*Note- Before reading any of the below I want to explain some things. A LOT happened from October 2013-Febuary 2014. There is no way I could adequately recap it, nor remember everything. A lot of the timeline jumbles together too; I may have some events slightly out of order. Ashley is the one with the great memory, not me. I also find that reflective narrative is extremely hard to write. I will not share nearly everything, and several personal stories I will not share at this time. I will share some personal things, but this is in no way satisfactory in describing the true ugliness of cancer, and the true beauty of God. I will try to establish a basic background narrative in parts two and three before part four where I lead into the joy found in all the pain. Keep that in mind as you read the two next sections.
I wrote a previous blog about how amazing it is that we have a God that pursues us (From Cover to Cover God Pursues). I have experienced this first hand, and as well through observation with Bud. Sometime around September 2013 we got unexpected news. They found some type of mass in Bud’s lungs. A few years before Bud had to have melanoma removed from his head…they said they could only hope all of it was removed, but had no real way of knowing. I knew from first hearing about a mass in his lungs that it didn’t sound good. Bad news, pain, and suffering are often unexpected and unimaginable.
I remember sitting in church shortly after finding out this news. The worship pastor sang a song in church, and Ashley started bawling. After worship was over, he mentioned to the congregation that we were experiencing pain and unknown with our son Chiza since the DRC shut down. They gathered around us and prayed for us.
I felt unsettled. I had a sickening feeling in my stomach. I asked Ashley if we could go out to the hall and talk. I brought up that one of the things upsetting to her was that her dad wasn’t a Christian. I said, we HAVE to talk to him- we can’t put it off any more.
As odd as it seems, talking to family about Jesus can often be harder than talking to a stranger.
The next day we found out that apparently, just recently, Bud had given his life to Christ. I was thrilled, but also a little concerned. There was a lot of prosperity gospel theology surrounding Bud, and I wanted to make sure he fell in love with the Jesus of the gospel and not a false gospel.
We went over for dinner later that week. I put our conversation off and off until the very end. As easy as I got along with Bud, sadly, we never really talked about God. I walked with him to the dining room table. I shared some parts of my testimony with him, and went over what the gospel was. He was extremely eager to learn and listen. He asked questions about things he was wondering. We gave him a study bible and walked him through useful ways to use it.
Towards the end I felt really comforted knowing this love he felt towards Jesus. I told him one of the hardest things I’d ever told another person. I said “Bud…I love you…But I would rather have you die from cancer, knowing Jesus…than live another 30 healthy years and die not knowing him.” I had to fight off tears saying while I was saying this.
Reflecting on that now makes it even truer. How I miss him. How I ache to talk to him and to see his face. But I cannot imagine the pain I would be feeling if he died without knowing Jesus. Jesus, who has the power to radically transform our hearts and lives. Jesus, our savior.
A Whirlwind of Events
It would take hundreds of pages filled with medical terminology and explanations to fully explain the cancer Bud had. Let’s just say it was very complicated. I quickly realized how ignorant I was on melanoma. As I began to research the type he had, more and more I began to see the reality of the situation.
Bud needed a type of treatment called Yervoy. The actual treatment itself still isn’t very impressive- result wise. However, it offered a very small chance of hope. He was not able to have this type of treatment because the lesions in his brain were too large. The cancer was all over his body, but the parts in his brain were preventing the rest from being treated. He would first have to have radiation, to hopefully shrink the lesions first.
He began his radiation in November. At first there were no side effects. I was excited to think it would be easy. That quickly changed after the second and third treatments. He was tired all the time, he began to lose his hair, and food was disgusting to him.
We tried to find any type of food he would eat…but it was always gross to him. He began to rapidly lose weight. He was noticeably weak. Any time we would find something that had a taste for him, after the second or third meal of it, the flavor would go away. He described it to me once that it tasted like poison. Despite not being able to eat, being physically weak, and losing his hair, he always wanted to play and hold our kids. He was still the same loving man I have always known.
By the time December came around Bud had lost even more weight. His legs were only bone. His legs were constantly in pain. He would have painful coughs. The food problem got much worse. In addition to tasting like poison, any time he was able to eat he got awful indigestion. He would breath deep breathes of pain. I could look at his face and see that he was in agony, but he would never admit that. He was always tired, but for an hour or two total a day he seemed to be pretty awake. He would always want to talk, love, and hold our kids.
By this point we were living there. He needed help getting up and moving around. It was painful to see Bud in this state, but I also have many memories I cherish with him during this time.
Then there was a small glimmer of hope. A few days after Christmas it seemed he was getting a little better. He had more strength, got some food down, it seemed like his legs were getting a little thicker again. Ashley and I took the kids to Ft. Wayne for a mini 3 day vacation. I was feeling pretty happy, thinking Bud was getting a little more back to normal. When we got back to their house, we were told Bud had a seizure. He had to be rushed to the hospital.
Back at home, you could tell Bud was scared. He told me what the experience was like. Shortly after this, he began repeating words, and his eyes rolled up. He was having another seizure. Donna came over and rubbed his chest and talked to him until he came out of it.
Now I often had hope Bud would get better. I didn’t realistically expect his cancer to go away, but I hoped for some of his pain to lessen before it got worse. When people would visit Bud it would frequently upset me. They would talk amongst themselves about how good he was doing, and how his cancer would be gone soon. They didn’t see the effect it was having on him. They were blind to the pain it was causing Bud. Bud was a very strong willed man, he would always act tough. Since we were living with him, I saw the true effect the cancer was having. He couldn’t act tough all day. It is in these moments of caring for him, helping him, and loving him, that I relied solely on God. I never knew a love could be so strong and so peaceful even in the midst of pain and suffering.
Bud finished radiation and was able to finally start Yervoy. After his second treatment he had to go to IU in Indy. I found this out while I was at work. The work day never seemed to end. After work I had almost a two hour drive to go see him. During the drive I poured my heart out to God. Thanking Him for healing Bud in the most important way. Thanking Him for making Bud a part of His family. When I got to the hospital and saw Bud his entire body had become like a skeleton. We got news that the lesions in his brain had grown. Despite all that radiation, they had gotten larger. The doctor told Ashley and Donna that there was no further treatment that could be done. Ashley told me. I could see the pain in her eyes. I could see the hurt. I knew death was most likely the end for a while. Statistics with this type of cancer don’t lie. Despite knowing that it’s still devastating to hear the words, “Nothing more can be done.”
Bud spent a few days in hospital. They sent him home a new man. He was so much stronger. He was able to walk without help! Bud wanted to take all of us out to Pizza King for Aiden’s 4th birthday. This was a great night. Bud actually ate a lot of Pizza. We all ate, laughed, and had fun. Looking back at this moment, I am again, so thankful for it. It was like God was giving us one final great memory that we would be able to cherish forever. It was quickly about to get much worse.
During this time I took another opportunity to talk with Bud in more detail about God. We had so many great talks the previous few months, but I wanted to specifically address a few things. I prayed for Bud’s healing, but realistically I knew he was going to die in the near future. I wanted Bud to know, that if he got worse again, and never got physically healed, that it doesn’t change one thing about God. In fact, Bud had been healed in the most important way, his heart. I wanted him to know and understand God’s Sovereignty. I wanted him to see God’s grace in all of this. That, despite Bud being a “good” person his whole life, he was a sinful person. No matter what, he didn’t deserve to one day be in God’s presence. In fact none of us do. We are all sinful. That’s where the beauty of the grace of God comes in. I felt really encourage talking to Bud. He told me he only wanted to be healed if it was God’s will. He was ready to be with God if it was time. In fact, he was excited about it.