Keeping A Marriage Strong Amid a Child’s Cancer Diagnosis
Leslie and Eric Bartel did not know if their marriage would survive their daughter’s osteosarcoma diagnosis. This is how they pulled through together.
Leslie and Eric Bartel say that it felt like a nightmare when their daughter, Annabelle Grace, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma at age 9. By leaning on their faith and fighting together as a family, the couple has come out of the hardest chapter of their lives even stronger than before.
This is Leslie and Eric’s advice to parents on navigating childhood cancer and preventing a marriage breakdown.
Focus on Faith and Family
In addition to Annabelle Grace (AG for short), the Bartels have two younger sons — Sean Ryan and John Wyatt. One piece of advice Leslie gives to other parents of children with cancer is to focus on their faith and family. “Everybody is in the fight together. The whole family is battling cancer.”
From the beginning of their cancer journey, Eric and Leslie were clear-eyed about the challenges they would face. They knew that many couples who go through this kind of trauma end up in divorce.
“It is so hard to be romantic with a broken heart,” says Eric. “And every day you are fighting this battle. It is exhausting.”
“It is so hard to be romantic with a broken heart. Every day you are fighting this battle. It is exhausting.” — Eric Bartel
They turned to their faith for support. “There is a moment I will never forget,” remembers Leslie. “We were in the garage, the kids had just gone inside, and we were in shock. There was true anguish, uncertainty, and concern. Eric and I held hands and prayed, ‘Please, God, don’t let this take our marriage, our family, our business.’”
Lean On One Another
Leslie and Eric prepared to do everything they could to give AG a fighting chance, and they worked as a team to manage their inevitable fatigue.
“Fighter’s fatigue is real,” says Eric. “There were days when Leslie had to be the strong one and lift my spirits up, and there were days when I had to lift her up.”
A practical step that helped them support each other was dividing the responsibilities. Leslie began diving into medical research and coordinating AG’s appointments, scans, and follow-ups with her team of doctors. Eric became the official communicator with family, friends, and church. Each Sunday, Eric posted a video to Facebook, sharing how AG was doing that week. This allowed the Bartels to keep their community updated without having to repeat the same information over numerous phone calls.
Ask for Help
Initially, it was hard for Eric and Leslie to ask for help. “At first, we tried to do everything ourselves, but when you’re going through this fight, you need as many people in your army as possible,” says Eric. “We had to humble ourselves and just ask for what we needed and say thank you.”
This meant getting comfortable accepting food and money donations. Friends even washed their clothes during some of the hardest months of treatment. One friend even paid for a once-a-week house cleaning service. These forms of support added up to make a big difference. “You may feel inclined to try and do everything yourself,” says Leslie, “but you have to be thankful for community and let people carry you.”
Keeping Spirits High
Leslie and Eric encourage other parents to “do what it takes to keep your child living — to keep them fighting.” A child with cancer is still a child. They need to be able to find joy in life.
Leslie says, “We did so much to keep AG feeling like a kid, whether it was creating a fun theme for every check-up or decorating her hospital room. Anything to keep her spirits lifted, to keep her fighting.”
Sharing Their Story
AG is now in remission. But many children with osteosarcoma do not have the same outcome. Osteosarcoma treatment has not changed in over 40 years, and one in three children diagnosed with osteosarcoma do not survive.
Because of this, the Bartels are passionate about raising osteosarcoma awareness. “Without organizations like the Osteosarcoma Institute (OSI), parents like us do not have a voice. We have a passion to do something about osteosarcoma, but we need help to get it done,” says Leslie.
“This is the club nobody wants to be in,” adds Eric. “But we have a chance to partner with organizations like the OSI to make a difference for kids.”
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If you are a teenager with cancer or in remission from a childhood diagnosis, you are not alone. There is a specialized medical field focused on your unique challenges: Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) medicine.