'I don't want this for anybody's future': A husband and wife share one partner's dual rounds with cancer

Bonnie Beckett and her son, Billy, pose for a photo
Bonnie was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2012 and metastatic cancer of unknown origin in 2017. Photo courtesy of Bonnie and Bill Beckett

Bonnie Beckett: This is my second bout of cancer. I had thyroid cancer about five years ago and went through the typical treatment for that, which was a total thyroidectomy. Everything looked good; I didn’t need to have any follow-up treatment except the radioactive iodine they normally do.

The way they treat thyroid cancer is they give you a radioactive pill. You have to go on a no-iodine diet for several weeks, and then they give you an iodine pill that is radioactive. You have to go into a special room, there’s a special thermos they take it out of; the guy’s wearing a special suit. It’s really surreal.

And then you have to be away from all other people for weeks. I lived in the basement. I had to be separated from my family.

Bill Beckett: I knew friends and family that experienced cancer. But it had never really hit home directly before, until Bonnie developed thyroid cancer. I didn't know how or what to think, honestly. I didn't know what to do or how to react. How serious was this? My wife had gotten cancer. I just said that to myself over and over, I guess thinking that in some way it would either sink in or somehow repeating it would make it go away. But after her treatment, she seemed to have beaten it, and it looked like we dodged the cancer bullet. Forward fast to summer of 2017.

Bonnie: I started having symptoms last year; I had some strange pains in my ribs and my hips and other areas. So I went to the doctor earlier this year, and they started running tests and one thing led to another. First they discovered the cysts in my liver, and then they saw it was cancer, stage 4, and it had metastasized to my bones and lungs and to several other organs. They’re still not 100 percent sure what kind of cancer it is. They did a genetic test and even that was inconclusive. But they think it might be pancreas or liver bile duct cancer, that’s what they think it originated as.

With the radioactive treatment for the thyroid cancer, I remember asking the doctor: “Since this is a radioactive pill, could this give me another cancer?” He shrugged and said it’s possible. But we don’t know why I got this.

Bill: After hearing the news, it was mainly disbelief. Maybe the diagnosis was wrong, maybe they have someone else's scans. When it finally sunk in, for weeks I had a hard time sleeping. There were times when I'd think about it and couldn't breathe, it was just consuming my thoughts constantly. I think I still walk into the doctor's office with this little piece of me thinking that they still are going to tell me they were wrong or the cancer has miraculously disappeared.

She has gone through radiation treatments and chemo with a resection at the beginning of the year. We are at the beginning of a long road ahead.

Bonnie: Just this morning, I had what will be my last dose of chemo for a while. I’m going to have a scan next week to see if there’s been improvement. Without treatment, the prognosis is not good. With treatment, it’s iffy. They said at best I’m looking at about five years. There is an immunotherapy they hope to get me on at some point. We’re just kind of taking it one day at a time.

Bill: Some of the worst days are after treatment. Frankly, chemo sucks. It is tough watching the person you love suffer. She will come home after treatment and be achy, get chills and feel miserable all over. She'll curl up in a ball on the sofa and just cry. You feel helpless. I know they are making great strides with immunotherapy, I just wish they were further along.

Bonnie: We have three children. One of my sons is still in high school. I have a grandson who turned 2 this summer. It’s a heavy load to be carrying at 55. But all in all, my family’s been great; very supportive. My husband’s an angel.

Bill: I’m not really an angel.

Bonnie: A humble angel. Other family members have stayed with us from time to time. I do a lot of prayer. We have so many people praying for me. Friends and family. I even had someone go to Lourdes [France] and bring me back holy water. It’s amazing that all these people, many of them I’ve never even met, they’re praying for me. That gives me a lot of hope and comfort.

But I’ve had to make a lot of adjustments. I’m a school bus driver for kids with special needs and I haven’t been able to drive my route. I started off the year, but then I had to stop driving. And I miss my kids, I miss doing that.

Bill: You learn a lot about cancer. It’s always this thing you thought would never happen to you. It brings additional burdens. The financial burdens, burdens where you can’t just live a “normal” life because you have to make a lot of adjustments. It’s never something you can be ready for. Lots of people tell us to keep a positive attitude and we try to do that as best we can, but some days are harder than others.

Bonnie: When I go in for my treatments, I see all these other people in the clinic. It’s kind of scary to see that amount of people, and this is just my little corner of the world, and so many people have cancer. It’s really scary and I wish they could do more to find out the whys and come up with a cure. I have three children and a grandson and two daughters-in-law, and I don’t want this for their future. I don’t want this for anybody’s future.

Read more about Bonnie’s journey.

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