Andrew and Esther Schorr: How We Coped With a Cancer Diagnosis Together

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Topics include: Patient Stories and Living Well

In  the prime of their lives, and in the midst of raising young children, Andrew and Esther Schorr were shocked when Andrew was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Andrew and Esther share how they coped with the news as a couple and how connecting with other patients—and specialists—helped Andrew to receive the best care and support possible.

This program was sponsored by The Patient Empowerment Network, which received educational grants from AbbVie, Inc., Genentech and Gilead Sciences, Inc.

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Transcript

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you. 

Esther Schorr:

I’m Esther Schorr, and this is my husband, Andrew Schorr. And we’ve been married how long, 29 years?

Andrew Schorr:                                    

Twenty-nine years. I think I’ve got it right.

Esther Schorr:                     

Something like that, a few decades.

Andrew came home one day and said, you know, this is the third or fourth nosebleed that I’ve had in the last couple of weeks. And I said to him, well, you know, is that unusual for you? You know, the air is dry, etc. He said well, you know, I don’t usually have nosebleeds.

So I said well, you know, if you’re worried about it, go to the doctor and let him check it. And that was what he did. And then what happened? We…

Andrew Schorr:                                    

…I had the blood test, and then, the result came back abnormal with high lymphocytes, and I was retested the same day. And then I called Esther I think, and I said, I have to talk to you. Came home, and then told you that it was possible that I had leukemia.

Esther Schorr:                     

Yeah, it really came out of nowhere, and I think that was the thing that was so startling. There, Andrew’s a very, has always been a very athletic person, and just having these, this very serious diagnosis come out of nowhere was really pretty scary.

And at the time, we had two very young children. One was, I don’t know, 2-1/2, 3 and the other one was, what maybe 4 or 5?... And we were in the process of, we had made the decision to try to have a third child.

Andrew Schorr:                                    

I really didn’t understand what leukemia was, other than it could be deadly—ever expected it for myself. And I remember thinking, at age 45 I believe I was, that if I were to die in short order, and I was kind of preparing myself for that, would my life, would it have been fulfilling, and would my family be okay.

Didn’t say that to Esther, but I was prepared to die. And I felt that my family financially, and with support from others, and family and friends that they would be okay. It’s not at all what I wanted, but I was looking at the worst case and facing up to it.

Esther Schorr:                     

I think there were a few things that helped Andrew and I get through that initial shock. Information, I mean, one of the first things that we did was to start looking into whatever resources there were for information.

 Andrew Schorr:                                   

We had to do more than that though…and emotionally, we sought support from professionals.

Esther Schorr:                     

Yep, we did. Yeah, one of the first things we did was we both got into counseling. And I know for me as spouse, my concern was not only being supportive to Andrew, in what he was going through as a patient, but also like how was I going to keep it together for the kids, as he was going through what looked like was going to be treatment.

And having a third party that could help sort some of that out was really, really critical.

Andrew Schorr:                                    

It was a big help to connect with other patients. So early on, we connected with other patients online and also in our own community. We met people online, and we said well, we live in Seattle. And somebody else said, I do, too. And we actually started having lunches. The spouses got together… as well. It was a huge help connecting.

And then there was information sharing that was helpful, and that’s what led us to a super specialist in CLL and, ultimately, for me being in what we think was a life-saving clinical trial.

Esther Schorr:                     

It was very important for me as an individual, apart from seeking support for Andrew and I, to have my own set of support, apart from what we were dealing with as a couple. So, for example, during the time Andrew was going through treatment, I had to wear one hat of supporting him through what he was going through.

But I also had, I found it very helpful, my parents, my brother, close friends, to be able to talk to them directly about what I was experiencing, as somebody who was not the patient but somebody who was watching the patient going through what Andrew was going through.

The other, it was very important in our going to another city for Andrew’s treatment, to make sure that our kids were well cared for and they understood what was happening. They were very young, so I think the experience for a family when something like this happens, how, how you deal with the kids or, you know, dependents will vary.

But for us, it was very critical to have family and friends who knew our kids well, and knew our family dynamic, to be able to help keep the kids together, while we could concentrate on what was going on for Andrew.

One of the most difficult things was to hear a diagnosis, and then be told, we’re not going to do anything right now. We’re going to just watch your white count go up. It might be six months, might be six years, but we’re going to wait.

So I kind of adopted an attitude of well, between now and when the next time is that blood counts are checked, we’re just going to go on with our life and assume that the next time this is checked we’ll see where we are. And I think that’s been really, really helped me get through the idea of, how do you get through each day? It’s kind of like you only have today.

Andrew Schorr:                                    

I think most people say this. When you’re diagnosed with cancer, and you’re not dead in short order, you say okay, what am I going to do with every day? And your doctors say that, too, say go live your life. And I think that’s very good advice. Go live your life—may not be exactly the same physically, but I think your zest for life can be the same.

Appreciate what you have. And so that’s the way I’ve carried forward. Esther and I get invitations for different things, individually and together. And I would say, where sometimes we’d say, oh, we’ll do that later. I don’t know if I can do that today, or next week or next month. Now almost always, we say yes. We just go do it.

So I’d say, go say yes. The answer is yes. The answer is go do things, opportunities. Take them now. Not because it’s some sort of a bucket list, but it’s about really enjoying life to its fullest. Why not now?

Esther Schorr:                     

Through this whole process, I have adopted an attitude of I really have two choices, two main choices in all of this. One is to let the circumstance of Andrew’s diagnosis stop us from doing a lot of things, because of a fear of another shoe dropping.

The other choice is to do pretty much what Andrew has talked about often is you have today. You have your health today, and you need to just go do it. And for me, I’ve, I’ve adopted that latter attitude, and with great thanks to Andrew, being the kind of patient and evangelist that he is around living life to the fullest.

So I think that as a support person, you have that choice. You can either decide to spend your time worrying about what’s going to happen next, or you can say, I have today. I’ve got a lot of things I want to do. I’m with the person I love. Just make the most of it.

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you. 

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Page last updated on January 20, 2017