Mark and Ann Oldenburg have been married for almost forty-three years.
They have five kids, six grandchildren and have lived in Rochester since 1979.
In January 2004, their lives changed forever when Ann was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer at the age of 50.
Right after Ann’s diagnosis, Mark stepped up into the role of caregiver.
First, it was his job to break the news to loved ones.
"It was a time where we just all of a sudden realized that we’re mortal human beings," Mark said. "There is a finite life that we have, and that became terrifying."
A series of doctors appointments followed Ann’s diagnosis, and they faced them together.
"It was invaluable to have more ears because as the patient you are just still in shock and numb, Ann said. "So Mark would come with his noteboOK and we’d write questions ahead and he’d write the answers, like my secretary."
Then came the surgery. Ann had a single mastectomy a few days after her diagnosis. A year later she had the second surgery. Here, she needed Mark for emotional support, more than ever.
"You know when you you are facing a surgery that changes your body like that, I needed a lot of reassurance that it was OK, that I was still OK and I loOKed OK," Ann said.
After the surgery, Mark had a patient on his hands and learned to operate the drains, change bandages, keep Ann clean, take care of her needs, and run the household.
"I mean I’ve never ironed a shirt before and all the sudden I’m ironing a shirt," Mark said. "So it was a bit of a growth experience, but at the same time it wasn’t like I was feeling like I needed more help. I felt comfortable and actually happy to be doing something that kept this family going forward."
Then came chemotherapy. Mark says seeing Ann after her first treatment was one of the most emotionally trying times throughout the whole experience.
"When you are as sick as you become after a chemo treatment that when it really gets frightening," Mark said. "Are you ok, are we ok, and what is our life story going to look like going forward?"
Ann and Mark’s life story is still unfolding.
Ann has now been cancer-free for almost twelve years, and says her fight with cancer brought her and Mark closer together.
Now they spend their days enjoying the outdoors, exercising together, vising family, and appreciating each day.
"It’s hard to sometimes visualize that we are going to die at some point and suddenly you are faced with it and realize that every day is a gift," Ann said. "I think both of us learned to appreciate every day that you’re given and not let the little things bother you because in the big picture they really don’t matter."
A few years ago, Mark, along with some other caregivers came together and started a breast cancer caregivers support group through Join the Journey.
It has now evolved into a support group for caregivers of all cancers.
They meet the first Wednesday of each month at Hope Lodge in Rochester.
For more information: http://www.jointhejourney.us/