The Goslovich family radiates strength, resilience and faith in all parts of life. After losing a son and brother, Joey, to Leukemia, and later on watching as husband and father, Eric, waged his own battle with Large B Cell Lymphoma, the family’s plans for the future took a turn no one ever wanted. However, instead of being plagued by fear, the family has only grown stronger. Marsha Goslovich tells us her family’s story.
Martha and Eric with their family.
Tell me about your family’s history with blood cancer and their diagnoses:
My husband, Eric, was diagnosed with diffused Large B Cell lymphoma w/ a triple hit in December 2014 (age 55).
Our youngest son was diagnosed with ALL w/ Philadelphia chromosome in April 1993 (age 2).
How did your family members find out they had blood cancer?
While we were visiting our children in the Denver area at Thanksgiving 2014, Eric began to feel “sickish.” At first we thought it was related to the altitude change. After a couple days, it subsided, and by the time we returned to MN several days later, he was back to feeling basically normal. Two weeks later, Eric noticed a sizable lump in his abdominal area while lying in bed reading. We waited a couple days to see if perhaps it would go away. It didn’t, so we went in for a visit to our primary doctor. Upon examination, our doctor felt that it was some sort of large cyst and was quite confident it was not an actual tumor. He did order a CT scan to verify. Three days later, we met with our local surgeon who gave us the results of the CT scan. It showed a very large tumor, and the surgeon was interpreting it to be on the pancreas. He was quite confident it was pancreatic cancer. We live in a rural location, and thankfully, our surgeon said right away, “this is too big for me! Where do you want me to send you?” We were thankful for his honesty and for not wasting time! We requested Mayo. This was all on a Monday afternoon, and Christmas was that Thursday. Within the hour, we had appointments set up at Mayo with the gastro-intestinal oncology department for the following day.
The following afternoon, we sat in the office of one of Mayo’s gastro-intestinal oncology surgeons as he told us that Eric’s tumor was so huge (8#) and literally was wrapped around every internal abdominal organ, and it had totally occluded his inferior vena cava. It was inoperable!! Next step – biopsy of the tumor to secure an accurate diagnosis for determination of chemo treatment. That could not be done until the day after Christmas. We were so blessed to have friends in the Rochester area who invited us over to their home to spend Christmas day with them. After having a bone marrow and tumor biopsy the following day, we were back on the road that Saturday for our six-hour drive home. The waiting was almost unbearable. The next Tuesday we received a call from Dr. Thomas Habermann in hematology at Mayo. It was then that we learned that Eric did not have pancreatic cancer but rather a rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He said that we would be contacted shortly with appointment times to be back down at Mayo. (Remember that it is now the New Year holiday.) After three days of not hearing anything, I couldn’t wait any longer, so I called Mayo to see what the delay was. Eric was getting sicker and having more pain by the day. We got our appointments set up for the next Monday. We still really had no idea what to expect.
The next Monday we sat in Dr. Habermann’s office as he explained to us the severity and gravity of Eric’s condition. His cancer was staged at IV-B and had some properties of Burkett’s (not sure on the spelling of this), the most aggressive non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma there is. “This is very serious,” Dr. Habermann told us; “we don’t have much time. We don’t even have weeks, only days to work with.” I was days away from losing my husband!! Eric will receive one of the harshest chemo regimens – CODOX-M / IVAC.
He sent us immediately to be admitted to Methodist Hospital and begin the chemo protocol ASAP, which included four rounds of chemo, then followed immediately with an autologous stem-cell transplant. We lived in Rochester for 6 ½ months.
As of now, Eric is still in remission!!
For our son, diagnoses took a bit of persistence. Joey had been sick a fair amount throughout the fall/winter. Each time I took him in to the clinic, they treated him for some sort of typical young-child infection. Finally, our doctor noticed his paleness and ordered a simple CBC. Joey’s blood counts showed that his white count was “off the chart” and his hemoglobin and platelets were very low. Our doctor came in to tell me this and said that he wasn’t sure yet, but this could either be a virus of some sort, or as serious as leukemia. Further testing that night at our local hospital revealed the worst of any parent’s fears – it was leukemia. The next day we were on our way down to the U of M.
He responded well to chemo and was in remission quickly. But, because of the Philadelphia chromosome, Joey would need a bone marrow transplant. Our oldest son, age 5 at the time, was an identical match and would be Joey’s donor.
Despite the intense chemo and TBI, the donor marrow did not engraft. We were told that his leukemia would come back, we just don’t know exactly when. About 18 months later, it was back, and we went through the exact same treatment, including the BMT. This time he had 100 percent engraftment, but because of the Philadelphia chromosome, the doctors told us this is a very difficult one to get rid of, if it’s going to come back, it will do so within the next six months.
At Joey’s six-month check-up, the worst was confirmed – the ALL was back. We were forced to make the most difficult decision a parent is called on to make. We had tried the ultimate treatment twice, and it still came back. No more treatment – just transfusions / medications to make him as comfortable as possible. (Again, this was right at Christmas time.)
God took our little Joey home to Heaven on March 1 – two days before his fifth birthday.
Can you talk about the emotional toll that accompanies blood cancer treatment?
This is one of those questions that words are really not adequate to answer. Whenever going through life-threatening illness of any sort, your heart is broken as you watch a person you love more than life itself go through and endure such agony. I often wished I could go through it for him.
I never want to take away from what my husband went through, but I must point out that a caregiver goes through everything with them – at least I did. There were some nights when Eric was inpatient and, in order to get some rest, I spent the night at a friend’s house. Many nights I did not sleep well, only to find out when I went back to the hospital the following morning, Eric had not slept well either.
How has your family worked to overcome the emotional and mental challenge of treatment?
We are almost six months post-transplant now, and we are still dealing with the mental and emotional effects. Our faith in God is the only thing that has taken us through this trial. He has been with us every step and minute of this journey.
I have been asked on occasion how this has affected our marriage. Thankfully, I can smile and say that it has only strengthened our marriage. It has drawn me and Eric closer together, and we are both so thankful for that!
What did you do to stay positive or take your mind off of cancer?
Again, our faith and trust in God is what we focused on. The old adage, “There is always something good to be found in a situation” is so very true. We focused on looking for the good things in each and every step … and they were there!! We always need to focus on the fact that things can always be worse!
Who along your journey helped you get through the challenges and what was their impact?
God, first and foremost!! We never felt that He had abandoned us, and we know that that will NEVER happen!!
We also have several friends and an uncle who live in Rochester. They allowed us to stay in their homes during our 6 ½ months of treatment. That was a blessing beyond explanation!
Our friends and church family at home were so good to write and send us reminders of their support, as well as financial assistance.
Do you have a motto that you live by?
“The Lord is good; a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knows those who put their trust in Him.” ~Nahum 1:7
“You [God] will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.” ~Isaiah 26:3-4
How did you learn about Med City Foundation?
While at Mayo, we visited the Cancer Education Center, and I inquired about any organization that offered support – in-person and financial – for lymphoma patients. We were privileged to go to one of the monthly support group meetings of Med City. (Unfortunately, our schedules did not allow us to visit more than once.) Meeting Kristina and a couple of the other board members was very enlightening! I truly wish I lived closer geographically to be able to volunteer!
What advice do you have for anyone who has recently received a cancer diagnosis or a diagnosis in their family?
If given the opportunity, we would definitely not have chosen these things, but the choice we did have was how we would react to these major life changes. Going through trials in life are going to change us one way or another. We are given the responsibility to choose whether we will allow this trial to infiltrate us with bitterness and harden our heart, or whether we will go through it without fighting and having a goal of glorifying God and becoming more like Him. The latter is definitely God’s purpose in the trials He entrusts us with. So, we are thankful for this past year’s trials because of being given the awesome privilege of getting to know our God better and see His goodness in ways that would otherwise not be possible. Nothing trumps God’s sovereignty!! “Oh Lord, You’ve been so good to me; … the blessings that You’ve shown to me; Your presence You’ve made known to me – my heart can never thank You enough.” (~Frank Garlock)