YOLO. In case you’re a caveman, or don’t have access to the interwebs, or are incurably unhip, it’s a four-letter acronym that stands for “you only live once.” Unfortunately, it’s a mantra that has become hackneyed and trite as of late—due, in large part to extreme overuse by the Snapchat generation—but has a particularly huge significance to a 31-year-old woman here in Castle Rock. Sarah Hugo, a single mother of two girls aged 5 and 8, was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer as well as brain cancer less than one year ago. And she’s adopted the acronym to define her new outlook on life.
Sarah was born in Midlothian, Virginia, just outside Richmond, and moved with her family to Colorado when she was 14. She’s lived in Castle Rock for the last three years and was working for CenturyLink when her whole life turned upside down in March of 2016. Her coworkers would ridicule her for her chronic cough. She had come down with a cold in September of 2015 but was never quite able to shake that cough.
“A friend of mine pushed me to get it checked out. They did a chest X-ray, which found pneumonia, but then they were like, you really need to get in to see a pulmonologist ASAP, and that’s when I finally went to the ER. They did a CAT scan, and an MRI, and admitted me… it was all a whirlwind. I went from that to having my first round of radiation on my brain and radiation on my lungs in April .”
She’s got stage IV non-small cell lung cancer with an ALK mutation, which started in her left lung, spread to her right lung, and is now also in her lymph nodes. There was also a cerebral brain tumor which was a metastasis from the lung cancer, and a new tumor has formed in her frontal lobe. She’s on an ALK inhibitor, which she takes twice daily, and this is her second round of treatment. “There’s no chance of curing it,” she says, “but there is a chance of treating it. I’ll never go into remission, I’m too far gone,” she says. “But they can treat it to buy me more time.”
And that time is so precious to Sarah, who’s got two young girls—Mila, 5 and Sadie, 8. She lives with her mom in Castle Rock, and her father passed away six years ago. Two of her three siblings live in Colorado, and the girls’ father, who lives in Littleton, is scarce. “I have a lot of people who help out, but I’m mostly on my own most of the time. My mom works full time. She’s there when I need her, but I don’t ask too much,” she says.
Sarah is currently receiving treatment at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora. “These doctors have given me a normal life. Whatever I need, they’re there. I’ve just started talking to my friends again over the last two or three months because I’ve realized I’ll be around for a little while.”
Despite her newfound optimism, life can be hard. “Every day is an emotional struggle,” Sarah says. “Some days I worry about if I’m going to wake up. The emotional struggle is hard … knowing I’m going to leave my daughters behind. Who’s going to take care of them? Some days I hurt pretty bad, but honestly, if it wasn’t for my kids I would have been done with treating it. I owe them to at least try.”
Sarah could really use your help. “I have money for [the girls’] activities, I have money for gas, I have money for food, but we have nothing extra,” she explains. “Like right now, they both need shoes. We have to plan accordingly for this and that. I can’t get anything for myself at this point, either. You’ve got to make that money stretch. It’s hard. We can make ends meet, but it’s about to be a new season and kids need new clothes. We always figure it out, but it would be nice to not have to worry and to be able to just live the last few years of my life. And really enjoy it.”
Her only other desire is to have an experience with her girls that they’ll be able to cherish. “I would love to do a road trip with my kids,” Sarah says. “I just want to do everything and anything possible with them right now. They’re older, and they’re starting to remember things. A road trip this summer is what I’d want to do, but my car can’t take it either. We might have to rent a car. I just want to make memories with my kids, because I won’t be around forever.”
Sarah has a GoFundMe page set up, but the organization takes a big chunk out of donations, so cash and checks are a more efficient way to get her funding. She’s also currently looking for a queen-size mattress for her bed. And last but not least, Sarah is looking for a local volunteer opportunity here in Castle Rock so she can get out of the house and interact with people, which she craves.
So the next time you’re inclined to roll your eyes when you hear “YOLO,” remember that it has special significance to Sarah. “The biggest thing I’ve learned during this whole thing—it’s cliche, but life is short,” Sarah says. “That YOLO mentality. I know it’s silly but, it’s true. You get caught up in so many little things that you don’t stop and enjoy the time you have with your family. You just have to stop and take nothing for granted. Take the time to listen to your kids, even if it takes 20 minutes for them to tell a story.”
“I’m true to myself more. I don’t get caught up in the little stuff. If it’s not going to be important five years from now, just let it go. Just enjoy those people who are around you, because you never know how much time you’ve got left. It’s a blessing in a sense—which I didn’t believe at first—because I was very angry, but now I’m grateful because I can actually enjoy my life a lot more when I take the time to stop. Now, everybody’s just so much more relaxed. We take the time to enjoy each other.”
Please take a moment to help out by sending cash or check to Sarah Hugo, PO Box 487, Castle Rock, CO 80104. If you must use a credit card, you can donate online at https://www.gofundme.com/SarahHugo.