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Judy Blume opens up about finding hope after husband's pancreatic cancer

Blume's husband, George Cooper, was diagnosed with the disease in 2018.
/ Source: TODAY

Judy Blume is opening up about how she and her husband, George Cooper, found hope again after Cooper was diagnosed and treated for pancreatic cancer.

In an essay she penned for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network's website, the famed young adult author recalled how she noticed on a "date night" in 2018 that her then 81-year-old husband's coloring had "turned yellow."

"I mean, seriously yellow. His face, his chest and arms, even the whites of his eyes," she recalled.

Judy Blume with husband George Cooper in 2016.Rob O'Neal / The Key West Citizen via AP

Though Cooper insisted he felt fine, Blume called their doctor immediately.

"The doctor asked to speak to George. He told him this could be life threatening and he was to go to the ER right away. That got George’s attention. I had no way of knowing until then that his urine had turned brown and his stool was pale and what they call floaters," Blume wrote, noting some of her husband's initial symptoms.

The couple went to an ER in their hometown of Key West. The medical staff there was stumped by Cooper's condition. After speaking with a cousin who was a gastrointestinal specialist, Blume convinced Cooper to travel three hours by ambulance to Baptist Hospital in Miami.

"He had no fever. No symptoms other than painless jaundice, an expression we would hear a lot in the coming days," Blume recalled.

After undergoing blood tests, an X-ray and several scans, Cooper received a diagnosis the following day: pancreatic cancer.

The couple traveled to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, where Cooper underwent a Whipple procedure, or pancreaticoduodenectomy, the most common surgery to remove tumors in the pancreas.

"I was anxious on the day of surgery but George went into an altered state. How can I explain it? He accepts that he has no control over what’s going to happen and he relaxes. Que será, será. I’m just the opposite," Blume wrote.

It took a while for Cooper to recover from the procedure.

"You have to know this about George — he’s not a complainer. He may have been 81 (so was I) but he was in excellent physical shape, a former runner, energetic, lively, interested in everything. Now he was tired. He’d lost 20 pounds, which put him at 138," Blume wrote.

She added, "Our neighbor brought him old comedy tapes to play on TV while he sat in his chair. The tapes made him laugh. This was good."

Once Cooper was strong enough, he underwent six months of chemotherapy at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, a part of University of Miami Healthy System.

Right before leaving for Miami, the couple ran into an old friend who'd been treated for cancer for years. "Yet he looked good, strong, and was on his bike. When we told him George was about to start chemo he said, It’s not your parents’ chemo. Things have improved. You’ll get through this," Blume recalled.

"I think that was the best thing anyone said to us," she added.

Though there were "plenty of ups and downs" during Cooper's chemo treatment, he felt good enough three months in to participate in the Key West St. Patrick’s Day 3K run/walk. "I went with him. We wore green tutus," Blume wrote.

Now, more than two years after that fateful date night that led to an ER visit, both Cooper and Blume are healthy.

"We just celebrated George’s 84th birthday. We’ve made it through the pandemic ... We try to walk two miles every day, as we have for the past year. We’re also riding our bikes to the store. Maybe George doesn’t have the stamina he once did, but neither do I," wrote Blume.

Though Blume admitted to suffering with "scanxiety" just before her husband is checked out every four months, she and Cooper remain upbeat.

"The only thing to remember is, there is hope!" wrote Blume. "We’re two and a half years from that date night when it all began. People run into him and can’t believe he’s okay. That he looks so good. He still wants ice cream most nights. And he’s just as enthusiastic about Date Nights."

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