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.”

  • Stacey Rubin

    This is great news I am happy for your family and wish the best , 🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻

  • Dee

    Thanks for sharing your story with so many! It’s very touching and inspiring. I’m sure it will give hope and courage to many others going through difficult times and those of us who might go through this some day. Great testimony!

  • Fran Fine

    Thank you for sharing. That was exactly what I needed to read tonight. A feel good and happy ending story. I wish you continued prayers and healing now and always.

  • Michael Fumagalli

    Hi Sam –

    My name is Mike Fumagalli. I lost my late wife at 36 years old to stage IV metastatic colon cancer just 27 days after diagnosis in 2018. Our sons were 7 years old and 8 months old at the time. Fellow widow and widower friends of mine have launched a foundation to support grieving widows and widowers along with their surviving children after their family has been impacted by cancer. Visit our page at http://www.clearribbon.com and I would love to connect with you. My email is michael@clearribbon.com.

    All the best. Many blessings.
    In Hope and Healing,
    Mike

  • Amy Brewster

    I was about to post on my own Caring Bridge site when I found your story. Cancer changes everything and has brought the greatest sense of loss I have ever felt, except perhaps when losing my mom to leukemia. Yet, cancer has given me gifts as well. I live one day at a time and appreciate what I have more than I ever have in my entire life.
    Thank you for sharing and I pray for Jake’s full recovery and the continued happiness and healing of your family.

  • Hélène Martin

    I found your story while checking my granddaughter’s comment on her little brother, who has just recovered from lymphoma, on his CaringBridge site. I usually do not post comments, but you have gone through such an incredible hardship, especially for Jake who fell sick after loosing his mom, and I am so moved by your courage and your family’s recovery, that I wanted to write this note. May the years ahead be blessed and filled with your sons’ laughter and the beautiful love you are sharing.

    A grandmother from Canada forever thankful to CaringBridge for their care and empathy.

  • Debby Miler

    I just happened to come across your story as I was looking for a friend of mine who is dealing with cancer. What a beautiful story of hope, love, and walking with God through the tough times as well as the good times. Everyday is so very precious, isn’t it? I will keep Jake in my prayers! Blessings to you all, what an inspiration you and your family are to all!!

  • Linda Halvorson

    This is a great story. Thank you for sharing.

  • Richard Robbins

    Roger,I know things are tough right now and also know you are strong. We both have traveled down this road, but you like me prayers and love by others will help. You have been having to deal with this problem for a long time. Think strong thoughts and at some point you will look back and realize the worse is behind you. Also, at some point you won’t even think about your situation as it will just become part of your daily life as it has with me. Hang in there my friend.

  • Courtney Welk

    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

    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

    Thank you for sharing your story. I pray for continued strength and health for your family.

  • Goldie Wilks

    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

    The amazing power of faith and prayer will sustain the living, thank you for sharing this story of tragedy and triumph

  • ANITA MARIE PAYTON

    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

    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

    wonderful story

  • Joan Landry Haltigan

    My life has a similar story, twice. To all who are going through these challenges in life, journal your story…………it 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

    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

    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

    What a blessing to discover CaringBridge and to read these wonderful stories. God is good?

  • Joy Zimmer

    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 heartsas 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 gratefulto Him again as the family pieces their lives together and finds new love. God is great! Joy Zimmer

  • M. Lynn Landweer, PhD, Sociolinguist

    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

    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

    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

    What a wonderful story of inspiration and hope. God is glorious.

  • Vickie Schmidt

    Special family! Prayers and blessings ??

  • Sandra Olivier LeBlanc

    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

    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

    What a wonderful story of love and change and blessings! God does the healing and makes the connections!1

  • Deborah Hall

    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

    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

    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

    Beautiful story of faith, perseverance, and love beyond belief.

  • Linda Corbett

    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

    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

    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.