Cancer Splits A Devoted Couple, But Not A Family

Sy Saliba and daughter Yvette i i

Sy Saliba with his daughter, Yvette, at StoryCorps in Orlando, Fla. StoryCorps hide caption

itoggle caption StoryCorps
Sy Saliba and daughter Yvette

Sy Saliba with his daughter, Yvette, at StoryCorps in Orlando, Fla.

StoryCorps

Sy and Pat Saliba were together for nearly 40 years; the pair first met as teenagers in Trinidad. Five years after Pat's death from cancer, Sy speaks with his daughter, Yvette, about life with the woman who was his soul mate.

When the couple married in 1968, Sy says, "We were poor as church mice."

By then, they were living in Berrien Springs, Mich. The newlyweds marked their first month as husband and wife with a trip to Schuler's, a fancy steakhouse.

"We spent all of $12 — that was our entire month's grocery bill in those days, and we spent it all on that evening," Sy says. And that worried Pat, he recalls. "She fretted with me all the way home, how wanton and extravagant we were to do that."

The couple had three children — two sons and a daughter, Yvette, the youngest.

"Did you ever question your decision to marry Mom?" Yvette asks.

"No. It was kind of like our spirits merged, and we were kind of like soul mates, and we kind of became one."

But decades later, in 1997, Pat was diagnosed with multiple myeloma — a type of blood cancer.

Remembering those days, Yvette asks her father, "What went through your mind then, when she became sick?"

Pat Saliba speaks on the telephone in a family photo from 1964. i i

Pat Saliba, in a family photo from 1964. Saliba Family hide caption

itoggle caption Saliba Family
Pat Saliba speaks on the telephone in a family photo from 1964.

Pat Saliba, in a family photo from 1964.

Saliba Family

"It was like we were in two canoes on a stream, and all of a sudden there was a split — a fork in the stream — and she took one line, and I took the other," he says.

"And for a long time we would paddle together, you know? We could hold hands. Gradually the streams kind of moved away, and we could no longer hold hands, but we could look at each other and talk to each other. And then we got farther and farther away, until we just lost each other."

"As a daughter, watching her go through that, she still maintained a sense of optimism," Yvette says. "Was that something, I guess, she put on for her children?"

"It was who she was," is Sy's answer. Pat would find things to look forward to, he says, as a way of coping with her treatment — which included both chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant.

But in the end, there was little the doctors could do — Yvette recalls coming into her mother's hospital room and finding her parents not talking, but just quietly looking at one another.

"And I remember thinking, 'I wonder if he told her. I wonder if he told her that that was it.' "

Sy doesn't remember that as well, he says, "but what I do remember is we never talked about what would happen. She was concerned about what would happen to me after she died — how I would manage, how I would survive."

Pat also wanted to be remembered, he told Yvette.

"And it's hard to forget her, because she sculpted a life in you," he says. "You are her handiwork, and whenever I look at you, I remember your mother."

Produced for Morning Edition by Nadia Reiman. The senior producer for StoryCorps is Michael Garofalo.

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