Jenna and Josh Buehler were packing for their honeymoon in March 2015, when the Atlanta-based athletic trainer noticed her husband seemed off. “He lost his keys a couple of times and then his wallet,” Jenna, 31, tells Us Weekly. When the newlyweds landed in Taiwan, Josh’s strange behavior became even more pronounced. “He was confused and losing me in subway stations,” says Jenna. “And then he started dragging his left foot.”
During their second day in Taipei, Jenna and the former Georgia Tech University cheerleader stopped at the National Taiwan University Hospital. “I was like, ‘Let's just get you checked out and make sure it’s nothing big,” recalls Jenna. And that’s when the Buehlers received the devastating news: Josh had a brain tumor. Back in the U.S., it was confirmed as glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive brain cancer.
The couple were still reeling from the diagnosis when Josh’s neurosurgeon connected them with local photographer Jennifer Keenan Giliberto — a brain tumor survivor — who would go on to document the couple’s 20-month journey with more than 310 snapshots. “As a patient, I have often found it difficult to express how a brain cancer diagnosis impacts not only the patient, but their family and loved ones too,” Giliberto tells Us. “Words can tell a story and share a perspective, yet there is nothing more intimate than sharing real life through images.”
Giliberto’s project titled “This Is …” began on the morning of Josh’s first surgery at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, on March 17, 2015. During the operation, more than 90 percent of his tumor was removed and the network architect was back to work the next day. “He asked for his phone, and he was answering calls and solving problems!” says Jenna. “I was like, 'Are you serious!? You know that you just had brain surgery?’”
But in June 2016 Josh’s brain cancer returned, and it was terminal. To make matters worse, at the time, Jenna was six months pregnant with their first child. “I remember one day we were in the oncologist’s office, and Josh looked up and said, ‘I’m worried about not meeting my child,’” Jenna tells Us. But when Jenna gave birth to a healthy baby girl named Reilly on September 19, Josh was there, in a hospital bed directly across from hers. “He slept through the delivery because he had a seizure right before the epidural, and the medicine put him out. It made him so groggy,” says Jenna. “Even though Josh was sleeping, I was talking to him the whole time.”
The proud father met Reilly the next morning at 3 a.m. “I woke up, and he was awake, and I reached over and gave him a kiss and he reached for my belly, and I said, ‘Oh, sweetie, she’s not in there anymore. Would you like to meet your daughter?’ And he said, ‘Yes!’ so we brought her in, and he smelled her head and he kissed her, and I helped hold her.”
Josh passed away on November 6. He was 41. “Reilly came four weeks early, and I can tell you four weeks later, there’s no way we would have been able to get him to the hospital,” says Jenna. “I’ve always kind of felt like she has this extra level of intuition. When I was caring for Josh, before and during hospice, when she was still in my belly, she would quiet down when he needed extra attention.”
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