Friends since they were 16 years old, Vera was Rodney’s childhood sweetheart. “It was a match made in heaven, an alignment of the stars.” Although they broke up and went their separate ways as young adults, fate brought them back together a few years later. “We saw each other at her sister’s wedding. I think I was still in love with her and the rest is history.”

Both loved to travel and they began accepting assignments around the world. Two daughters (one born in India and the next in Thailand) soon joined the globe-trotting family.

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“We’d lived in seven different countries before Vera was diagnosed,” Rodney recalls. “With friends and family spread across Africa, Asia, Singapore and the US, we found it helpful and rewarding to share her experience online and via social media. We got a lot positive feedback and it was very uplifting.”

Like many lung cancer patients, Vera’s symptoms were easily missed. A healthy non-smoker, when she first went to her doctor, he diagnosed allergies and suggested an over the counter remedy. Sadly, her late diagnosis meant that the cancer had metastasized to her brain.

Team Victory for Vera Photo: Rodney Barretto

“We were fortunate to live in Houston at the time. They have one of the best cancer hospitals in the world and we were able to go into several clinical trials and a course of immunotherapy. The expert care and wonderful support system around us allowed Vera to live the last three years of her life to the fullest.”

Accepting help

“Nothing prepares you for these kinds of situations. You think you are strong and you can do it for yourself. But you need a lot of help. Use the support around you.” Rodney encourages caregivers to cut themselves a little slack. “There’s no dress rehearsal. You will make mistakes. You have to learn very quickly from those and move forward.”

“We were very blessed to have wonderful hospitals and doctors and friends. But cancer is very complicated. It’s not the same for everyone and people struggle with what to do. And if it’s very aggressive, you have even less time to figure out what’s going on.”

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Giving help

He sees it as his mission to provide the practical information that caregivers need. “I can tell them things that even a doctor won’t tell them. I can tell them that I went through this with my wife and I truly understand what they’re going through.”

Rodney, Vera and family.
Photo: Rodney Barretto

He knows the ups and downs of life as a caregiver all too well. “Just do the best you can. Trust your judgement and move forward. Don’t regret what you have done or not done. You did the best you could in the situation.”

For Rodney, the grieving process began when Vera was diagnosed – and intensified after she passed. “My style of grieving was that I was caring for her when she was sick. We had a pact that we would stay strong no matter what. We did that as best as we could. But after she passed away, a lot of things changed. Talking does not prepare you.”

Rodney recently remarried – a decision he knew Vera would approve. “We never had the ‘moving on’ conversation. We didn’t feel the need to discuss it and kept our focus on the present. I know that if I’d asked her, she’d have told me ‘You need companionship. Go and find the girl you will love and cherish for the rest of your life.’” That worked for them – but he recognizes different approaches work for different couples. “I have a friend whose wife was giving him a to-do list of instructions about what to do when she was gone – and others saying that their spouse should grieve for a certain period of time. Each couple has to find what works for them.”

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Rodney sees his work as a volunteer as a continuation of the love he and Vera shared.
“Vera would want me to do this. I know deep in my heart that she would want me to be a volunteer because she would do it herself. It’s also part of my healing. Volunteering is an opportunity to honor her memory – to talk about her and tell people how brave and wonderful she was.”