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Wallowa Gal: Living with cancer, not dying with it

Katherine Stickroth is a freelance writer who blogs at awallowagal.com

Published on March 6, 2018 2:41PM

Richard and Kathleen Stickroth determined to make a positive out of the negative of cancer.

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Richard and Kathleen Stickroth determined to make a positive out of the negative of cancer.

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Outside my window, a big dump of snow is falling from the upper heights. I am thankful for a warm house (thank you Grain Growers and Adam, Caleb and Aaron.)

Having recently learned that a close friend of mine had been diagnosed with cancer, I stopped by to offer him a word of encouragement. He and his wife have quite the journey ahead of them.

My husband, Richard, and I walked a similar path nine years ago. From the beginning, Richard’s prognosis was terminal. His chemotherapy was to slow the tumor’s growth and buy him time.

“Buy him time for what?” I bitterly wondered. I was afraid hopelessness would kill him before the cancer.

We lived like the steel ball in a pinball machine. We never knew, day by day, what would flip our course of action. The big Cs were the cancer, then chemo, and finally, we settled into change. Constant change.

A game-changer for us was when I told him, “From this day on, you are living with cancer, not dying from it. We are going to find something to be thankful for.”

In appreciation for the nurses at the cancer center, he gave them one of his paintings. This was a huge boost to him. When radiation treatment began, he asked me to draw a happy face on his chest with a marker. The radiology tech burst out laughing when he raised his shirt. She called in the team and giggles regaled that hour.

Our monthly cycle was his infusion, then intense sickness for three weeks with occasional moments of relaxation. By the fourth week he would feel well enough to do something, so we’d go out to eat or go fishing or go to a movie.

In March 2009 the cancer had spread to his brain. One day I came home and found him with my Bible.

“I think there’s something in here I should know,” he said. I was too emotional to explain things, so a friend came over and shared the story of Jesus.

“That’s so simple,” Richard stated, and that afternoon he was baptized for the forgiveness of sins.

What astounds me still is the peace it brought him. All was forgiven- what happened in Vietnam (I was told only a fragment of it all), and the storm of his alcoholic years (he was sober 37 years when he passed) and the wreckage of his marriages (I was his fourth wife).

It was all gone.

He no longer cussed (this was huge, for he was a sailor after all). I don’t know if he let all that go or if he was released from it. It wasn’t about church, for he didn’t attend. He simply lived in peace until his last breath.

I reminded my friend the other day that this was another bend on his journey, that each day, he was living with cancer and not dying.

And on the way home, I finally realized what Richard and I were buying time for.

Katherine Stickroth is a freelance writer who blogs at awallowagal.com



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