Community backs couple during cancer treatment

Although they're transplants to Superior, the community has rallied to help cat lovers Bob and Amy Sullivan beat cancer. Cats brought the two together. Amy wrote an article in their church newsletter mentioning that she had three felines and was ...

Amy, Liam and Bob Sullivan enjoy Saturday afternoon together in Superior with their seven cats, including 17-year-old Isabelle, on Amy’s lap. The family has been spending their weeks apart as Bob undergoes oxygen treatments in Minneapolis to heal damage caused by radiation treatments. Maria Lockwood

Although they’re transplants to Superior, the community has rallied to help cat lovers Bob and Amy Sullivan beat cancer.

Cats brought the two together. Amy wrote an article in their church newsletter mentioning that she had three felines and was a "great big cat person." Bob stopped her after service the next Sunday to tell her he had three cats too.

"And I knew I was going to marry him," Amy said. "It was all about cats."

They found a common ground talking about felines, began touring the LaCrosse area where Bob grew up and started dating in March of 2003. A year later, they married.

"It clicked," said Bob, a widower whose first wife died following a heart transplant.


"I was 34 when we started dating and I had accepted that I was going to be this single, old crazy cat lady." Amy said. "And now I’m just a married one."

Bob attended the University of Minnesota Duluth in the 1980s, and he introduced Amy to the Twin Ports.

"I loved the lake," Amy said. "The first time, coming up over that hill on 53 … When we came in, it was something just mystical. And we’ve been coming up here ever since. We came up here on our honeymoon; we came up for the Tall Ships stuff."

In the wake of job loss, they moved to Superior in 2009.

"He had the U-Haul and I had a car full of six cats," Amy said.

Despite being told that endometriosis would prevent Amy from getting pregnant, their miracle son Liam was born in 2012. About 10 months later, Bob learned he had prostate cancer.

Following a prostectomy, he underwent radiation therapy. It left him with bleeding and severe pain that shot down to his toes at times. Bob lost 20 pounds because he was afraid to eat, knowing every trip to the bathroom caused pain.

"He was fried, really fried from the radiation," Amy said. Many of the good cells had been damaged, and they needed blood flow in order to regrow and heal.


Since Jan. 4, Bob has been spending his weeks at Hope Lodge in Minneapolis, undergoing daily oxygen treatments at the Hennepin County Medical Center to increase blood flow. He brings along his guitar for impromptu jam sessions with other patients and has met some inspirational people. He’s also begun to heal.

"My symptoms have improved amazingly," Bob said. "I don’t have any pain anymore. I still have bleeding on and off."

Amy and Liam, 3, remain in Superior with the family’s seven cats - ages 17 to 1 - keeping the household running.

"We’re in this together," Amy said. "It’s a ‘we’ thing and it always has been for us."

Their team is bigger than they thought.

"We have a tremendous amount of support through his work, my work, churches, families," said Amy, who works at Safe Haven Resource Center in Duluth.

Neighbors have watched Liam, shoveled the walk and pulled the family’s garbage out for weekly pickup. A co-worker of Bob’s from Fresh Start in Duluth stopped by with food. Family and friends have donated through the family’s GoFundMe site, "Robert Sullivan’s Cancer Treatment."

"I hate asking for help and I hate depending on people, but I have learned that through all of this, it’s been very humbling," Amy said. "I even feel guilty for people giving us the money. I don’t know how to thank you. I don’t know how to pay you back; I don’t know how to say thank you. I don’t know what to do about all this. It’s overwhelming. And we’re very grateful. How do you tell people thank you for something this big?"


The waiting gets harder the closer Bob gets to the end of his treatments. They’ve kept in touch with texts and email, but Bob and Amy are counting down the days until they’re reunited for good. The couple enjoys watching British mysteries, taking Liam to the library, shopping, walks and doing household chores like laundry together.

"It’s more fun being a threesome," Amy said.

They plan to keep the GoFundMe site active for now. Bob won’t be back to work as a case manager until the treatments are through and Amy’s job is grant-funded, with the funding up for review this spring. There’s also a question of how much of the treatment their health insurance will cover, Bob said.

"My mom always told me, things have a way of working out," Amy said. "It might not be when or where we think they’re going to work out but they do and that’s what I told Bob. We have been through so many tough things before, sometimes tougher, that we’ll get through this too. And I think our relationship has strengthened."

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Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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