Last year, when her husband, Will Humphrey, was diagnosed with a rare type of blood cancer, Ellen Humphrey began her work as his caregiver.
Ellen, a physical therapist, worked hard to raise money for Relay for Life. At the same time, Will was on a clinical trial that re-energized him, giving Ellen and her three sons — William, 14, Nicholas, 13 and Davis, 11 — the feeling that he was healed.
“No single person had ever raised as much money for Relay for Life," Ellen said. "Ironically, after what seemed like a full recovery, my husband was diagnosed with a second kind of blood cancer. Here you are, being chosen as Honorary Caregiver for Relay for Life for raising so much money, and your husband’s almost completely healed — and then he does a 180 and dies.”
Will Humphrey died March 14 at age 53. “For every one with my story, there are tens that went home and lived,” Ellen said.
The Lake Forest resident will speak as Honorary Caregiver at Friday's Relay for Life event on the campus of . The event starts at 6 p.m. and runs until 6 a.m. Saturday.
Ellen’s positivity is due in large part to the outpouring of support from the Lake Forest community during Will’s treatment. While Will was in the hospital, local friends and even strangers helped out at the Humphrey home by doing all manner of chores and errands, and dropping off food. To keep everyone informed and to keep sane, Ellen started something she never imagined she’d do — writing.
Ellen kept a blog for the last six months of her husband’s life, recorded from Will’s hospital room. The blog is hosted on CaringBridge: you only need to register and search “Will Humphrey” to read it.
“The power of the blog is the positivity of the community coming together, and sharing this experience, all the stages of loss and grief,” she said.
“A lot of what I wrote is raw and raunchy,” Ellen admitted. “But I handle tragedy with comedy. There’s a reason the Greeks put the faces of tragedy and comedy together.”
Ellen kept busy posting photos of “hot intern” nurses. She shared details of decorating Will’s hospital room, which was so well-designed that Home & Garden featured it in its February 2012 issue. There are descriptions of the tubes in Will’s chest that make him look like Iron Man, or so his sons thought.
“The kids are most excited about the blue chemo because it turns his pee neon green, which adds to the whole Iron Man mystique,” she wrote in November.
The blog includes her unabashed admissions about using anti-depressants to stay strong, in hopes honesty will take away some stigma. Inspiring tales of hospital Thanksgiving celebrations in full masks and gloves. Naming Will’s IV Pole — “We’re thinking Marilyn or Boris.” (They decided on Pippa.)
Mention of a surprising visit from Nick Leddy of the Chicago Blackhawks. Straight-faced conversations about flatulence: “Is nothing sacred? The answer is clearly, NO.” Sometimes, she even shares sweet memories, like how she got Will to propose.
“We were very private about Will’s cancer before it went to leukemia. (The blog) was a natural way to communicate with helping hands. Rather than sending 40 thank-you notes, I would write a blog.”
Ellen offered to share some of her blog with Patch.
Nov 17, 2011 9:07pm
Friends, if you keep this up my kids will never want me to cook another meal because frankly, I can't cook worth a damn and you all are making me look inept. So here we are at 8 p.m. (CMT), having just started Wills's first dose if chemo. I must say he looks mighty resplendent reclining with tan shave chest and fever induced tan. Docs put in a central line today. Imagine a tube coming out of your chest that goes straight to right atrium on one side, pokes out through sterile dressing at skin level and then divides into three heads looking something the offspring in Alien movie or related to classicalism, the head of Madusa.
Nov 20, 2011 6:42pm
Will had yet another sleepless night with pain taking first place in the insomnia battle and nurses taking vital every three hours coming in second. This morning however, he rose to the occasion of a wonderful visit with his brother Andrew bearing a box of approx 100 spectacularly colored orgami cranes, which will be hung from the ceiling in his room to really make it a fire hazard but also so full of good karma that I'm sure the fire God's will look elsewhere.
Nov 23, 2011 1:04pm
The odds that one of your siblings will test positive as a potential bone marrow donor is 1 in 4. Will's bro Andrew was visiting this past weekend, took the test and miraculously IS A MATCH! So your prayers must be working friends... Just like the Who's down in Whoville, it just took that one little extra voice and our prayers were heard. Whahooo! Happy Thanksgiving :-) will & ellie
Dec 2, 2011 8:34pm
Sleep and actually lying down next to him for the first time in 17 days helped. Imagine that. After our nap and a quick freshening up of my mascara strewn face, Will’s personality and wit recovered and we both started to laugh when a loud robotic voice boomed from speaker: Code Orange, Code Orange, Code Orange and Will just looks over at me with a straight face and says; “somebody must really want a Fanta”.
Dec 19, 2011 11:24am
Horton heard your Whos!!!! Will just called. His lead doctor says initial results look Good and so she sees no need to keep him in the hospital over the holidays so he can go home..... GO HOME TODAY. Merry Christmas dear friends and family. Nothing could wipe this smile off my face. Yes, the future is still uncertain but Big Daddy is coming home folks at least for a few weeks. How amazingly great is that!
PERMASMILE: that state of being where (no matter what) you can’t stop smiling. Where after a while your face muscles hurt but still you keep on smiling because you are so filled with euphoric joy!
Dec 22, 2011 9:30pm
What is it called when a rock star, or some crazed concertgoer dives off a stage into the crowd and is held aloft up on the outstretched overhead hands of the multitude? Mob Surfing? That’s what this feels like. Will and I didn’t choose to dive off this stage. We were pushed. But the crowd (our community) was, is and will be there to catch us so that we will not fall, ever. That is the moral of this story.
As sadly as this story ends, Ellen said everyone has something to learn from it.
“In the end, you have to soldier on and accept the tragedy,” she said. “Truth is so much stranger than fiction.”