Stephen was a healthy, active, atheletic fourty-six year old. He was my husband, father to eight children, a pastor, a man with what seemed to be endless energy. I clearly remember him telling me one day that he felt tired. He was concerned that he couldn't keep up with everything anymore. I was a bit surprised hearing him say that, but when I looked around me it was obvious he was on the fast pace. It was no wonder he was feeling overwhelmed. I began to see him walk a little slower, his face looking pale and tired.
The first day of the New Year he sat me down, pen and steno pad in hand, and began to list the projects he wanted to complete during the year. I wasn't surprised; he sounded like his old self again. He loved building projects, and being tired wasn't going to stop him from continuing to look ahead to what he wanted to accomplish. A new master bath was his goal, a place for me to relax in a big tub with a garden window. But first, he was determined to rebuild our front deck and extend it across the rest of the house. He wasn't a man slow to move on his dreams--the deck project was already well underway. Trying to fit building into his schedule was always a challenge, but every minute possible he was working with his crew of little sons who scattered his nails and pounded hammers on discarded chunks of wood. His patience was admirable! I could see the pain on his face at night. His back problems seemed to have resurfaced with this project, causing intense pain like he had never felt before. We began to search for answers, and for any medical intervention that could ease his pain. Unfortunately, our search was slow. His schedule was too full to spend time concentrating on his own pain. A man who put his family first, he always put his own needs last.
His mother's previous recovery from breast cancer was distant in our thoughts. It had not affected his life since he was 15 years old. Suddenly after thirty-one years it reappeared. One lone breast cancer cell had, after this extensive period of time, attached itself in Stephen's mother's brain. Although the cancer was not taking her life, other related medical problems were. While the four month battle for her life absorbed our thoughts, Stephen's slow walk turned to a shuffle. The doctors told us he was tired, overwhelmed with all his responsibilties, and his back pain was an injury...be patient and get some rest. When the Lord called his mom home, I knew he could not travel to her funeral; shuffling from one end of the house to the other took all the strength he had. I was scared. I called the doctor and told him he was wrong; my husband was going to die if he did not come up with some answers. The doctor took me seriously, and two weeks after his mother went home to Heaven, we learned that Stephen's body was filled with cancer. It was pancreatic cancer--something that spreads quickly and takes your life in a short period of time. He was given three weeks to three months to survive.
Our lives immediately changed...nothing was the same, yet chaos did not break loose. His love, faith and determination carried us through until he died. Five months after diagnosis the angels carried Stephen into the arms of his waiting Savior. He wrote these words to our children not long before he died:
"I loved teaching you about Jesus, and instilling in you a passion to follow Him. There is nothing else in this life that matters. If you do everything in life you want, and miss heaven, you will have lost everything. Always remember "What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" I would give my life for you if I could, but Jesus already has, and He can take better care of you than I.....I do not understand, but I am not mad at God. I hate sin. It is our great enemy and it causes all this pain. "The sting of death is sin........the strength of sin is the law." But Jesus fulfilled the law of God for us and sin's power over us is broken. And if its power is broken, so is the death it brings. "God gives us victory (over death) through our Lord Jesus Christ." We realize this cancer will not go away, in fact it will spread quickly and I may live only a short time. But Jesus said "He who believes in me will never die." When my body quits breathing, my spirit will be immediately carried by the angels to Jesus. And if you trust Jesus too, I will see you very soon when He comes back with all of us...."
New discoveries are being made in the study of pancreatic cancer. Eleven years ago the gene for pancreatic cancer was found. Studies are now taking place linking the breast cancer gene in women with pancreatic cancer in men. Little did we know that the breast cancer gene that took Stephen's mother's life, could be the same gene that caused my husband's pancreatic cancer. The body is fearfully and wonderfully made, yet when sin entered into the world we were all sentenced to the death of our bodies. What a comfort to know that when our bodies leave this earth, we are present with the Lord.