BY LISA KIMBLE Contributing writer
Sarah Moreland has known these past few weeks that she was living on borrowed time. Not hers, but her husband, Jeff's.
"Time is very limited," Moreland said Wednesday, understanding her spouse was likely in his final weeks of life, following a roller-coaster of a year of medical miracles and nightmares.
Yet in the midst of living every waking moment as if it was their last together, Sarah Moreland was counting her blessings, and giving thanks for the waves of caregivers, hospice and mended fences since Jeff returned home for good a week ago following a fourth and final brain surgery last month in San Francisco.
"There has been such a ripple effect, I can't explain the profound goodness that is going on," she said. "The blessings have far outweighed the sadness."
Two days later, Jeff indeed died in their home, surrounded by friends and family.
If it is possible to meet one's quota for heartache, surely the Morelands have done so.
"It is a stranger-than-fiction story," said Sarah, a counselor at Vista Continuation High School.
Jeff and Sarah, soul mates happily married for 12 years, initially put off having children. When they began to plan for a family, their efforts faced mounting roadblocks of infertility.
But last fall, after depleting their savings and after six years of trying, they learned they were expecting. But the euphoria over the news would be short-lived. Sarah was just six weeks pregnant when Jeff was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of cancer: primary synovial sarcoma of the brain, a soft tissue cancer resistant to chemotherapy. Rounds of radiation resulted in substantial shifting of the brain.
Jeff -- a 37-year-old strapping 6-foot, 5-inch, 270-pound correctional officer -- had no severe medical history and was described as "healthy as an ox."
"He was healthy until he wasn't," said Sarah.
One year ago Jeff underwent the first of four surgeries. Radiation followed and appeared to have been nearly a complete success. But within a month, a growth returned. A second surgery in February of this year removed a benign cyst.
"At that point we thought we were home free," Sarah said.
On May 8 of this year, the couple welcomed their miracle baby -- Tula Sophia, a seemingly healthy baby girl arriving three weeks early, weighing in at 7 pounds, 5 ounces.
But joy in the delivery room quickly turned to angst: Tula was diagnosed with tracheoesophageal fistula -- a common congenital abnormality in which the top end of the lower esophagus is not connected to the upper esophagus, but rather to the windpipe.
The newborn was airlifted to the Children's Hospital Central California, where she spent three weeks and underwent surgery. But as their baby girl was given a clean bill of health, her father's conditioned worsened.
The aggressive cancer had returned, and Jeff Moreland underwent his third surgery in August.
"There are whole chunks of the last year that Jeff has no recollection of," Sarah said.
A COMMUNITY HELPS OUT
While the Morelands awaited a medical miracle, friends gave of their time and efforts to raise money for Jeff's expenses associated with seeking treatment out of town.
"This has been the best, worst experience of my life," Sarah said.
The community, distinguished by many things, not the least of which is the inexhaustible capacity for compassion and generosity toward others in a time of need, rallied. Support grew exponentially in just a few short months when a friend took to social media to raise funds.
"They need all the help they can get," said Chelsea Brewer, who discovered fundrazr.com, set up an account for the Morelands and shared the link on her Facebook page. Since she started it a few months ago, more than $7,000 has been donated.
Jeff's fellow correctional officers at Corcoran State Prison donated a staggering amount of sick time to their co-worker.
"It is a testament of who Jeff is that within five days of his friends finding out (about his condition), 3,100 hours, 2 1/2 years of sick time, (were) donated," Sarah said.
The remaining funds will likely be donated in Jeff's memory to Relay for Life, Sarah said.
Even people who have never met the Morelands were moved to tears by the family's ordeal. Kristine Morton, a Bakersfield mother of three, came upon an update on Jeff's condition on Facebook.
"I was so struck by this woman's grace and dignity," Morton said Friday morning. "After reading about how she is coping with her husband's illness, it totally changed my focus and perspective. Not just now at Thanksgiving time, but all the time we should be living like each day is our first, last and only."
In the face of grief and loss, Sarah Moreland's outlook was nothing short of remarkable. Fighting back tears, she wrestled this past week with acceptance that her husband's efforts have been exhausted and an overwhelming feeling of appreciation.
"Every hideous thing that has happened has been reciprocated with huge supernatural blessings," she said. "I am surrounded by people who desire to help. It would take more energy to dwell on 'why me,' but I am abundantly blessed."
Given no more hope by his doctors, Sarah said Jeff's once burly body began to shut down last week. He developed a mass pulmonary embolism in the right and left ventricles of the lungs. There were blood clots in both legs, and he was no longer ambulatory.
"The average-sized person would have been gone by now," his wife added.
Joined by family and friends, Jeff and Sarah prepared for what they thought would be their last Thanksgiving together, grateful for all the good that has come from so much heartache and suffering.
"His effect on people in his life who have been inspired near and far, just the sheer amount of lives he has enhanced through this experience, is incredible," Sarah said.