Thursday, July 10, 2008

In Our Hearts Forever

A little word meaning the end of life, but packed with so much more meaning than that. Around that word is packed so much heartache and suffering and, paradoxically, many times celebration.

This year death came to many people I care about and has drastically effected the lives of many others I also care about. With the danger of leaving someone out, I would like to mention a few.

Wanda Daniel was a true friend to our family. For over 40 years she ran a day care center at our former church in San Angelo, Texas. The former pastor of the church, Earl Dunn (another great man of God) had a vision and saw the need for a day care center in that part of town and he went to Wanda to ask her to be the first director. Her daughter, LeeAnn, was one of the first enrolled and graduated from the very first kindergarten class. LeeAnn later became a teacher and then assistant director working beside her mom. Technically she was there forty years too, if you count coming in after school!

Forty years is a long time, but the number of people impacted by Wanda's golden heart is immeasurable. My two girls were enrolled there. The same week my youngest was born, my wife's father - who was dying from cancer - and her youngest brother came to live with us. Our little family went from three to six in one week. By the time Cindy was a month old, it became painfully apparent that Cheryl could no longer be a stay at home mom. I was a young man in the Air Force and that was back in the day before major pay raises brought us even close to the poverty level. San Angelo was a military town and Wanda knew our plight. She didn't charge us initially! Then, when we insisted, she put us on a reduced rate. Finally some time later, after much arguing we got her to agree to the full price. My grandchildren also attended her daycare and when the girls both became single moms and enrolled in college, Wanda put them on a reduced rate too! She did not see it as a job, but as a mission opportunity. The daycare was not a profit making machine! If there was an opening, and the waiting list was always very long, Wanda would not turn you away. The state brought many people into the facility to show prospective new owners the proper way to run a daycare. Although it was licensed by the state, Wanda always resisted accepting government funds of any kind along with all the strings attached.

Unfortunately, as often happens even among Christians who are not acting very Christian-like, a group within the church decided the daycare needed to become profit making to help support the church which was dwindling in member and funds. Wanda strongly resisted as she knew it was a long-running mission and she felt God still had a need for that type of mission work there. Unfortunately that group, with the support of the new pastor, prevailed and Wanda and LeeAnn were fired late last year! Wanda's golden heart was shattered, literally. Her heart was hurting, but she thought it was emotional pain and did not go to the doctor. In February she finally went to the doctor and major damage was discovered. Over the course of several months she had numerous surgeries from which she never fully recovered. Finally she was placed on hospice and then the Lord called her home on June 14, 2008. That golden heart has now been pieced back together and made whole, but she left her friends' and family's hearts hurting.

Ken England, 99, was a wonderful man who attended my Sunday School class with his son Joe and daughter-in-law, Claretta. He died May 22. He served as pastor, associate pastor or interim pastor to churches in Pond Springs, San Gabriel, Jonestown and Round Rock. He also was associational missionary for Atascosa Association and preached revivals throughout Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Our church recently named Ken pastor emeritus of First Baptist Church, Round Rock. Ken was a published author and had also written a book of poetry which he honored me by giving me a copy. He lived a full life and was very active until just very recently. His service was a true celebration.

Another man in my class, Cliff Hobbs, just lost his son, David, to a sudden and unexpected heart attack just a couple of weeks ago. He was only 48.

P.C. Vencat and his wife, Chaya, established a website for CLL/SLL patients which evolved into THE most valuable resource out there for those of us struggling with this leukemia and/or lymphoma. Chaya did most of the writing, but P.C. was the patient, webmaster, editor and publisher of the site. I have a link over to the right ( and I have referred many, many newly diagnosed folks there. It was one of the first places I found when I was diagnosed and Chaya is able to take a very complicated subject and make it understandable. The section for the newly diagnosed is a life saver. These folks knew the disease. After much study and research P.C. took a chance on the only thing that offers a possible cure and that is a stem cell transplant. Everything was right. He was strong and relatively healthy, they chose the experts to perform the procedure and they had lots of emotional support behind them. Even with all of that, P.C. passed away on June 23rd from complications after an allogenic cord blood stem cell transplant. You can read the details of his transplant journey at Harvey's Journal. Harvey was the "fictionalized" character Chaya wrote about, but Harvey was really P.C. Hundreds and hundreds of lives have been enriched because of this couple.

One of the strongest caretakers I know, out of many strong caretakers, lost her husband to CLL a short time ago. Cindy Stanley's husband Tony, age 52, lost his long running battle on April 28, 2008. He endured so many different treatments, trials (and torture) trying to keep this dragon at bay. He fought a valiant battle and was a true CLL warrior. Cindy was with him every step of the way and kept us informed via and She posted less than an hour after he died to tell us. One of the last posts before that included this heartbreaking sentence: The nurse just informed me that they have called all the hospitals in the area and no platelets at any of them. Tony's platelet count at that time was 6 (the normal minimum is 150) and he was bleeding. I don't know if they ever found any at that time, but it does remind me to remind all of you, if you are able, please donate blood and/or platelets whenever you can. You can literally save a life.

Some others who have died from CLL in 2008 with whom I had a connection:

AndyLynn, age 30 and she left behind a husband and a toddler

Cathy's husband, Philip

Val Bollock's husband John who had not been diagnosed very long at all and he left a young son, Will.

Shirley Smythe, from Ireland lost her Mom

Elizabeth's Dad

Lise Rasmussen-Wright who was a long-time battler of this disease and a friend to many.

Bonnie, who has CLL, lost her son, Jordan McKay Washburn, May 10th to a rare blood disease, metastatic alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, which mimics acute leukemia. It is considered a pediatric cancer but he became ill late last year. He had just turned 26.

Each of these folks was loved. Each made a difference. Each one will be missed. Each will be remembered.

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