Your Story : Alicia Wagner

“I don’t think I would even change anything about my life because I’ve seen so many awesome things through this all.” – Eric Wagner

Eric & Alicia grew up on the same street in the early 90’s, had all the same friends & even liked each other in their teenage years but the timing was just not right. When Alicia got engaged to another person at 20 years old, Eric actually tried to talk her out of it when he heard! That marriage unfortunately didn’t work out – it was a devastating time for Alicia but it was also a blessing in disguise. She went through A LOT of loss after her divorce, but one of the highlights was when she reconnected with Eric again on MySpace (blast from the past ). He was not only comforting but also very persistent in pursuing her & eventually she couldn’t help but give it a try.

“We had so much fun together, it was very easy to fall in love with him. And throughout that whole part of my life, he picked up all my baggage and carried it. He was my very best friend,” Alicia recalls.

After some dating, one year later they were engaged and shortly after that, married. They ended up renting a house on the same street that they grew up on… and eventually bought it! As Alicia would describe, “We have a pretty cute little love story.”

( photo by Robert Bruce Photography )
They got pregnant and although Eric was so nervous during the pregnancy, he was a truly amazing father. Their son Nolan came first, however a couple years later when Nathan came, he was a very difficult baby. He wouldn’t stop crying and there was a lot of yelling going on in the house due to the stress. It took a toll on their marriage but they soon figured out that their son was ‘under-sensitive’ -- he had a sensory processing disorder, which meant he didn’t feel things the way that you or I do. Once they got Nathan in occupational therapy, he began to thrive, talk and do many of the things a 2 year old boy should be doing.

( photo by Robert Bruce Photography )
Right around this time, however, they also found out that Eric was sick. A year before he was having a pain in his abdomen so he went to the doctors and had an ultrasound, then a CT scan, then was sent to a gastrologist trying to figure out if he had a vascular disorder in his liver. He was sent to a different hospital where he had a MRI & they were told that it was a hemangioma and they had nothing to worry about, just to check back in a year.

About a year later, in August 2015, he was having pain again so he went back in. They found out that he had cancer and it had spread to his lower abdomen, in his muscle linings of his abdomen and all over his liver. They then also found out that the original MRI the year before was a mistake – it wasn’t even on the right side of his liver.

Eric was officially diagnosed with stage 4 gastric cancer called cholangiocarcinoma/bile duct cancer. Three days later, he began chemotherapy right away and surprisingly did amazing on it. He defeated all the odds that they were sure he would go through. He never got sick, he never lost his hair & he actually put on weight. They took him off chemo because his tumor was showing up as inactive and all of his spots that were in his abdomen were gone. They said he could now go see Dr. Barri, who specialized in stage 4 gastric cancer. Dr. Berri told them that he could take out the tumor & do a cytoreductive surgery with hipec to zap any miniscule bad cells. Optimistic, Eric went in to do the surgery, however they instead found out the cancer had spread so he had to start chemo once again. He did wonderful on the chemo this time, as well, and never missed a day of work (except if it was a chemo day). A few months later, he was ready to try the surgery, It was an intense 18.5 hour surgery, however it was a complete success! At 2am Dr. Berri came in to tell them that he was so excited about the procedure & that he had a really good feeling that the cancer was gone.

Alicia came home that night elated by the news, so much so that even when she saw her freezer had been accidentally left slightly open and completely thawed out, she didn’t care at all -- NOTHING could shake her.

Unfortunately, this excitement didn’t last for long. The next day Eric had trouble when they were trying to wake him & from all of the stress of the thrashing upon waking, he went completely blind. When the doctors came in to see him, they thought it was permanent… and it was terrifying. Eric kept screaming, “I’m never going to be able see my kids again!” He didn’t care that the cancer was gone, he just wanted to actually see his children again. Alicia recalls, “This was even more devastating than when we had first found out that he had cancer. I was beyond upset and just kept praying.” Thankfully, after some more evaluation, the doctor was able to get him some drops that helped his optic nerve release from swelling and 24 hours later, his sight returned.

However, the entire experience caused some serious PTSD in Eric & created a lot of anxiety from that point forward. The recovery from the surgery was very difficult – he had to learn how to walk again, do lots of specific breathing treatments, shots in his stomach for blood clots, among many other things. About 4 months later, Eric was feeling fully better, able to go back to work & had a completely renewed sense of life. “After that we had the MOST amazing 9 months of our marriage. It was wonderful,” Alicia said.

In May of 2017 Eric had a follow up scan and they found out the cancer had come back. Alicia took it especially hard, as she was so hopeful and positive that it would not return. They had to switch his chemo but this time he was getting really sick, his hair was falling out and he was losing weight. It was not looking hopeful.

There were many hard times. Happy, fun, energetic Eric turned into a completely different person from the treatments and steroids. “He was so angry & couldn’t even help it, rage from steroids is a real thing,” said Alicia. She had to make the toughest decision to take the kids at times & be somewhere else during the ongoing 2 week treatments. Afterwards, Eric was always incredibly remorseful -- it was all very wearing & difficult.

As trying as it was, there were also SO many beautiful things that happened throughout this time. For instance, the day they were being released from the hospital after Eric’s surgery, they got the good news that his cancer was now stage 1 and unlikely to come back. That same day, Alicia’s friend was having a baby! Throughout his sickness, organizations like Angels of Hope bought the kids Christmas presents, people at church would drop off meals, desserts & things for the children, thousands of dollars of repairs were done on their family vehicle, they did not have to make a car payment for 2 years, their boys school tuition was paid in full, Alicia would come home to surprises from friends like a clean house, full groceries and lilies (her favorite flowers), her cousin gave her a beautiful bag with a journal to write down her all of her feelings, a nurse practitioner angel went above & beyond for them countless times, a friend got people from her church to build & surprise the kids with a swing set in their back yard, Alicia Aunt would take the kids up north for a weekend so that she & Eric could have some time alone, the past 3 Easter’s in a row now someone has dropped off a mystery egg hunt (& she still doesn’t even know who!) and above all of this, the Jerome F. Williams Foundation even sent them to an all expense paid trip to Disney world in February of 2018 which created life long memories & served as the very best distraction from their grave diagnosis. The resulting effects of this help, not all of which is even properly mentioned above, was simply priceless to Alicia & Eric.

Eric was not the best at expressing his feelings or outwardly affectionate, however one of the nights that Alicia was sleeping in the hospital room she overheard him being woken up by a nurse in the wee hours of the morning. The nurse asked him if that was his wife & he said, “Yes, she is. She is so wonderful & beautiful & takes such good care of me. I love her more than anything in this world.” Alicia recalls trying to hold back the tears that began to flow, as she needed to hear that very badly at that time. It was these ‘little’ moments that were SO big to her heart and made her feel extremely grateful to be there with him. “It was another God thing, or so it felt to me,” Alicia said. A beautiful sunrise greeted them that morning & she thought to herself, “This has been such an experience of absolute miracles.”

Eventually, though, they had to take Eric off of the chemo treatment because it was not helping and instead began to focus on his quality of life. “The hardest thing about losing Eric was him not accepting that he was dying,” recalls Alicia. “He passed away in October of 2018, but didn’t stop working until June even though he was so sick. My boys pick up their Disney albums all the time. It makes them happy. They remember riding roller coasters with their dad and having light saber battles with him at the hotel after meeting Kylo Ren and Darth Vader. I can breathe easier knowing there is still good in this world, especially in the midst of a terrible disease like cancer.”

An hour before I interviewed Alicia, I had pulled out my daily verse & posted it on my IG stories :

“I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power." – Philippians 4:13

Afterwards I received a message from Alicia saying, “My favorite verse!” Somehow, I am not surprised. It must be “another God thing” and a great reminder we are truly never, ever alone.

When I asked Alicia what she would hope that people would gain from sharing her story, she said,

“I hope that people don’t ever lose faith.
We saw so many wonderful, amazing things happen even though it was sad, it was hard, it really sucked and it STILL is so hard.
If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it.”

This photo below is of Alicia holding his hand just hours before he passed. She wore his wedding ring because he was too thin & couldn't wear it anymore. Eric told Alicia weeks before that that she wouldn't have to watch him die & his wish came true -- she had walked home from his parents house where he was in hospice for about an hour when she got a call from Eric's father that it was time. By the time she got there, only 4 doors down from them, he was already gone.

Want to know more about Alicia? Here’s a quick snapshot :

Who you are, what you do, & where you're from?
Alicia Wagner. I work for Spencer Oil in Roseville as their accounting department manager for 17 years.

What's one word the best describes you & why?
Complicated. Because there isn’t one word available to describe me.

What's one thing you do daily that you can't live without?
Music. Must have music. All day, every day.

What's one habit you're working to improve & why are you motivated to do so?
To be healthier. Because I’m all my kids have.

What does faith mean to you?
It’s everything. I don’t understand how anyone functions without faith.

What's brings you joy?
Family, laughing, concerts, singing, books....

Thank you, so much, for sharing YOUR STORY, Alicia.
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