Monday, July 25, 2011

The man I thought I'd never meet...

Our love story:  In March, 2003 I called my friend, Kathy Cline, and asked her if we could go out for a night of fun.  I was going through a difficult time and just wanted to go out and have a good time.  She suggested that we go out for Karaoke at Boltz on Tuesday and I thought that sounded like a great idea (although I wasn't going to sing!).  Later she asked if I minded if she asked some friends (male) to join us and I said that was fine but "Do not set me up!".  I was not looking for a relationship and she said she wouldn't.  So that evening I was drinking Ice Tea the entire night and in walks this really GOOD looking guy and he sits at our table!  We talked a lot that night and I thought he was a really great guy but again I wasn't in that place so I said goodbye around 11 p.m. and went home.  No information was exchanged.  A couple of days later he showed up at a Texas Holdem dealing class I was taking and then I was invited to go out with Kathy and Eric and a group of their friends the following night.  That following night he asked me to dance and as we were dancing I knew I was in trouble...

We talked every day and spent time together when the girls were with their dad and as the weeks passed we knew that we were falling in love.  It was crazy, how could that happen so soon?  We were both so surprised at how close we were so early in our relationship.  We knew that we had something very special.  I was in the middle of what was a long divorce battle and he was there for me every step of the way.  I struggled with depression and he showed me how God could take that all away from me.  I was so torn down and Eric helped me pull the pieces together.  He was my rock and still is to this day.

A Man of Love:  Eric is an incredible man.  Growing up in East Dayton his parents sent him to Dayton Christian.  After graduation he served in the Air Force as a Security Specialist at Eielson Air Force base in Alaska.  When he came back to Ohio he started working for Richie's Sunoco and worked for Bryan for more than 20 years.  Eric would give you the shirt off his back if you asked him and I'm sure he did many times.  He ran many of Bryan's garages/stores and he would see people who were going through some very rough times and give them money or rides.  He would do anything for anyone.  If we would drive by someone that was stranded on the side of the road he would stop and try to help them or give them a ride.  He has a heart of gold. 

When Ricky was young (about 9 I believe), Eric's friends lived next to Ricky's mom.  Eric saw the environment Ricky was living in which was awful and decided that if Ricky's mom would allow him, he would like to take Ricky into his home and raise him.  From that day forward, Ricky became Eric's son and even after Eric's ex-wife left he still continued to raise Ricky.  He would tell me how difficult that was because he didn't make a lot of money.  He would go down to the blood bank and give blood so that he would have extra money for him and Ricky to do things.  Eventually Ricky's sister also moved in with Ricky & Eric for a while too.

Eric and I were in church one day and the sermon was about serving God through ministries and it was mentioned that there was a soup kitchen ministry in Troy so I contacted them and we began serving the ministry as often as we could, sometimes weekly.  It took us way out of our comfort zone because I wasn't used to cooking meals for so many people and praying with strangers.  We learned so much through the people who we volunteered with and the people who came to the soup kitchen in need of a meal or just some company.  We did that for many years and made lasting friendships.  We always thought that God brought us together and this was our way of serving Him.

A Man of Strength:  Eric would always say he was the optimist and I was the pessimist!  I would say that I was the realist.  He always had a positive attitude about everything.  When we got the news that Eric had melanoma it was the first time I saw fear in Eric's eyes.  It broke my heart.  He was always my rock, my strength... He went through two grueling surgeries.  The first to remove more tissue around the mole that could be cancerous and to test one of the lymph nodes to see if the cancer has spread.  Due to the location of Eric's mole, he had to have a skin graft.  That would mean he would be bed ridden for several weeks.  Anyone that knows Eric knows that he's not the type to lie in bed for weeks!  We got the news that Eric's lymph node was positive for Melanoma so he went back into the hospital for a lymph node dissection in which they removed 10 more lymph nodes.

We had to attend a class on chemotherapy.  Eric was so sick that morning.  I wheeled him into the class and the sweat was pouring off of him and we had to leave early because he became very ill.  When we got home I noticed his incision looked awful and was bulging open.  I took him to the ER and he was admitted for a staph infection which would prolong his recovery process.  Before Eric's diagnosis, he rarely missed work for being sick.  Working for Bryan in the 20 plus years he never missed more than a week of work for the entire time.  So as soon as he got out of the hospital and got the okay on the skin graft he had to get back to work!  He went to work with a drain that was coming out of the incision in his groin.

A couple of weeks later Eric began a chemotherapy treatment that was a daily treatment for 30 days.  He would go to the chemo room every day at 2 p.m. for a 3 hour infusion.  During that entire month, he never missed a day of work.  He would go to work in the morning and leave around 1 - 1:30 p.m. and go straight to chemo.  After those 30 days Eric had to have injections of the chemo 3 days a week and endured those until October, 2009 when we found out the cancer had spread. 

We had no idea how that transition from Stage 3 Melanoma to Stage 4 Melanoma would change our lives.  Eric endured treatment after treatment with NO response, but his positive attitude never wavered nor did his commitment to his job or our family.  Eric was very ill in the ICU in April, 2010 with a platelet level of 16 and he was arguing with the critical care doctor that he needed to go to work the following day!  Everyone was shocked by his strength and will to go on.

In November, 2010 we found out the cancer spread to Eric's brain and he had to be careflighted to Pittsburgh, PA for an emergency craniotomy.  The surgeon tells me not to be shocked because when he comes out of surgery he will be on a ventilator and will have several tubes coming out of his body.  The wait for that surgery to end was the longest wait!  Finally I was told that I needed to go to the ICU because Eric and the surgeon was there to speak to me.  When I walked in the room I about fell over.  He was sitting up in bed talking to the nurse getting him settled!  I was in complete shock and cried tears of joy.  The picture is Day 3 after the brain surgery.

His Gift to Us:  On June 14, 2011, we got the news that Eric's cancer has spread to his brain, spinal cord, spinal vertebrae and many other places.  Eric has several tumors in the brain and there is no more treatments that he can do.  Since that time he has been paralyzed from the armpits down.  That has been very hard for him.  Eric was always full of life and now he's dependent on being cared for.  He has never given up and still to this day he says he is fighting.  Without a miracle from God, I know that our time is short and that the day will come when Eric will leave me and go on to be with God.  He knows that too, but yet he wants to leave us all with a gift.  His gift to us is his message of love, strength and courage.  Never give up, no matter how hard the fight because it's always worth the fight. 

For those who don't know Eric, the gift he leaves you is the gift of life.  Eric is donating his body to Wright State for medical research in hopes that they can learn from his cancer.  He will also leave behind his message through volumes of pictures and videos about the dangers of tanning and detecting Melanoma.

His Gift to Me:  I never knew true love until I met Eric.  He loved me unconditionally every day.  He kissed me and told me he loved me every morning.  He would always say "I love you forever".  When he's gone I know he will still love me and I have had the gift of true love even if it wasn't for the lifetime we dreamed of...

6 comments:

  1. Oh. My. Gosh. My friend directed me to your blog. And I'm at work, swallowing back tears right now. What a wonderful relationship you two have and I'm SO SO SO glad you two were able to find each other and love!!! I so wish I understood why these things have to happen (and to such good people). Please know I'm praying for Eric and you! Can I ask where Eric first found his mole? Maybe it's one of the older posts and I'll check those out. I just am so amazed by your strength.

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  2. Jill,

    I have been following Eric's and your story through this blog, YouTube, and the MRF board. My husband and best friend of almost 39 years was diagnosed Stage 4 malignant melanoma in October of 2008. He is now in hospice after 6 surgeries, 11 hospitalizations, IL2, ipi, radiation, a couple of other trials, and finding he was negative for BRAF. Now we are just waiting for the end to come and give him peace. He, too, is a fighter and used his faith in God to sustain him. I have followed your fight because I have so admired your strength, faith, and forth-rightness in sharing your story. You two are in my heart everyday. I hope for peace for you both when it's time.

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  3. Jill - we are both in similar places, you may be a bit ahead of me - and all I can say is that your spirit and attitude are worthy of emulation. I just wish you the very best during this incredibly difficult time and know that you have a lot of love and support out their in the world.

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  4. JI'll & Eric,
    Peace to both of you. I have read your posts on the MRF site and have followed you here. My heart lies in pieces for my own husband who lost his battle with Melanoma on May 27th and my mother of bone cancer 9 days before him. It has been a very difficult few months.

    Just know you are not alone in this journey and if the fear grabs ahold too tight reach out without a pause... Understanding is here.

    Deb
    redesign08.blogspot.com

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  5. Jill and Eric-
    What a beautiful couple you are, and please let Eric know he has already touched and reached someone. I will fight forever and never give up either. You, like me, are so lucky to have found true and lasting love forever in our husbands. You are about the same age as my husband and me. I hope and pray that the Lord will give my husband the strength that you have when my time comes. Praying for you and keeping you in daily thoughts and prayers.
    Cindy Long, Keller, TX

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  6. Dear Eric and Jill,
    I have been following your blog for some time. I am very touched by your relationship with each other and with God. I lost my first husband to liver cancer and I know how hard the separation will be for you both. It is a great comfort to know that he will rest in the hands of the Lord and never shed another tear. Many of course will shed many tears when he is lost, as you most of all will miss him. My mother in law has been diagnosed with stage 3 Melanoma and she is fighting the fight. How I wish she was as close to God...but she may learn to depend upon him in this struggle.
    May God bless you both.

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