationships and memories in your life. It is where we perform the dramas of life. Home is the place you return to for life’s biggest moments. 

There’s Really No Place Like Home

Just last night, my brother and his wife welcomed their first baby into the world. He arrived earlier than expected, and because we live in different states, I was at home when I learned the news, enjoying my evening time with my husband and our cat in the comfortable loft space that serves as our den. My brother and his wife, I know, cannot wait to bring their baby home and start their life together as a new family. 

For my part, I cannot wait to host my nephew here in my own home, watching him grow up. If God is willing, my husband will be here by my side, cancer-free, so that we can grow old in this home that we have created together. 

Now we all know what Dorothy meant when she clicked those red slippers together and chanted “There’s no place like home.”

A living room design by Maison Dumar Interiors that eschews clinical minimalism for comfort and warmth.


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