My name is Chelsea Burrell. I am writing this as my first ever blog post. My mom is Carolyn Langlie-Lesnik, the person you have come to know through you or your loved ones cancer journey. Many of you know that my mom passed away on 4/25/2024. If you want, you can see her obituary here. We also recorded her service if you’d like to see it here.

I want to first start by apologizing for everyone who reached out to my mom via email, FaceBook or her blog and never received a response. I know everyone here is facing a hard battle and to not have a response is discouraging. I will do my best to make sure this is not your experience in the future. 

I wanted to share what happened to my mom throughout this journey. Maybe this is as much for me as it is for you. For a little context, I have one sister. I am 33 and she is 34. We are both married and I have two daughters, ages 1 and 3. 

I think the story begins in 1991. My mom developed rheumatoid arthritis soon after I was born. The treatment that put her RA into remission caused her to become immunosuppressed. Despite that, she never really got many severe infections. That being said, when COVID-19 hit the country in 2020, she knew she had to be very careful. She didn’t have much of an immune system and live vaccines didn’t work on her. She eventually contracted COVID in February of 2022 and was hospitalized for a month. During that time, my dad was with her every day. She remained on supplemental oxygen for the next 8 months. My dad always took care of my mom. He showed loved through acts of service. 

In July of 2022, only a few months after she contracted COVID-19, my dad passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack. I know my mom didn’t share this with many people, but it really tore her apart. It made me think that losing a spouse must be one of the hardest things you can go through—particularly when your kids are grown and out of the house. My parents were both nurses. They agreed to both start working part time so that they could spend more time together. Ironically, they both would joke, that when the time came, my mom would go first. She has had so many health scares throughout her life and has come out of all of them unscathed. At some point she couldn’t keep getting so lucky. When my dad passed away suddenly, I think we were all in shock for months and the grief was overwhelming. He seemed so healthy. He worked out regularly, was a thin/fit person and was full of so much life. After he passed away, I saw an article in a magazine about “How to Live Longer.” The article was about things you could do to extend your life  (diets, exercise, purpose, community, etc.). It made me so mad. I remember thinking that you can do everything right and still die prematurely. What is the use in articles like this?

My mom and I were always close. Once my dad passed though, we began to see each other daily and talk for hours a day. We were both grieving and I couldn’t stand the thought of my mom being alone. 

As the one year mark of my dad’s passing was approaching, my mom decided that she couldn’t be in the area for it. My dad’s birthday was on the 4th of July. In 2022, he had a heart attack on the 3rd and passed on the 5th. My mom couldn’t imagine being here for the first anniversary of his passing. Especially in the United States where fireworks (which used to be a celebratory reminder of his birthday), would now just be a sad reminder that he isn’t with us. My mom had always wanted to travel abroad and so she decided that now was the time. As a professor, she had summers off. She decided that she would go on a  cruise to Europe in May of 2023 as soon as the semester was over. She then scheduled a trip to Africa from 7/1/2023-7/10/2023, completely missing the anniversary of his passing and all of the fireworks that would go with it. 

We were told that the first year after his passing would be the hardest. I remember after the anniversary of his death, we expected it to suddenly get easier, but it didn’t really make a difference. There was no magic date where it got easier. Little did I know that, in my case, life would just get more complicated. Eventually grieving my dad took second place to caring for my mom. 

The day after my mom returned from Africa, we went to church together. After service, she told me that she wasn’t feeling well. I encouraged her to go to urgent care. If she waited too long, she could get really sick. She went to urgent care the next morning and they found that she had pneumonia. They prescribed antibiotics and released her. After a few days, she was still very sick. She had high fevers and her oxygen was in the low 90’s. She went to see her pulmonologist who prescribed stronger antibiotics. He said that if she didn’t get better, she would need to go to the hospital for IV antibiotics. A few days later, still feeling very sick, she took herself to the ER. She was admitted to the hospital that day.