Many love stories involve a wedding, but for Hernan Moyano and Sandra Trujillo, nuptials marked the start of a caregiver-patient/husband-wife journey of more than five years that would ultimately claim Sandra’s life.
“We met at business school and were married in 2002,” says Hernan. “Ten days after we were married, Sandra was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer, stage four. We lived our five-and-a-half-year marriage with cancer.”
Sandra’s treatments included chemotherapy, surgery, radiation and two bone marrow transplants, and pain or side effects became an ongoing part of the newlywed couple’s routine. Moyano’s family lives in his native country of Argentina, but Sandra’s family was nearby and helped Moyano take care of the then 28-year-old cancer patient.
“Sandra’s father and sister are doctors, so that helped a lot,” he recalls. “But Sandra was incredibly strong. Every time she went in for treatment, it was a party because everybody loved her.”
Over the course of their marriage, the couple moved to Costa Rica after Sandra said that she would like to live surrounded by natural beauty and “think of something different other than cancer.” Sandra’s cancer returned twice before she passed away in 2008, but throughout it all, both spouses maintained positive attitudes, an important part of the caregiving process for Moyano.
“There was no focus on ‘why me?’ for Sandra,” he explains. “Instead, she made sure that we did everything we could possibly do. As a husband, you have to be there for your wife, and her positive attitude helped me find extra strength. If someone had told me my own story before it happened, I think I would have said that I would kill myself, but I got extra power from her that helped me do what I needed to do for my wife.”
Doing what he had to do included accompanying Sandra to appointments and treatments, helping with injections and following Sandra’s lead in living a full life. Moyano says that he always wished he could take the pain away from his wife when she was suffering, adding that it was hard to see her in so much pain. But no matter what came their way, the husband and wife were committed to positivity.
“I’m a very positive person and try to always look for a bright side, and I told Sandra that we could always have a miracle occur,” Moyano says. “The hardest thing we did was talk about the future without her in it; those are hard conversations to have. But she wanted to talk about it, so we did.”
When the final treatment options were exhausted, Sandra and Hernan once again decided to do things their way. Back in the United States, the couple planned a final party for family and friends despite Sandra’s ongoing pain and physical fatigue.
“Two weeks before the party, Sandra was barely making it,” Moyano says. “But then at the party, she found her energy and spoke to almost everyone who was there. The night after the party, she said she was ‘ready to go.’ She went to sleep and then passed away. “
Moyano says he continues to honor Sandra’s legacy nine years after her death by telling her story to inspire others and says that he is aware of her influence on his own life even now.
“She would not have liked to have seen us sad,” he says. “There were a lot of emotions that occurred throughout our marriage—happiness, gratitude for our friends and family. I don’t think I’ll ever find anyone like her again; she was the love of my life, and I’m a lucky guy to have had her as my wife.”
And when asked what advice he would give to other people in a similar situation, Moyano echoes the sentiments that sustained him and Sandra throughout her illness.
“Everyone has been or will be touched by cancer,” he says. “And even if it’s hard, you can’t get discouraged. My years with Sandra were the best years of my life, even with cancer, and I wouldn’t change them. I would go through it all again.
“A cancer diagnosis brings out the best or worst in people,” Moyano concludes. “Fortunately, it brought out the best in us.