After losing her 35-year-old husband, Spiro Pina, to glioblastoma multiforme, the worst kind of brain cancer, in 2009, Meritxell Mondejar Pont changed careers to become an oncology nurse.
“It was hard at the beginning, because it was so close to my own loss,” the Minneapolis resident and Barcelona native said. “But helping others in the same situation Spiro and I were in definitely helped me heal.”
Spiro, in fact, had encouraged Meritxell to explore what became essential in returning her to wholeness. Broken, but repaired. Missing what she had, while focusing on what she still has.
“Over five years, we had been in so many hospitals and in contact with so many nurses,” Meritxell said. “They had taught me how to take care of my husband, how to give him medication, how to put him in and out of bed, toward the end, when his mobility was compromised by the brain tumor.
“One day I said to Spiro, ‘I think I have to become a nurse.’ I remember he said, ‘Why? You are a teacher.’ I said, ‘I can become a nurse and take care of people like you. I think I can do a good job because I am a teacher and a caregiver.’ He said, ‘Well, then you have to do it.’”
But neither Spiro nor Meritxell could have imagined that the new nurse’s first assignment would be on 7C&D at the University of Minnesota Medical Center in Minneapolis, the floors where Spiro had received treatment over the course of his illness.
And where the young couple had proudly showed off at the nurse’s station their newborn daughter, Eulalia, now 11. Happy news of their baby-to-be had come at the very start of Spiro’s cancer journey.
Meritxell worried she could not handle the assignment. “I’m going to be in the same rooms where my husband had chemotherapy, and where he had seizures,” she told her nursing instructor. “The teacher looked at me and said, ‘You can do it, and you have to do it for your own healing.’”
And she did. Eight years after Spiro’s death, healing continues for Meritxell, as she raises Eulalia, who has her dad’s dimpled chin and walk, in his honor, and his spirit.
A two-time Olympic athlete for Greece, in luge, Spiro spoke six languages, wrote beautifully, and was an amazing spouse, sibling, son and father. He did not deserve a brain cancer diagnosis. No one does.
But from the pain Meritxell thought might kill her, as well as help from Spiro’s parents, and brothers, who walk beside her to this day, emerged lessons Spiro would want to be shared, in hope of helping others.
“I learned a lot about myself, about Spiro, about our wonderful families and friends, and the community we had around us,” she said. “We saw all the ways people reach out to help when you’re suffering … and that makes you grow. We are better people from what we went through with Spiro.”