It was the evening of June 7th, 2006 which was the night before Kent was scheduled for brain surgery to have a benign tumor removed from his right parietal lobe. The boys were already in bed for the night and my sister was on her way to our house with her children to spend the night to watch the boys the next day. I was in our bedroom filling a backpack with things to keep myself busy during Kent's surgery. Kent walked into the room toward his chest of drawers, pulled an envelope from the top of the chest and handed it to me. On the envelope was written in his handwriting . . . if something bad happens to me. I opened it and pulled out a piece of paper with a very organized list of what to do if he dies. Now, these were things had talked about in the past. Afterall, he WAS a financial advisor. However, it was unsettling to see everything in writing. He wrote instructions on obtaining a death certificate and obituary notice, contacting the life insurance company to submit a death claim, how to initiate social security benefits, how to sell his practice and the order in which to pay off debt. I folded the paper back up, put it back in the envelope, handed it back to him and said, "I won't need this." I was confident that we wouldn't encounter any obstacles with this routine procedure. With a phone call from Kent's brother and my sister arriving, the topic was quickly forgotten.
On the morning of the 8th, Kent and I arrived at St. Anthony's Medical Center's surgery waiting room around 5:30 to find Kent's best friend and our pastor of counseling waiting for us. They both shared scripture to encourage Kent, but our pastor read Isaiah 41:10 specifically for me. It reads, So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. At this point, I wasn't fearful or dismayed because removing a benign skull tumor is a routine procedure for neuro-surgeons. Our pastor left and Kent was taken back to a pre-op room. During this time, Kent's mom and our senior pastor arrived. All of us were soon escorted to his pre-op room, but he was having a CT scan in preparation for surgery. He returned to a small pre-op room filled with family and friends including me, his mom, a cousin, my mom and her friend (now husband), some friends and our senior pastor. Our pastor read Philippians 4:6 which reads, Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. At this point, I wasn't anxious. I wasn't even anxious when he was rolled away for more CT scans. It seemed like he was gone for hours though. A friend from church visited during the time he was away and his cousin had to leave, but the rest of stayed and waited . . . for a long time. When Kent finally returned to the room, Dr. Chuman, his neuro-surgeon and friend, stopped by soon thereafter and requested that everyone except me and Kent's mom leave the room. He explained that the CT scan revealed the second ill-defined area in his left frontal lobe had grown 1/3 in size since his first MRI three weeks earlier. Now, anxiety, not fear, was setting in. With the uncertaintly of the situation, everyone left the hospital except for me and one of Kent's friends and I agreed to keep everyone informed of new developments. While Kent was being admitted to the hospital, I called a few people to let them know that surgery was cancelled. Once Kent was admitted, he was immediately put on Decadron for brain swelling and Dilantin for seizures. To me, this seemed extreme because he looked and sounded just fine. For the rest of the day, Kent went through more tests to determine if he had tumors anywhere else in his body and he didn't. So, this spot was either an infection or a second tumor. He was scheduled for a biopsy the next morning.
Kent's friend and I stayed with him through the day and he had visitors throughout the day and evening. His best friend visited again but with his wife this time. Our kinship pastor, friends from church and cousins stopped by too. Kent's dad was there too. By 6:30 that evening, I had been at the hospital for more than 12 hours and I was tired, so I decided to go home.
I returned to the hospital on Friday morning (the 9th) around 8:30. It was a quiet morning and we spent most of it waiting for the biopsy. It finally happened around 1:00 that afternoon. I walked with Kent as far as I was allowed and it was comforting to see the familiar face of his assigned surgical nurse who was also a member at our church. As I stood in the hallway and watched as he was being wheeled down the hallway toward the operating room, I was silently praying for the ill-defined spot to be just an infection. I walked to the surgery waiting room and Kent's cousins stopped by soon after I sat down. We went to the cafeteria for lunch which helped pass the time. Once they left, I went back to the surgery waiting room. It was so cold in that room and one of the volunteers at the reception desk must have noticed, because she brought me a warm blanket. I tried to sleep to pass the time, but I was restless. After three hours of waiting, Dr. Chuman walked into the room right before 5:00 that evening. He sat down next to me and said, "Kent has a second tumor." My eyes instantly filled with tears. Even though the grade of the tumor was unknown at this point, I was instantly filled with fear. Knowing that the left frontal lobe is the home of our personality and control center of our emotions, I quickly knew that a tumor in this sensitive part of the brain is very serious. In fact, there isn't another part of the brain where lesions can cause such a wide variety of symptoms. Damage to the left frontal lobe can cause changes in motor function, problem solving, spontaneity, memory, language, initiative, judgement, impulse control and social and sexual behavior. I couldn't help but wonder why I hadn't seen any symptoms through changes in his personality or emotions. While Kent was in recovery, I made just a few phone calls to share the news. I was very anxious to be by Kent's side, so I depended on these people to pass the news onto others. When I called Kent's mom, she was driving to our house to relieve my sister for the weekend. Once she pulled to the side of the road, I told her the news. In the seven years I had known Barb, I had never seen or heard her cry (not even during her own trial with cancer), but she was crying . . . so I was crying. News travels fast, because Kent's uncle and aunt arrived in the neuro-ICU shortly after I arrived there. Kent was feeling groggy, so I was talking to Kent's nurse at the nurse's station when they walked through the big double doors. When I saw his aunt, I knew she had been crying which triggered tears to well up in my eyes again. While this was happening, Kent's mom had arrived at our house. My sister and brother-in-law were outside playing with the kids. When she stepped out of her van, my sister knew she had been crying. They walked to the other side of the van away from the kids and my mother-in-law told my sister the news. I had tried to call my sister earlier but only reached voice mail. They must have missed the call because they were outside. My mom and her friend arrived at our house a short time later. They had brought over dinner for my sister's birthday. When my mom and her friend walked into the house and to the kitchen, my sister's red, blotchy face told my mom that something unanticipated had happened. My sister shared the news with my mom and her friend and then my mom, my sister and mother-in-law were crying together.
In the meantime, back at the hospital, there was a continuous revolving door of visitors for Kent. In addition to Kent's uncle and aunt, his dad, his brother and two of his sisters, a nephew and niece, one of his cousins and his best friend stayed at the hospital throughout the evening. Kent's best friend had called our pastor of counseling and he visited to reinforce the truth of Psalm 18:30 which reads, As for God, His way is perfect. Our senior pastor visited too once he was informed by my mother-in-law. Before our senior pastor went into Kent's room, I spoke with him. I remember telling him that God was testing our faith especially mine. My trials have been minuscule and I know we have to suffer through trials to get into Heaven. Looking back, I think I was preparing my heart for the biggest trial of my life. When he prayed with us, a tear fell from his eye which resulted in more tears from my eyes. A little before 10:00, Kent's nurse told everyone to leave for the night because he needed some rest. He wasn't feeling well, but he was enjoying the company so he endured the late visiting. When I arrived home, the house was dark and quiet but my mother-in-law was awake. I went to the boys' rooms and sat at the sides of their beds. I quietly sat there in silence just analyzing their faces saw so much of Kent in each one of them. Kent highly valued the calling of fatherhood and he was such an integral part of their lives. The thought of him not being around to raise his sons was heart-wrenching and caused me to leave their rooms in tears. My mother-in-law had the door to our back porch from the living room open. It was such a nice summer night. I was so exhausted from the day that I layed down on the couch and fell asleep until the next morning.
I arrived at the hospital the next morning (the 10th) around 8:30 and learned that Kent had a rough night with a non-stop headache and vomiting. We later learned through a follow-up CT scan to the biopsy that there was a blood clot in the tumor. At this point, Dr. Chuman was ready to step back because of the seriousness of the case and their friendship, so he referred Kent to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago under the care of Dr. Hunt Batjer, a world-renowned neuro-surgeon. There was a lot of buzz in the waiting room outside the double doors to the neuro-ICU, as Kent already had many, many vistors, but Kent's dad silenced the buzz with the new information. After everyone left, Kent's dad stayed with him so I could go home and pack a bag. My mom and her friend went to our house too to relieve Kent's mom and sister so they could see Kent at St. Anthony's before he was transferred to Northwestern. In the short time I was at home, I packed a bag, sent out an e-mail to family and friends and spent some time with our boys. I also sifted through a multitude of e-mails and jotted down names of people that offered to help with meals. Kent had been in the hospital for four days and we didn't know how many more to anticipate. We were running low on groceries but wanted the people caring for the boys to focus on them. Taking care of three busy boys under four years old is challenging enough without having to think about groceries and making meals. So I called a friend from our kinship group and MOPS to organize a meal delivery schedule and she willingly accepted the task. Within two hours of leaving the hospital, I was back in Kent's neuro-ICU room where Kent's dad was still keeping him company along with two friends from church. Once Kent was released from St. Anthony's, I drove Kent and his dad to Northwestern. Soon after he was admitted, a couple from church arrived to visit and then take Kent's dad home. Then Kent's brother and his family arrived and his best friend arrived shortly thereafter too. I was tired and really missing our boys, so I went home and Kent's best friend stayed the night with him. Other than calling home to let Kent's mom and sister know that I was on my way as well as my mom, I drove home in complete silence and my mind was blank. When I arrived home, our boys had been asleep for a few hours. I went to their rooms and kissed their foreheads before praying over them. Afterward, I didn't want to talk. I just wanted to sleep, but I was restless because half of the bed was empty which made me think that I may have to get used to sleeping without Kent by my side.
On the morning of the 11th, I was moving really slow but really enjoyed spending some time with our boys. They had been enjoying their own revolving door of visitors, but they were starting to miss their daddy. They had started asking, "Where is Daddy?" and "When is Daddy coming home?" With all three of our boys around me, I explained that daddy had a bad spot in his head and had to have surgery at a hospital. I was expecting a serious conversation with the boys, but the only responses were, "Did he have blood?" and "Does he have a Band-aid?". I was on my way to the hospital by a little after 10:00 that morning. By the time I arrived at the hospital, Kent had already been transferred to the neurology floor. When I reached his room, he was in the radiology department for an MRI and CT scans which was done by a guy in our kinship group at church. The rest of the day was quiet and uneventful. I left the hospital by early evening that night and I saw two of Kent's sisters in the parking garage. One of them had driven up from Mississippi earlier that day. Lynette showed me pictures on her digital camera of our boys playing in our front yard with Grandpa Eloe earlier in the day and tears filled my eyes and rolled down my cheeks uncontrollably, because I was wondering how much time Kent has left to play with our boys. By the time I arrived at home, my sister had already relieved my mother-in-law. It was the first time in three nights that I was able to read our boys a bedtime story, pray with them, tuck them in and kiss them goodnight. I spent the rest of the evening with my sister. We talked and talked and talked until I fell alseep on her.
I was at the hospital by mid-morning on the 12th, my mom's birthday. Once at the hospital, we spent most of the day waiting to meet Dr. Batjer. When he stopped by Kent's room, my friend of many years was visiting us. She was in Chicago from Indianapolis because her dad was having a procedure done for Parkinson's disease done at a nearby hospital. When Dr. Batjer explained that he would make an incision in Kent's scalp about an inch behind his hairline from ear to ear, pull his forehead foward, create a bone flap where the tumor is located, remove the tumor, replace the excised bone and stitch him up, I almost passed out.
Later in the day, Kent enjoyed fellowship with his uncle and cousin, a missionary in Romania, who was in the area visiting his supporting churches. In the evening, Kent's forehead was marked with foam stickers to guide Dr. Batjer during surgery. Around this time, Kent's brother stopped by which was a good opportunity to go home and get a good night's rest in preparation for the long day ahead of us.
I was on my way to the hospital before 8:00 on the 13th. When I walked into Kent's room, he was on the phone with our church's pastoral staff and they were praying with him. By noon, Kent's entire immediate family with the exception of one sister (but she was on her way), plus my mom and her friend and our pastor of counseling were in his room. I couldn't help but wonder if there was a limit on the number of visitors he could have at one time, but no one ever said anything. Everyone surrounded Kent's bed and held hands as our pastor led us in prayer. He headed back to NW Indiana and we learned a short time later that Kent's surgery was bumped until the next day at noon. People slowly left the hospital, but I stayed through the evening and then decided to stay the night. I was too tired to make the hour drive home. I was so tired that I didn't even realize how uncomfortable the pull-out couch was in Kent's room.
On the morning of the 14th, I briefly left Kent's room for coffee. When I returned, he told me that his surgery had been rescheduled AGAIN only this time it was moved up to 9:30. I was so thankful that I stayed the night. If I hadn't, I probably would not have seen him before surgery. Promptly at 9:30, he was wheeled to pre-op. After 40 minutes of preparing him for surgery, he was wheeled down the hall to the surgery room. For the second time in one week, I watched as Kent was wheeled down a hallway to surgery only this time I was praying for the tumor to be benign and not malignant. Before I gathered our belongings from Kent's room on the neurology floor, I called a few people to let them know that Kent was in surgery. Once I arrived in the surgery waiting room, some of Kent's family was soon there too. We were expecting a 4 - 6 hour surgery so when I saw Dr. Batjer walk through the double doors from the surgery hallway after only three hours, I immediately stood up thinking something was wrong. Dr. Batjer accompanied me to a small consultation room and told me that surgery was "highly successful" with a golf ball size tumor being 100% resected plus a large margin around it from his left frontal lobe. He referred to this tumor as an astrocytoma. I didn't know that this meant, so I asked if it was cancerous and he said, "Yes." I think I was in shock because all I could muster out of my mouth was, "Okay." In my own fear, I was instantly overwhelmed with dismay and very close to despair about my future and our boys' future. Thoughts of being a widow and single parent in my 30s flooded my mind not to mention our boys being fatherless. In less than five minutes, I had made myself sick with grief. When I returned to everyone in the surgery waiting room, the expression on my face said everything. I did manage to tell them the name of the tumor though which put everyone in full gear with text messaging and phone calling as I sat there in a numb state of mind. After two more hours in the surgery waiting room, I started to wonder if Kent was in neuro-ICU yet. I asked at the reception desk and was told that he should be on his way there. I went to the neuro-ICU floor to confirm that he was there. When I was walking down the hallway to his room, I didn't know what to expect. When I walked into the room, he was lying there with his eyes open and only a two inch wide bandage covering his incision from ear to ear along his hair line. I walked to his bedside and held his hand. He was alert, and I was thinking, "Thank you, Lord." He was in minimal pain. In fact, his nurse said that most craniotomy patients require more than double the amount of pain medication that he was receiving. I was asked if he was being honest about his pain level and, I believe, without a doubt, that he was completely honest with them. By this time, everyone arrived in the the neuro-ICU waiting room from the surgery waiting room. Since only two or three people were allowed in the room at a time, I thought it was appropriate for Kent's parents to see him first. After that, for most of the evening, people rotated in and out of his room in 15 minute intervals. Loud noises, especially voices, bothered him, so he requested whispering if anything at all. Most times, he preferred holding hands in complete silence. When I stood across Kent's bed from his dad, brother and cousin at different times during the evening, I saw tears well up or fall from their eyes. I know it takes a lot for a man to cry or even tear up, so this impressed upon my heart the blessing of Kent to so many people. Kent's best friend arrived at the hospital around 11:00 that night, so I left around midnigt. It was a long drive home that night, but I drove home in silence processing the events of the day.
By 10:00 the next morning (the 15th), I was on my way back to the hospital. By the time I arrived, Kent was already back on the neuro-ICU floor. When I walked into his room, he was sitting up and eating a grilled cheese. I was surprised and thankful to see him bouncing back so quickly. I talked to my sister in the early afternoon and she was feeling exhausted from taking care of five kids. Up until this point, we had been blessed with family caring for our children. When I called our regular sitter, she relieved my sister within a few hours. Kent had been in the hospital for a week and the drive back and forth was starting to take a toll on me. After being assured by our sitter that she felt comfortable staying the night with the boys at our house, I spent the night with Kent in his hospital room.
On Friday, Kent had a steady flow of visitors including some hunting friends and his boss, the Field Vice President of Ameriprise's Chicago Metro Market. His assistant stopped by too. In the afternoon, Dr. Batjer's teammate, a neuro-oncologist by the name of Dr. Jeff Raizer, stopped by Kent's room. He told us that the pathology results of the tumor would be back sometime the following week but to expect to undergo radiation and chemotherapy. I was numb to what he said, as the shock of the cancer diagnosis in itself hadn't worn off yet. I stayed as late as I could, but I was anxious to get home to our boys even though they would already be in bed.
Saturday, the 17th was Father's Day. I spent some time with our boys in the morning before leaving for the hospital around 10:15. Once I was on the toll road, I called Kent in his hospital room, and, much to my surprise, he was ready to be released to go home. With this news, I couldn't get to the hospital fast enough. When I arrived in his room, he was dressed and ready to go home. He was released shortly thereafter and we were on our way home. The drive back home was quiet. Kent was taking in the beauty of God's creation and I was reflecting on the events of the last nine days. Seeing the boys after being in the hospital for so long was a great Father's Day gift. Later in the evening, we enjoyed the company of Kent's parents, uncle and aunt and a sister.
By Sunday afternoon (the 18th), the busyness of back and forth between hospitals and our house had come to halt. I had been running on adrenaline. I was in denial, so it was easy to bury myself in my responsibilities. It wasn't until we were home and it was quiet that I realized the seriousness of the trial we were entering. After we were home for a few hours, Kent wanted to watch baseball. I had to hook up the satellite to the television, because we had suspended our service six months earlier to fill our time with more productive activities. As I was trying to figure it out, I was getting more and more frustrated. I felt a lump in my throat and it kept getting bigger and bigger and then I broke down and cried. I had so many thoughts racing through my mind like I have to learn how to do this because Kent may not be around to do it for me. Then I thought about everything he does that I take for granted like take out the garbage and mow the lawn. Then I envisioned him with the boys on the '53 Minneapolis Moline BF and I thought about how I have to learn how to drive the tractor so our boys will know their ancestory and heritage. For the next day, I would walk around the house, look at Kent, leave the room and break down crying. I didn't want to get out of bed, take care of our children or maintain our home. If I was sleeping, I wasn't thinking.
By Monday night (the 19th), we received an e-mail from Dr. Raizer that the pathology results were back. When we met with him the next day, my mind was fuzzy from the first-ever (and last) antidepressant I had taken about an hour earlier, but I heard the diagnosis load and clear: GBM IV . . . technically called Glioblastoma Multiforme . . . or, in simpler terms, Stage 4 brain cancer. One word can describe how I felt: devastated. I was already discouraged and this news had me on the edge of despair. Kent was only 36 and I was 32. We had only been married for 5 1/2 years and our boys were 4 1/2, 3 and 16 months. In thinking about Psalm 18:30, I wondered what was so perfect about this plan for my life. I was downright angry and pushed the truth of God's Word away for a few weeks. There came a time, though, that I had to ask myself whether or not I had completely placed my faith and trust in Christ and His sacrifice on the Cross to pay the penalty for my sins. When God allows trials in our lives, it's a true test of our faith, so I soon clung to 2 Corinthians 1:9 which reads, This happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God.
Written 8/07, edited 4/10.