Husband becomes nurse after wife dies from breast cancer

A man who lost his wife to breast cancer two years ago has left his job in the business world to train to become a nurse in honor of her memory.
by Scott Stump and Yael Federbush / / Source: TODAY

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Bart Conley often struggled just to get out of bed after losing his wife to breast cancer two years ago.

Now his reason to get up in the morning is training for a career to help others in her memory.

Jill Brzezinski-Conley was remembered by all who knew her well, including TODAY's Hoda Kotb, as a vibrant presence who lit up any room she entered before she died at the age of 38 in 2016.

She always left a lasting impression, whether it was with a stunning Paris photo shoot showing that women with cancer can still be beautiful and sexy, or proclaiming at a 2013 cancer gala that she was "going to die the happiest woman in the world."

Bart, 44, still catches himself picking up the phone to call her or turning to tell her something exciting two years later.

"Sometimes it feels like longer,'' he told Hoda in an interview that aired Tuesday on TODAY. "Sometimes it feels like yesterday. I'm blessed that there's a lot of videos, and I watch them all the time. For a while, just getting out of bed was tough for me."

He spoke with Hoda, who is a breast cancer survivor, as part of TODAY's "Pink Power" series during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Brzezinski-Conley was a particular inspiration to Hoda, who celebrated her positivity and inspiring presence in the face of a terminal cancer diagnosis.

Her death left Bart searching for purpose in life. Two years later, he has found it.

Bart has left his career in the business world and begun training to be a nurse at Norton Women's and Children's Hospital in their hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.

"We had just a wonderful staff of nurses that always took care of her,'' he said. "I want to be that nurse that the family can depend on, the patient can depend on, going the extra mile, which a lot of the nurses did for Jill."

He also has continued his work for Jill's Wish, the foundation the couple created to help ease the financial burden on families who have someone being treated for breast cancer. The foundation has distributed more than $250,000 in financial assistance grants.

The couple was not able to have children. Jill was diagnosed six months into their marriage, and a hormone-blocking shot during her treatments triggered early menopause.

Jill instead had a close relationship with her beloved nieces, Ruthie Conley, Skye Conley and Averie Brzezinski, treating them like they were her own daughters.

"She'd do our makeup and paint our nails,'' Ruthie Conley said on TODAY. "She always had a good spirit."

"Jill was really fun and enthusiastic,'' Skye Conley added. "I miss that she was there to talk to."

In that spirit of fun, TODAY arranged for the three girls and Bart to join Hoda for some good times at Candytopia in New York City, which was one of Jill's favorite cities.

It was a time to smile as they all still cope with her loss.

"I try to deal with it better as time goes on,'' Bart said. "But I do love her, and I always think about her. She was amazing."

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