After nearly giving up on love, Dina Huxley’s life was falling into place.
She found her soulmate, Iain, in 2018, through a dating app. They married a year later, and welcomed a baby boy in June.
It was a storybook ending which crumbled just two weeks after the birth of their son.
Iain, 46, was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, which had spread to his liver.
Instead of enjoying her new life as a mom, she began searching for treatments to help Iain, who has been in and out of the hospital with infections that delayed his chemotherapy.
"It’s like we hit a tree and ended up upside down," she said.
Help for the Huxleys came from unexpected places, including strangers willing to donate breast milk, old flames with medical guidance and government officials halfway across the globe.
Pancreatic cancer, which took the life of Jeopardy host Alex Trebek, is now the third leading cause of death from cancer in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society.
A recent study found deaths from pancreatic cancer will trail only lung cancer by 2040. The disease is typically not discovered early and, unlike other cancers, treatments are still limited.
Dina Huxley said she wants others to know the symptoms, which can include abdominal pain and jaundice, and to insist on testing so as not to suffer the same fate as her husband.
"It’s a notoriously sneaky and very aggressive cancer," she said.
Huxley, 43, worked for Sotheby’s before the pandemic. Iain, is a software engineer who created Yahoo’s weather app. Once they connected online, they immediately clicked.
"I didn’t think I would meet a match so perfect for me. It’s like we were made for each other," said Huxley, who immigrated to the U.S. from Russia at age 12. Her husband was raised in England and Australia and came to the U.S. while in college.
They married in 2019, and rode out the pandemic together in their one-bedroom Brooklyn pad without any conflicts, Huxley noted.
The couple pursued IVF, and Huxley became pregnant with their son — but in late 2020, Iain began to feel some mild discomfort under his ribs. Blood tests indicated a possible issue with his pancreas, but diagnostic exams turned up nothing.
"We thought, phew! We were relieved," Huxley recalled. "But he continued having pain and discomfort and it kept increasing."
By the time Ethan was born on June 6, Iain’s pain was excruciating.
"He just demanded a CT scan," she said.
After the test revealed the cancer, the couple scrambled to find the right doctors. Dina even "‘shamelessly" texted a former date who is an MD to ask for help — which the doctor provided, securing a quick consultation with a specialist.
The new mom had hoped to breastfeed her newborn, but caring for Iain amid the devastating diagnosis made it almost impossible.
Desperate, she put out a plea last month for donated breast milk in a Facebook group for moms, saying her husband was just diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer and "due to the heavy stresses and for various other reasons I had to abandon breastfeeding."
"We’re still very keen to feed our son breast milk for all the health benefits," she wrote.
Hundreds stepped up, offering their milk, or messages of support.
"Oh my gosh. It was overwhelming. So many moms reached out," she said.
But Huxley said her pediatrician advised that the donated milk might be a health risk. So Huxley declined the help, and ultimately switched to formula.
She’s relied on her mom, and a baby nurse who has stayed on long after her initial stint was supposed to end, to help care for Ethan. Iain’s parents wanted to help, but were stuck in Australia’s lockdown until a member of Parliament intervened and they will finally arrive next week.
Huxley said she is looking forward to having the extra help to spend more time with Ethan, who may never get to know his father.
"I have no words to describe the heartache," she said.