This is a love story. This is a story of courage, and hope. This is a story of furious anger and frustration. This is a story of two people who met on a Friday and married on Monday. It is now 27 years later, and they are faced with losing each other: NOT for eternity, but because of this horrible thing we call cancer-Pancreatic Cancer.
There’s is a story of divine purpose. It will make you cry and it will make you laugh. But I can assure you, it will change your perspective on what is truly important in life. This story is not fiction-these two people are facing life on the terms they were given. And against all odds, they are surviving because of love. Love is their healer, their strength, their foundation. They want to tell their story, to help other people. When you look at these two people, you know their answer to survival is found in unquenchable faith- faith in each other, faith in love, faith in God. Yes, they are angry, even furious. But when you look in Joes’ eyes, they reflect a quiet sense of acceptance. When you look in Pats’ eyes, you see a stoic sense of daily survival. I believe both are blessed by knowing that their ability to survive lies in the hands of each other. Their love is a source inspiration to all of us who know them. My journey with these two great people started in the lobby of The Rock Box Theater few days before Christmas, 2008.
My friend and I had been laughing hysterically during the first act of the show. At intermission, we ventured up to the lobby and were warmed by the aroma of fresh baked cookies, and warm hot chocolate. This was truly a classic Christmas moment: or was it? The lobby was full of happy people genuinely enjoying themselves and talking about the show. There was definitely a festive, holiday feeling in the air. Suddenly, I heard a raspy voice call my name. I turned around a saw my friend Pat, then went over to hug her and wish her a Merry Christmas. She smiled and excused her uncommon, “raspy” voice. “OH, Freya, I guess it’s just all the stress…you know, work and all.” I didn’t think much of it at the time: until I met her husband, Joe.
Pats’ eyes quickly shifted to the other side of the room, as she quietly asked me: “Do you know my husband?” I said no, so she beckoned to him to come over and say hello.
As Joe reached over to shake my hand, I was struck with his countenance. At about 6’7″, with great long hair, and an 1800′s mustache, he presented himself as a gentle, kind hearted soul. There was nothing special about the exchange-except his warm and engaging countenance. As the lights began to flicker, signaling the show was about to start, Pat calmly turned to me and said: “Do you know about Joe?” I simply said: “No, what?” Of course, I was expecting to hear a wife’s’ accolades about her husband accomplishments, or his work, etc.; you know… the stuff we all like to say. Instead, she looked me straight in the eyes and said: “Joe has 90 days to live: he has Pancreatic Cancer.”
It is really hard to describe how I felt at that second. I felt the breath go out of me, and everything seemed to get very quiet, in a very loud room. All I could do was hug her, and tell her how sorry I was. Then I felt something so strong in my spirit-I knew I had to tell their story. Pat asked Joe to come over, and she told him: “Freya is the woman with the magazine-she wants to tell our story. “Joe looked at me with those piercing eyes, and gently said: “Alright-, I wouldn’t have anyone else tell it.” I felt a big tear run down my cheek, as I looked up at him. He leaned over and said: “Don’t cry for me-it will be OK.” I reached up to give him a big hug and whispered: “I am not crying FOR you, I am crying ABOUT you.” Then we turned and walked back into the theatre and took our perspective seats.
I was numb as I sat down. I looked around the theatre, and wanted to scream: “There is someone dying here! How can we all just sit here-what can we do?!” As the curtain went up, it hit me so hard. We ALL go through each day, unaware of whom is sitting next to us, who is driving the car in the next lane, or who is waiting on us in the restaurant. When we stand in line at the supermarket and share social niceties, do we KNOW what that person is going through? No, most of the time-no. But would we want to know? If we did know, what would we do? Just say I’m sorry, and move on down the road? When you think of it in those terms, it really is quite horrifying-what if it was YOU? What would you do? What would you want people to do for you? How would you want them to feel about you? Nobody wants platitudes. But I believe genuine love and support goes a long way. Not knowing, gives us a way out: Knowing, gives us a way in-a way into the human heart-a way to give, and feel, and stand with someone-no matter what.
I had the honor of interviewing Joe and his wife, at my home on a Sunday afternoon. Pat was apologetic, as she could only do it on a Sunday, as she worked six days a week, and took Joe to Chemo on Monday. What irony: America keeps complaining about money and there is a dying man in my living room-as his wife apologizes! My, God! What have we become? Where are our priorities and values? We NEED to know about these things. We need to get out of our comfort zone and help people in need. Communication and knowledge is the key to awareness. These people want to tell their story to help others get through the nightmare. Cancer is not just a disease of the body; it is a disease of the spirit. It is an evil that affects everyone around the person with the disease. And without steadfast hope, faith, love, and support, it can destroy many lives, in many different ways.
During our interview, it became obvious to me, that Joe was extremely concerned for his wife’s’ welfare. I asked him what he wanted to tell America. He simply replied: “Live every day like it was your last. Nobody ever thinks this is going to happen to them. So go do what you want to do! If you want to skydive-go do it. If you want to hunt, or golf, or travel-go do it! You only have one day to live, at one time. Be grateful for every minute-every breath. I only have one regret: that I have to leave my wife. I want to know she will be alright. We are like one person-this will be hard for her: very hard. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t WANT to die, but if this is what God has for me, then I accept it. I am not afraid of death. I have always believed in Jesus and God. I never went to church much, but I was raised with it and I believe.”
I asked Joe if he believed in Heaven. He got real animated and said: “OH, yes! I believe in Heaven AND Hell.” I told him, that in The Bible, in John, Jesus said;” He was going to His Father, and He was going to prepare a place for us-in His house, are many mansions.” Joe quickly replied: “Oh, Yes! I believe that! I have already put in my request. I want an old farm-house, all fixed up- with a lot of land- And it has to have a front porch-I always wanted a front porch. But it can only be half built.” I asked him why? With his eyes sparking, he quickly stated: “Well: So I can wait for my wife to come up and join me-to tell me how to finish it! “The three of us laughed and laughed. How amazing, Joe had even found some humor in what seemed to be a humorless situation. I guess that’s what courage does: it lifts the spirits of those who love you. It bonds people together with strength that can only come from the heart-a caring, deeply courageous heart. I honor you Joe. I honor your wife, and the deep love she has for you. I honor your faith in God, and your belief that Jesus has a place for you. At a very scary time, you are standing tall. Your faith is your rock, and that Rock will remain as the true foundation of your life. No matter what happens. Jesus will not let you down. He will carry Pat and your family. He will carry you, and open His loving arms to welcome you home. But until that day, I will pray for a miracle. I will pray that your story will encourage those who are suffering in silence. Your example will be your legacy. Your courage will never be forgotten, and your love for your wife and God, will be a living monument to what we should all aspire to be. Love cannot die. It is Gods’ most precious creation. Jesus will never fail us: After all, He is the King of all love. No one could have said it better: “Love, is the greatest commandment of all.”
Note to all TTW readers: 90 days from the date of this interview Joe died-right on time and right into the arms of Jesus. This is one of the most inspiring interviews I have ever written. Pat and Joe will remain in my heart forever. One day, Pat showed up at my house un-announced- with her cover issue in her hand. She hugged me and said good-bye. We both quietly cried, then she got on her Harley and was never seen again. But do not cry for her. Just before Joe died, she had his hand-print tattooed on her shoulder so they would always be together…on earth and one day….in heaven.