Two years after my treatment ended, God brought me the love of my life, J.W. Martin, plus two beautiful adult daughters whose mother had passed away. My heart overflowed with so much love for them, and Shanda and Bethani became my daughters, too. They had suffered so much, and their pain was my pain; their joys were my celebrations. There is nothing I wouldn’t do to protect my four precious children from harm and make their lives happy, healthy and fulfilling.
As the years passed, we enjoyed three wonderful weddings (ours, Beth’s and Shanda’s), then the purchase of their first homes, and the birth of each of their firstborn. Through every milestone, we bonded even more tightly, and were thriving as a family. With each cancer-free check-up, I breathed more easily, and as I surpassed the 5-year mark, then 6, 7, 8, and9, I finally began to relax, until the anniversary of my 10th year.
Cancer’s timing can be so unbelievably cruel… Only 8 weeks after the birth of baby Madison, their first and only daughter, 29-year old Bethani and her husband Justin were told that the lump she had discovered was in fact, breast cancer. Even more terrifying, it was fun to be triple-negative, an invasive, aggressive, life-threatening cancer with a very low survival rate, especially for women her age. We were all absolutely devastated, but determined to fight side-by-side with Bethani, doing whatever was necessary to defeat the cancer.
Only MD Anderson Cancer Center knew how to approach Beth’s type of cancer, and so the regular cross-country treks from Waco to Houston for a year of treatments, operations and doctor visits began. I’ve never seen anyone so strong in my life, as she endured a parade of various chemotherapy’s that shattered her immune system, wreaked havoc on her heart, lungs, and bowels, and brought her to death’s door in order to kill the cancer. I am still in awe of her strength, as she sought comfort in scripture and prayers. She never gave in, and she never gave up.
Bethany inspired everyone around her, especially her family. Our daughters signed the entire family up for the 2012 Susan G. Komen race in Waco, where Bethani was recognized as the youngest breast cancer victim present. In spite of chemo treatments that made it hard to breathe and walk, she was the picture of strength as she pushed Madi’s stroller, rain-soaked wig and all, to support her fellow breast cancer fighters. Deeply inspired, Tori was becoming a warrior against cancer, too. It became her life’s goal to fight for a cure, help cancer patients navigate their journey with as many tools as possible, and to teach others how to be vigilant against the disease. Her sorority’s philanthropy is breast cancer awareness, and she has been instrumental in so many educational campaigns and fundraisers.
As the treatments drained Bethani and Justin physically, emotionally and financially, we all tried to help in as many ways as possible. From driving her to treatments, keeping Madi, cooking, laundry, housecleaning, prayers, gifts, comforting and fundraising, nothing we did could ever be enough. I struggled with helplessness that cancer forces on you, and guilt that my own experience was so small in comparison. The help that I really wanted to give Beth was an exchange of my life for hers. I prayed and pleaded with God to take me instead, but it just doesn’t work that way.
Cancer is merciless. It pretended to be gone, giving us hope, but 3 months later came back with a vengeance. Now stage 4, the tumors emerged throughout Beth’s body and in her lungs. She was determined to stay alive for her husband and baby daughter, but made final preparations to spare others from worry. Still fighting, she went to Houston for breathing therapy, and the morning before her appointment on July 17th, 2013, tumors closed her airway and cancer claimed her life. Her suffering has ended and she is in paradise, but all of us who miss her will suffer until we see her again.