This story moved us deeply when we first published it, in 2014. We're revisiting it for National Nurse's Day, to celebrate the men and women who make sacrifices to care for all of us.
When doctors told Tricia Somers that her cancer had spread, she turned to her nurse with an urgent question: "Can you raise my son if I die? If the cancer takes me, can you take my son?"
The two women had known each other for just a few weeks, but had formed a bond that would change both their lives. They first crossed paths in the spring at the Community General Hospital in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Somers, 40, had started feeling stomach pain, so doctors ordered a CT scan, which revealed spots on her liver and a tumor in her abdomen. It turned out to be epithelioid hemangioendothelioma, a very rare vascular cancer.
Somers immediately thought about her 8-year-old son Wesley. She was a single mom, with no family who could take care of him if the worst happened. Her parents were both dead and her only sibling lived out of state. So did Wesley’s father, who was not a big presence in the boy’s life, she said.
Somers was in pain again and hospitalized in March. Tricia Seaman, an oncology nurse, walked in one night, introduced herself and told her patient it would be easy to remember her first name since it was the same as hers.
“I remember when she came into the room, it was just an overwhelming feeling I had over me. It’s really hardto understand – it was just a warmth,” Somers said. “I felt calm, I felt at peace, I felt like this woman is going to be the one who’s going to take care of me.”
As the two Tricias chatted, Somers talked about her son Wesley, while Seaman noticed she was frequently on the phone trying to make sure the boy was taken care of. It was clear Somers didn’t have many people in the area to help, the soft-spoken nurse recalled.
“I felt very sorry for her because I could see her situation was quite serious and also it had to be completely overwhelming knowing you had a little boy and you were in the hospital,” Seaman said.
She was not assigned to Somers after that night, but she kept checking in on her whenever she was at work and they always chatted for a few minutes. On the day she was discharged, Somers told the nurse that her test results came back and they were not good. The cancer had spread to her abdomen wall.
“She said, ‘I’m really glad you stopped by because I have something I need to ask you,’” Seaman, 45, recalled. “She said, ‘If I die, will you raise my son?’”
Seaman, a mom of three teenage girls and a 10-year-old boy, talked it over with her husband. It seemed like fate: The couple had been thinking about adopting a child and they were approved to become foster parents last fall, just as Somers was diagnosed with cancer. Their son Noah was feeling outnumbered by his sisters and the family was ready to welcome another boy.
“We need to try to help this woman,” Seaman recalled her husband Dan saying. “We just need to follow whatever it is God wants us to do here.”
Somers and Wesley visited the family at Easter, and then again on Mother’s Day. In May, she began receiving chemotherapy and was having a tough time: She was disoriented, dehydrated and her legs were so swollen she could hardly walk. Doctors told her she couldn’t go home by herself any more, so she asked the Seamans to take in her son right then. The Seamans invited both of them to move in with them.
The two families have been living together ever since. Doctors told Somers she had as little as a few weeks left to live, but surrounded by the warmth and care of the Seamans, she’s gotten stronger.
“She’s just being loved by a family and she’s a part of a family, and that makes a huge difference,” Seaman said.
“Ultimately, this family has saved my life because I was told in May that I may have a month, and I’m still here,” Somers added.
Meanwhile, the children have bonded. Wesley and Noah love all the same things: Legos, Marvel superheroes and Xbox, Seaman said. The boys sleep in bunk beds in Noah’s room and have become inseparable, Somers added. Wesley, an only child, loves the siblings he never had before.
The Seamans have made arrangements to become Wesley’s legal guardians when Somers dies.
“My son is well aware that when I pass on, he is welcome to stay here. And he knows that Dan and Tricia will be his guardians. They’ve explained to him that they’ll never be mommy and daddy, but they’re sure going to try to be close,” Somers said.
“They’ve answered my prayers. It’s wonderful, it’s absolutely wonderful.”
This article was originally published in 2014.