In its Wake, Cancer Leaves Space for Change, Healing

After Sam Rodriguez lost his 39-year-old wife to leukemia and their young son was diagnosed with lymphoma six years later, feeling resentful toward God, doctors—and the world—could have been a natural response.

But instead of thinking, “Why me?” Sam let himself be changed by all that happened. That’s how he has moved his family forward, toward healing.

On Dec. 11, 2012, Erika Rodriguez died from an infection related to acute myeloid leukemia. Sam said a part of him died that day, too. But for the sake of their twin sons, Ben and Jake, just 3 at the time, he prayed for the strength to keep going.

Three weeks after Erika’s death, Sam wrote on her CaringBridge site: “I just thank God for the strength he has given me personally and through all of you. I am devastated beyond description … thankfully, God has a way for providing for our needs, and he continues to do that for me.”

Then, in 2019, Sam’s strength was tested again. Jake was undergoing treatment for T-cell lymphoma when a fungal infection invaded his immunocompromised body during chemo, to the point of taking over his heart. Doctors believed he was near death.

But, inexplicably, the infection reversed and, after 75 days in the hospital, Jake was able to go home with his heart fully recovered. His successful, 2 ½-year cancer treatment will conclude in April.

“I think once you are on the threshold of losing something—or you’ve lost something significant—it changes the way you look at things,” Sam said. “And it hopefully changes the way you keep looking at things moving forward, with all things and people.”

A joyful move forward occurred in 2016, when Sam remarried. He met his new wife, Katie Locke, indirectly through Erika, who was a patient at the dental practice where Katie worked as a hygienist.

Katie said, “Erika and Sam had moved away, back to her hometown of Alexandria, MN. We hadn’t seen each other for about six years, until I ran into her at the University of Minnesota hospital.”

Erika had just been diagnosed with leukemia. As a show of support, Katie signed up to run her first marathon for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Erika and Katie kept in touch, and Katie remembers feeling heartbroken as she watched Ben and Jake walk with Sam at Erika’s memorial service.

Sam and Katie stayed connected through the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. As their friendship deepened, Sam said he felt both Erika and God had a hand in writing a new chapter for their family. The birth of Cole, now 3, made it complete.

From the start, Jake and Ben, now 11, called Katie “Mom.” “We’ve never really looked at it like they are my stepsons, because there is a place for both of us,” Katie said. “It’s OK to have a mom in heaven and a mom on earth. So I’m just Mom No. 2 … mom on earth.”

Katie started Jake’s CaringBridge site the day he woke up wheezing, swollen and in pain. A chest x-ray and CT scan showed a Nerf football-sized tumor pressing against his lungs and heart.

From Jake’s hospital room, Sam wrote on Nov. 3, 2018, “I never thought I would be writing a Journal entry in CaringBridge again. Yet here I am, at 2:52 a.m., writing the troubled thoughts of a completely broken-hearted man.”

Again, Sam asked for prayers, which continue in abundance as Jake’s health stabilizes. His CaringBridge site has been visited nearly 500,000 times, with family and friends leaving thousands of prayers and messages of support.

Early on, Katie described Jake as a “warrior,” for his bravery through cancer treatment, and all who came in contact with him have been inspired by the strength and spirit of “Warrior Jake.” But he’s ready to just be “Jake,” younger brother to Ben by just a few minutes and idol to Cole, who worships the big boys.

Now the Rodriguez Family is moving forward again, this time with a real move. A home they’re building in Brainerd, MN, close enough to the Twin Cities for doctors’ appointments but distant enough for a fresh start, will be finished about the same time as Jake’s cancer treatment.

It will be a place of healing, where Katie and Sam wish for nothing more than to watch their sons grow in health and happiness. As Katie said, “We almost lost Jake, and now to see all three of them laughing and running, giggling … there’s no greater feeling than just watching your kids be kids.”

Comments (28)

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Courtney Welk Apr 12, 2021 9:41am
I am sitting here, a 43 year old mom diagnosed with stage IV sarcoma getting my immunotherapy and reading your story...I am in tears for your loss and for the new love/life you have found and ESPECIALLY in the strength Jake found to fight his battle and win. You are a beautiful family, thank you for sharing your story. It helps to read stories and hardships others are going through and how they have overcome them. Your story has given me strength
billwilliamson Apr 10, 2021 8:35am
WOW—To read this is God’s revelation for me! This is absolutely amazing. Our God is so powerful, so Loving and so into our Lives that it’s beyond my understanding. I can only answer this questiion with this. He has created all with His word and by doing this He can Love us and cherish us too
Drue Hickey Apr 09, 2021 10:24pm
Thank you for sharing your story. I pray for continued strength and health for your family.
Goldie Wilks Apr 08, 2021 9:17am
All Praise to GOD OUR FATHER!!! So thankful that MESSIAH bore our infirmities for us!! Hallelujah! So glad to hear your family is being blessed! I thank GOD for you all. This is a powerful testimony of GOD’S goodness & provision. GOD’S continual blessings be upon your growing family!
Mark Alan Dobbertien Apr 08, 2021 9:12am
The amazing power of faith and prayer will sustain the living, thank you for sharing this story of tragedy and triumph
ANITA MARIE PAYTON Apr 05, 2021 8:53pm
What a powerful testimony of resilience, in the face of life's most fierce storms. Blessings to you. Thank you for sharing. I pray for your continued peace, joy and happiness. 🙏🏾😊
RoseAnn Apr 05, 2021 5:31pm
A great story. I have followed this young man's journey through caringbridge He is a warrior and loved by so many, what a great person this "earth mom" is I am absolutely positive that the "heaven mom" had something to do with this amazing journey. we continue to be amazed at his courage and God's love for them. Blessing....
vikas Apr 04, 2021 4:41am
wonderful story
Joan Landry Haltigan Apr 02, 2021 12:32pm
My life has a similar story, twice. To all who are going through these challenges in life, journal your was there that I first saw the hand of God helping me at every turn. He didn't make things easier, but he gave me the faith, and help I needed to continue my journey on this earth. Believe, and God bless all of you who's lives have been shattered at some point or another. There is an all loving God, and believe it or not, He's walking these paths with us.
Carol Maxwell Mar 31, 2021 8:12am
God bless you all and thank God who has held you close through these nightmare chapters of your life. God is good even when we don’t understand and hurt so badly. Bless you for continuing to trust Him. You’re an inspiration to us all.
JoDena L. Dittman Mar 29, 2021 8:28am
God has a plan for you - all of you. Your faithfulness and gratitude to Him please Him. He will continue to walk every step of this journey with you. Continue believing in the Lord with all your heart, mind, and soul and know that Erica is smiling down upon you with peace and love. God bless all of you and thank you for sharing your story.
Mary Sullivan Mar 29, 2021 7:51am
What a blessing to discover CaringBridge and to read these wonderful stories. God is good💕
Joy Zimmer Mar 28, 2021 8:49am
Christ's love is unending and He is always there for all who need Him despite all trials and tribulations. This story breaks all our hearts as we read what people go through every day and yet find the Lord in everything to keep them going forward with their lives. I'm grateful to Him again as the family pieces their lives together and finds new love. God is great! Joy Zimmer
M. Lynn Landweer, PhD, Sociolinguist Mar 27, 2021 9:40pm
I am so glad for you. You've been through fire, and have come out the other side, scathed perhaps, but still on the other side. I take courage in your evident faith. May that faith sustain you and grow ever stronger as you two and your loved sons face the future. MLL, Pine River, MN
Tx Mar 25, 2021 11:36am
With tears of sadness & joy I read your moving post. I am so extremely sorry for your loss of Erika. What joyful news to hear of your precious son's miraculous recovery! Thank you Jesus, praise your name Jesus!! What a joy to see you have found a God given wife & new son. (Our family has also experienced AML disease & loss.) Praying that God continues to provide your family with his healing, protection, health & guidance for generations to come! Blessings to EACH of you, from TX!
Karen Elliott Mar 22, 2021 9:22pm
I wish this family all that God has to offer. He is a God of Restoration and it seems these folks need it in spades!
Dina Mar 21, 2021 6:27pm
What a wonderful story of inspiration and hope. God is glorious.
Vickie Schmidt Mar 21, 2021 4:52pm
Special family! Prayers and blessings 🙏🙏
Sandra Olivier LeBlanc Mar 19, 2021 9:57pm
What a beautiful touching story. So happy for all of you now! have followed so many different people on Caring Bridge. What a wonderful site.
Gregory C Stehling Mar 19, 2021 11:33am
I have a CaringBridge site since my wife passed. I encourage others to start their own site during their terrible life experiences. The story at this site provides hope and inspiration to move on to find new good experiences for their family. I enjoyed reading their story to see how they dealt with tragedy and persevered to move forward. Thank you for sharing your story. It will reach many others dealing with deep family tragedy. God bless to your whole family and finding new beautiful family experiences.
Devonna Wong Mar 19, 2021 1:58am
What a wonderful story of love and change and blessings! God does the healing and makes the connections!1
Deborah Hall Mar 18, 2021 11:09am
I am deeply moved by your story. Your courage and love shine through it all. You teach each of us reading this by sharing your loss and pain and showing us how your faith in God sustained you and blessed you. I am thankful for all the mercy you received. I wish you joy with your beloved sons always.
Janice McDonald Mar 15, 2021 5:19pm
Just read this for the first time. I am so thankful for your strength and that you have shared your journey with all of us! What a testimony of God's faithfulness. May He grant you peace during this uneven journey of life!
Sue Marthaler Gerard Mar 15, 2021 9:56am
Katie and Sam..your amazing faith in God and His healing strength is so inspirational...thank you for sharing of your journey in life. GOD BLESS ALL.
Pat McGraw Mar 15, 2021 4:43am
Beautiful story of faith, perseverance, and love beyond belief.
Linda Corbett Mar 14, 2021 5:04pm
This is such a heart warming inspirational story of FAITH, HOPE and LOVE💚 I feel BLESSED to say I know you and look forward to having your family as our neighbors in Brainerd! GOD IS GOOD🙏
Rachel arntson Mar 14, 2021 5:01pm
I love this post, a farewell to this past and hello to your new future. May your days be filled with ball games, fun in the back yard, and 'boring' nights watching your kids do all the things that kids do. God bless you all!
Christin Gigstad, mom to heart warrior Carson Mar 11, 2021 7:13pm
Amazing and powerful story. From one Caring Bridge family to another, thank you for sharing your story. Ironically enough, our story started in Brainerd while on a family vacation. Hope to see you there one day or meet your family somehow. And, isn’t Pat McMorrow great? We met her with our story, too. Sending hope, love and light to your family.