Living With Leukemia: A Family Embraces the Important Things in Life

Nancy Lincoln, leukemia patient, with husband and two children, rides a bicycle-built-for-two in a California park, 1970.
Michael Rougier—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Nancy Lincoln, leukemia patient, with husband and two children, rides a bicycle-built-for-two in a California park, 1970.

In the 1960s, when married Californians Thomas and Nancy Lincoln bought a bicycle-built-for-two, they could hardly foresee that, one day, they would share it with their own two children. But when kids arrived on the scene, the Lincolns happily made room, as the 1970 portrait above, by LIFE photographer Michael Rougier, playfully attests.

When Nancy was diagnosed with leukemia in March 1969—and her oncologists gave her three months to live—the Lincolns engaged that same “take it as it comes” philosophy. Thomas, a medical research expert, sought out new, unconventional methods of treatment, asking friends and colleagues about trial studies of new drugs. Thomas even made use of the latest technology of the time: the computer. He studied hundreds of medical records of leukemia patients, tirelessly searching for recurring themes in treatment and patterns indicating which drugs should be taken, and when. He realized a computer could efficiently organize the data and aid him in his search for answers.

After 10 weeks, Nancy was in remission. She lived for another two years, and despite being hospitalized twice, in that time both she and her husband made room for the important things in life. As reported by LIFE in November 1970, Thomas had “given up his early morning jogging for the extra moments together as a family.” Nancy took up Spanish lessons and finally completed a long-delayed patio-painting project. As Thomas told LIFE, “she has painted the front door—and she’s thinking about doing the whole house.”

Although Nancy’s diagnosis was a hardship, the Lincolns actually considered themselves lucky. After all, she beat the medical odds and lived well past her initial three-month expectancy, dying in her husband’s arms in February 1971. Her additional two years were yet another surprise in a life filled with them—and one the Lincolns cherished.

Katie Yee is a native New Yorker, an undergraduate studying Literature and Psychology at Bennington College, and an editorial assistant at Tweed’s Magazine of Literature & Art.

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