Learning to Breathe

Learning to Breathe | Twin Cities Moms Blog

“You can do it, you are stronger than you think.” He told me that often… It was always his pep talk to stop the crying and start the breathing.

Breathing is something I take for granted. I don’t have to think about it, it simply happens. The only time I even realize I am breathing is when I can see it because it is so cold or when I can’t catch my breath.

The day my husband Adam and I were told he had a massive tumor in his colon, I couldn’t catch my breath. He had turned 34 years old the day before. We had just sent Edward, our two-year-old son, home from the emergency room we were in with my sister. I was 18 weeks and 5 days pregnant with our youngest son. We didn’t even know yet if our baby was a boy or a girl. There he laid in a hospital gown, in a quiet emergency room, stunned. I remember looking at the clock, although I don’t know why. My baby belly already told me it was past lunchtime. Time stopped in those moments but it never slowed down.

We shared many moments together trying to catch our breath. After he was diagnosed, I cried so hard with him I couldn’t breathe. Literally, my body made me stop crying because I was choking trying to catch my breath. Do you have any idea how much snot can pour out of a pregnant woman? Let me tell you, it is a ridiculously gross amount. My husband quickly learned that bringing me two or three tissues was not enough and would just start pulling them out by the handfuls.

After the first attempt at surgery to remove the cancer in his colon and the metastases to the abdomen, we slowly ceased the conversations about what would happen if he would die. What would I do? What directions did he have for the boys as they grew older? Where should I take them on vacations? Should I downsize, relocate, go back to work? Thinking about all these questions I had for him then, makes me lose my breath now.

We started living our lives with cancer, viewing it as a chronic disease. Trying to live out the cliche of “taking it one day at a time” because when we started to think about the next day, the next chemo round, the next month, it was a domino effect of worry. Our anxiety would triple with every question mark we had for the future. My husband referred to his life as a “ticking time bomb” towards the death sentence we were given of “about two years” on December 3, 2015.

I found my breath and strength I never knew existed the day our youngest son Reginald was born. When I realized I was going to be having a baby in a tub, without medication, I freaked out. It was what I wanted to do after all. We even found an amazing doula after he was diagnosed to support us. My goal was to get the hell out of the hospital where my husband was diagnosed five months before as fast as we could.

The entourage that was in our room to observe a water birth left to give Adam and I a minute. He was the only one who could calm me down at that moment. “What in the hell am I doing? I can’t do this! What a dumb idea! This is going to (bleeping) hurt!”

Learning to Breathe | Twin Cities Moms BlogOne of our few and most cherished family pictures together on Reginald’s birthday.

My husband, Adam, was a man of few words. I don’t remember his exact words because I was about 64 minutes away from delivering a 7 lb 13 oz baby without any {bleeping} pain medications. It was along the lines of, “You can do it, you are stronger than you think.” He told me that often. He wrote it out for me on cards and in our journal we shared. It was always his pep talk to stop the crying and start the breathing. At 2:04 pm that sunny day, we welcomed our second son, Reginald Paul, into the world. And 24 hours later, we were packing up to go home.

There were a lot of breathless moments in the 11.5 months we were living with cancer. We always found a way to stop the crying and start the breathing. When I saw him take his last breath, it took mine away. There was a physical part of me, of my soul, that went with him. When his last breath came, I remember gasping, mimicking him and falling into our friend. It was hard to breathe. A very real, physical part of me left with him.

Some days the hole is bigger and it makes my breathing more shallow. Almost like I had an organ right next to my heart removed the day he went to heaven. I wouldn’t describe it as a physical pain, although some days it hurts pretty damn bad. But there is a hole there. Some days our boys fill it up and I barely notice it. Other days, the hollow feeling never fills up.

The feeling is indescribable. It is gut-wrenching. But above all, it is an amazing feeling knowing you loved someone with your whole heart that half of it went with them when they died.

Now, I am learning how to breathe on my own. I reflect back to our youngest son’s birth and the strength we had to get to his birthday. The strength I found to breathe through the labor of his birth and the labor of this last year. I wanted to have a natural birth so I knew I was strong enough to rely on my breathing to get me through life’s toughest and most beautiful events. Maybe this is why Adam chose to have me in his hospice room when he took his last breath. To prove I could breathe on my own, even when his breathing stopped.

Julianna Czech
Julianna is a widowed mom to Edward (2013) and Reginald (2016). She is redefining life and finding joy again to honor her late husband, Adam. While raising a newborn, toddler, and fighting colon cancer, they lived and loved with no regrets. Julianna tries to balance grieving, parenting, and dating. She returned to work part time for a financial advisor after being a stay at home mom for nearly four years. Julianna also helps lead a local cancer caregiver support group (Cocktails and Chemo - Minneapolis Chapter). Julianna’s favorite time of the day is drinking hot coffee and eating breakfast with her boys. Her sons are the greatest gift and keep her laughing! She finds peace in traveling with girlfriends, journaling, and reading. Find more of her writing at Adam’s Pack.


  1. Julianna, I followed Adam’s journey as I read his insightful Packer reports. I think we even texted or emailed each other. Thank you for your strength and your words. My wife and I live in Tucson but summer in Fish Creek. If you and your sons are ever up there, I hope you’ll contact us. Keep breathing. Elliot


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