A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

A Link to Hope: Talia Weinberg recounts husband’s cancer, support she received during darkest days

By Talia Weinberg
Special to KyForward

In the beginning of 2014, life was good. I married a wonderful man. We were both divorced and had been friends for a few years before we began dating. We also had announced a baby was on the way. That was a miracle in itself. I had been told I couldn’t have children, and she was the answer to prayers.

As the year swam along, we began house-hunting. I joked with Jeff that when the nesting instincts kicked in, instead of cleaning and organizing our house, I just bought a different one. So, at six or seven months pregnant, we began a whirlwind real estate journey and found one that checked almost every box on our wish list. We made the offer while we were still at the first showing. This house was to be our home until we were old and feeble.

Jeff and Talia Weinberg (Photo provided)

Jeff and Talia Weinberg (Photo provided)

Jeff’s business, Eastland Animal Hospital and Grooming in Lexington, was doing well, so we bought new appliances and furniture, without thinking too much about the extra bills. And in the past year, we had both purchased nice vehicles, getting ready for a family life full of trips to Lake Cumberland, and visits with kids to his family in Florida. We got excited planning when the baby would be old enough to enjoy Disney, Universal Studios or the beach.

I had always loved how much energy Jeff had. I am not a high-energy person, and he amazed me at how much he could accomplish in a day. When he began complaining of feeling tired, I teased him and said it was sympathy for my pregnant self; I was exhausted all the time.
That was the first warning sign something was wrong, and we didn’t pay attention to it.

Then his weight dropped. Jeff had been wanting to lose weight, and started eating healthier lunches. Weight began to fall off him. People began mentioning how much weight he was losing, and he wasn’t a big guy to begin with. Before he knew it he was down fifteen pounds. As I grew larger, he grew smaller. He stopped trying to lose weight, but he had no appetite anymore. It continued to fall. He finally worried that something may be wrong.

Fatigue and unexplained weight loss were vague symptoms, but he just didn’t feel like himself, and we now realized it wasn’t just healthy lunches causing such a physical change in a matter of two months. We decided he should go to the doctor after he had some nonspecific abdominal pain. The nurse practitioner said he should check out his gall bladder and ordered testing.

Jeff was about the age for gall bladder problems, and it explained the symptoms. He was annoyed at the thought of having to undergo gall bladder surgery. Then he almost had a premonition: Before the testing, he said maybe he should buy some life insurance, in case it was something worse. That never happened. He didn’t have time.

Within 24 hours, we were called to meet with the nurse practitioner after work and got the word that Jeff had renal cell carcinoma. I was eight months pregnant. We hadn’t lived in our home a month. We hadn’t even moved in all of our things yet. Jeff was a small business owner, and was planning on taking a little time away from work for the birth of our child, but wasn’t prepared for an extended absence. We weren’t financially prepared for anything of this magnitude.

To make a long story short, and to keep this story from becoming the tear-jerker that it truly was, I’ll simply say life became horrible. We were 30-something professionals, both well-educated with doctorate degrees, thriving careers, beginning our life together and a baby just a couple of weeks away, in a new home we hadn’t even made the first mortgage payment on. What’s worse, we had to decide if I needed to be induced to have the baby first, or if we could get his nephrectomy first and have enough time to recover to be with me when I went into labor.

He went first. The surgeon said it was successful, and Jeff should be monitored for metastasis frequently, but for now all looked good. Twelve days later, I gave birth. We were miserable in the hospital. Our daughter was larger than anticipated, and my body paid for it. Jeff had a difficult time sleeping on the guest bed in the hospital. We begged to be discharged, and went home barely 24 hours after she was born.

Because he had missed so much time away from work with his own surgery, and it was costing us money to hire relief help, he returned to work just four days later, still battered and bruised from major surgery, and in the sleepless haze of having a newborn in the house.
Things never were the same. It was soon obvious the cancer was spreading quickly. I found myself caretaker to a newborn and a cancer patient. He became completely unable to work in just a few weeks, and I was simply unable to return to work while caring for an infant and my newly disabled husband all at the same time.

I heard of Kentucky CancerLink from a friend. She had learned of the organization when she was a young mother of two, fighting cancer herself, then became a volunteer and later employee of the organization. I reached out to her and learned of some ways Kentucky CancerLink could help.

I was not in the habit of asking for help. I was fiercely independent and kind of stubborn, as well. I could make a good living, and between us, Jeff and I had made a very comfortable life. That was all gone. I had to learn how to seek help and money to keep from going bankrupt. Kentucky CancerLink provided support, empathy and gift cards for gas money. Never in my life had I cared about the price of gas. When I was a teenager gas was cheap. Then, in my adult life, I had kept good paying jobs so my gas tank was never a concern. It was now. Kentucky CancerLink really understands the struggles that families fighting cancer handle, and a $25 gift card for gas made me cry tears of humbleness and appreciation.

Jeff passed away this April, after a terribly painful fight. The baby is doing great, and I still get to have his son on weekends and holidays, so the siblings get time together. I had to sell the house, and I’m trying to figure out how to run his business. I have not been able to return to work full-time, for a multitude of reasons, but I’m making things work.

I have the highest admiration for Kentucky CancerLink for a number of reasons. First, it makes no matter what type of cancer it is. So many foundations are for specifically breast cancer or lung cancer. There wasn’t much out there for kidney cancer. I realize now it’s because the patients die so quickly. Secondly, the money is raised locally and used locally.

There are national organizations that have gotten bad press in recent times because of outlandish salaries for the administration. It makes you wonder how much of the money makes it into the hands of patients and families in need. I know first-hand that funds raised by Kentucky CancerLink helps families in Kentucky, while they are fighting, when they need it. Here at Eastland Animal Hospital and Grooming, we are happy to support Kentucky CancerLink, and the families they help. I am thankful I learned of this great organization, and for the help I received.

Talia Weinberg is a native of Owenton and owner of Eastland Animal Hospital and Grooming in Lexington. Her story is provided by Kentucky CancerLink. For more information, visit www.kycancerlink.org or call 859-309-1700.

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