Josh and Audrey Caughey were engaged to be married when they learned he had a rare, cancerous brain tumor.
Still, the Perham couple forged ahead with their wedding and spent their honeymoon at the Mayo Clinic instead of some vacation hotspot.
They forged ahead when Josh had two brain surgeries and multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiation.
"We went through things that couples don’t necessarily go through until they’re 10, 15, 20 years into marriage… and we did that our first summer," Audrey Caughey said.
They forged ahead to have a family and welcomed now 2-year-old son Otto into the world, they also got a dog.
Josh, 39, and Audrey, 31, have managed to squeeze a lot of life into a short amount of time — because they don’t know how much time they have left together.
Josh’s tumor, held at bay for more than three years, is growing exponentially. He’s lost some memory and mental function due to the cancer and the treatments.
He had to quit his job in January, and Audrey, a teacher in Perham and their only source of income, is trying to keep everything afloat.
It’s not the first health challenge for Josh, who lost a leg in a farm accident as a teenager.
A GoFundMe account has been set up to see that Audrey can be at home with him.
They want to make as many memories as possible.
"Even though it’s horrible," she said, pausing to reflect on the cancer fight, "it’s made us really focus on each other and our marriage, and living well together," she said.
"God has blessed us in a lot of ways," Josh Caughey said.
Honeymooning at Mayo
The couple met online and had their first date at a Detroit Lakes coffee shop in November 2015. He proposed in 2016 and they set a wedding date for the summer of 2017.
But fate would intervene before they could tie the knot.
In April that year, Josh got very sick with headaches and vomiting that he at first thought was food poisoning or a stomach bug. Audrey took him to the hospital, where a scan revealed a golf ball size tumor.
Josh was diagnosed with anaplastic astrocytoma, an aggressive and malignant brain tumor.
He had two brain surgeries — the second of which was at Mayo Clinic in Rochester in June.
In July, they got married, and spent their "honeymoon" back at Mayo, where Josh had chemotherapy and radiation to target the rest of the tumor that couldn’t be removed during surgery.
"Got to know each other very well," she said with a laugh.
"Luckily, I met the most amazing person ever who was able to put up with someone who was very ill," he said.
They both went back to work that fall of 2017, together building a life and a family.
But in late fall of 2020, the cancer returned.
"We knew it would come back eventually," Audrey said. "We were just hoping for longer."
Audrey noticed worsening memory issues and reduced mental function in her husband that couldn’t be blamed on chemo. As a result, he can only be home alone for short periods of time, she said.
Chess and humor help
Currently, Josh is trying a combination of treatments and they hope to learn soon whether it's working. If it doesn't, they’ll try to get him on a trial medication, which would bring a whole new set of unknowns.
In the meantime, he continues his regular chess matches with Audrey and any other family member who’s willing to take him on.
For a person struggling with memory issues, it’s good to have activities that aren’t focused on just conversation, Audrey said.
"He keeps beating everybody," she said, turning to her husband. "You can’t remember if you’ve fed the dog, but you can kick my butt in chess and cribbage," she laughed.
Humor, among many things, keeps them going.
She talked about the time Josh dressed up as a pirate for Halloween and put a broomstick in his prosthetic leg.
"That’s commitment to character," she said.
With money that’s been raised thus far, Audrey thinks she can finish out the school year at home with Josh. An English and Spanish teacher, she’s trying to do some lesson planning and virtual teaching when possible.
She’s had to put up with so many difficult things, Josh said.
"You’re worth it," she said, to which he replied, "So are you. I definitely won the lottery."