This is a love story, a fervent rapture between Cameron Park wife and mother Alexandra “Pietra” Duffy and her husband Shawn, who received an unexpected Valentine from his wife in last month’s Cameron Park Life.
Despite regular exercise, a good diet and a healthy lifestyle, Pietra was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive lung cancer in December 2009. She drew her last breath on Feb. 2 at age 41, leaving Shawn and two children, Spencer, 11, and Savannah, 9.
Shawn Duffy described his wife’s personality as “magnetic … she touched people … she’s the one who brightens the room when she walks in.”
The family understood her illness was incurable, but her death was nonetheless unexpected. A shaky Shawn Duffy drove home from the hospital, picked up the kids, tried to maintain a brave facade for their sake while trying to grasp a life without his soul mate. He never dreamed he’d get one last message of love, encouragement and gratitude from her.
Pietra’s Facebook page is a testament to the bond she engendered with friends and family. In the weeks before her death she also engaged in a little “old school” social networking, placing a “love line” to her husband in the Valentine issue of Cameron Park Life.
On the day Pietra died, Shawn returned home exhausted and got a message from Pietra’s step-sister and close friend Dee Dee Soderstrom, who also lives in Cameron Park. She told him to check his mailbox. He hiked down the family’s steep driveway and found the February issue of Cameron Park Life.
At the top of page three, tucked into an elaborate heart-shaped design, he found the following words:
“I’m so happy we found each other in this crazy world and that we’ve been able to spend the last 23 years building our beautiful family and life together. You are an incredible dad and your unwavering love and support during all we’ve been through this last year has meant so much to me. You are truly my rock and I love you more than words can say. Your forever love, Pietra.”
“I saw that and just broke down,” he recalled, his voice thickening with emotion. “I cried all the way up the driveway.”
Shawn has since used Pietra’s Facebook page to thank everyone who was a part of her life, posting, “We have been scooped up and cradled in your arms and protected from all around us. We were able to be with Pietra and tell her how much we love her and share every moment of our lives together. You were all there to give us hugs, smiles, prayers, love and take the worries out of the hardest parts of everyday stuff for us.”
He thanked his friends for raising money to help pay for the many and varied treatments, some experimental, that Pietra endured through 2010, and for sending the family to the beach between treatments.
Shortly after Pietra was diagnosed, Shawn lost his job as a cook with the county Department of Human Services. “We came to see it as a blessing,” he explained from his home last week. “I got to be with her full time and help with medications and injections.”
Shawn’s parents, Harold and Thelma Duffy, flew in from Washington shortly after Pietra’s death and stayed for three weeks, helping with the children, who are doing well, he said.
How is Shawn going to do on his own with two young children? “I’ve had more offers to help than I can count,” he said. “This entire community has been there for this family though this whole thing, and they’re still there. I’m humbled and awed. We’ll be OK.”