He sat heavy on the side of the bed, his face grey and drawn in the weak Monday morning autumn sunlight. His beautiful blue eyes, usually sly and sparkling, dully reflected the toll that forty-six continuous hours of chemo took on his body.
“Babe, just call in sick. No one’s going to think anything about it,” I pleaded with him. After I unhooked his pump on Sunday afternoon, he’d tried to watch football, but ended up mostly sleeping, the nausea meds keeping him comfortable but fatigued. “You’ve had chemo all weekend and if you don’t feel good, you don’t feel good. Can you even drive?”
His only answer was to hold out his hand for help getting up. I slipped my hand into his and when I pulled him up, he pulled me into his arms.
“Baby Doll,” he assured me, “I’ll be okay. I’m just making some phone calls today and I promise I’ll come home if I need to.”
I hugged him, then followed him down the hall to the kitchen. He gathered his thermos of herbal tea and a book, then climbed in the truck and backed out of the garage. I watched him until the closing garage door cut off my view.
I knew why he was going in to work, even though he obviously didn’t feel like it. At work, he was more than a guy with cancer. He had a job – one that he was really good at – and he had a purpose and that helped him keep it all together. Working restored normalcy to his life and he needed it after a summer of surgeries and recuperation. Almost halfway through this first round of chemotherapy, he needed to work to prove to himself that cancer wasn’t winning. He needed to keep on.
So he did.
Day after day, week after week, month after month – for five years, Kevin battled cancer and kept on working. Through three different kinds of chemotherapy, each with more horrific side effects than the last. Through subsequent surgery and an ill-fated attempt at a clinical trial. Through more mornings of nausea and afternoons of exhaustion than could possibly be counted.
He kept on.
It was only after the third kind of chemotherapy – a brand-new FDA-approved drug that we’d hoped for and heard good things about – only after that put him the hospital with severe dehydration and kidney failure, only after our oncologist told us time was getting short, only then did he admit it was time to leave his job.
The outpouring of love and affection and genuine caring from his co-workers, from other departments on his floor and in his building, from dozens of grant programs across the state – it was nothing short of overwhelming. When he came home after his last day of work, he sat in his recliner and I perched beside him and we cried over cards completely inked in with beautiful, kind, compassionate words from people who’d been touched by him.
They all had the same refrain: “Thank you for your work. Thank you for caring about our program. Thank you for being an inspiration. Thank you for keeping on.”
Ten weeks later, he died.
He showed us what courage looks like. Faced with an impossible diagnosis, knowing that his time would be short, he woke up every morning and figured out how to keep on going. Sometimes he got grumpy and angry and discouraged and disappointed and depressed, and the endless chemotherapy ravaged his body, but he always bounced back. He relentlessly sought alternative treatments, trying everything he could to stay here longer with me, with our daughter. He nurtured and guided the programs he believed in – programs that provided reading assistance to elementary students, or therapy for families struggling to break the cycle of child abuse, or training for disaster relief, and so many more across our state. He traveled, he laughed, he kissed me, he cheered on his Cowboys and Yankees, he pulled pranks, he took his Bear to the donut shop and the car wash on Saturday mornings.
He kept on.
It’s been six months since he left behind his cancer-ransacked body and went home to God. That seems impossible to me; it feels like he was just here. I remember every second of our last minute together. In the days since then, I’ve struggled to gain my footing in this new life. Some days I feel so numb, some days I cry out with the pain of waking up without him. I miss him every single minute.
I don’t know what the days and months and years ahead will hold for me and our daughter. It seems impossible that we have to be here without the person we love most…my Kevster, her Daddy Bear. I feel like I don’t how to do it.
But I do.
Because he showed me.
He showed me that I can’t stop. I have to keep living and giving and laughing and loving. I have to keep caring and sharing and wondering what adventure might be around the corner. I have to raise our daughter to be just like her Daddy. Walking that cancer road with him showed me that it’s okay to be sad and discouraged and angry, but that can’t be all I feel because life has too many beautiful experiences and God has too much planned for me.
So I stood at his graveside and watched the sports-themed balloon our daughter picked out for him bob wildly in the blustery October wind, the only bright spot on the overcast autumn day. Tears slid down my face and I whispered, “I love you, babe. This feels impossible, but I’m trying. We both are. We miss you so much. Help me find joy and peace while I wait to see you again. For you…I’ll keep on.”
“The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning,
It’s time to sing Your song again,
Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me,
Let me be singing when the evening comes…”
(10,000 Reasons, Matt Redman)