Normally, Facebook is not the place for deep, reflective thoughts.
But occasionally, among birthdays, vacation photos, political opinions and funny pet videos, I come across a Facebook post from an old friend that makes me pause and ponder about life, past present and future.
That happened recently with a post from my old friend, Brent Hoelscher, of Belleville.
I thought it was a birthday post, but it was much more.
It was an anniversary post of the day 14 years ago when he learned he had cancer.
On April 24, 2016, he posted, “Fourteen years ago today, a doctor told me I had three years to live. Fr. Ed Hauf told me: The doctor says you are dying. Jesus says you are healed. One of them is wrong…”
I sent him a note. Maybe we could get together to chat. Cancer Survivor’s Day was this month (July 5). I remembered when Brent was diagnosed with cancer, but I didn’t realize it had been 14 years. Over the years, I’d bump into him at ballgames. His positive attitude always captured my attention.
Never a negative word.
No pity, thank you.
“Attitude is so important,” Brent repeated to me over lunch recently.
Hoelscher is 58 years old. Retired. A grandpa. Married to the love of his life, Teresa, for 32 years. Father of two adult sons. Lives in his hometown of Belleville. Big sports fan. Still has close friends from Queen of Peace Grade School, Althoff Catholic High School and the University of Dallas.
Spring 2002: He had hurt his back working on a retaining wall at his Belleville home. It never got better. After a few doctor visits, a blood test revealed bad news. His doctor advised him to see an oncologist. “It still didn’t sink in,” he said. The oncologist told him he had multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer. No cure. Stage 3. Three years to live.
In hindsight, he said one of the hardest things was to tell his two sons, Randy and Michael, who were ages 13 and 9 at the time. As parents, Brent and Teresa felt they had to tell their boys before they heard it from someone else. Looking back, he realizes that was a lot of information for a 9-year-old boy to understand.
“I’d probably still tell both of them myself,” Brent said. “But I have often thought about it. Maybe we should have waited. Maybe not.”
Immediately, he started cancer treatments. Radiation. Chemotherapy. Stem cell replacement. More radiation and therapy. One day, at age 44, he looked in the mirror and saw a thin, sickly, old man. No hair on his head. Skin looked gray. He felt terrible. Looked worse, in his eyes.
“I couldn’t believe it was me,” he said.
That moment changed his outlook on fighting cancer. He reached deep into his faith for answers. He prayed. And prayed. He visited a local priest, Father Ed Hauf, at the Shrine of Our Lady of Snows. He also researched non-traditional cancer treatments. He made a visit to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Tulsa, Okla. He went to a chiropractor regularly. Ate healthy. Exercised. Prayed more.
About a year later, without medical explanation, doctors said his body was cancer-free, and he credits his deep faith, healthy lifestyle, and positive attitude.
But four years later, the cancer came back. As Brent tells the story, he had a couple of failed business ventures. His attitude became negative. He was disappointed. No doubt in his mind that he was healed but he allowed cancer to return to his body, he said.
A dozen years later, he has continued to live positively while fighting cancer.
One day at a time.
In 2012, he wrote a book about his faith and cancer battle called “Jesus Healed Me: The Gift of True Faith.”
Today, the cancer is not in remission. He goes to the Canter Treatment Center of America in Tulsa every month for a “tune-up.” He has undergone periodic chemotherapy treatments. He feels good. Works outdoors every day. Eats healthy. Prays a lot.
On that Facebook post a few months ago, Brent ended with some simple tidbits of advice for anyone who may be facing serious illness.
“…If I may, just a few words of advice: Pray. Listen. Pursue happiness. Choose to be positive. Be grateful. Be humble. Eat your vegetables. Drink water. Find a good chiropractor. Exercise every day. Get a good night’s sleep. Let the doctor worry about turning off the disease. You turn on your health. Get outside. And in the words of the late Warren Zevon, “enjoy every sandwich.”
The Hoelschers just returned from a family vacation in Florida. Included on the trip was his 21-month-old granddaughter, Kendal Rae, known as “Sugar Rae” to Grandpa. She’s the daughter of oldest son Randy, and girlfriend Jessica Blum.
His prognosis today?
“I don’t know, and I don’t care,” he said, without hesitation. “I’m looking forward to being at (son) Michael’s (and fiancé Makenzie Kauffman’s) wedding next summer. ... And there’s nothing more special than being a grandparent. Nothing”
He laughs a lot.
“From time to time I will hear someone say ‘Cancer Sucks!’ I suppose that’s true, but why proclaim it? ... I say ignore it, put it on the back burner. Forget cancer. Go put something on the grill. Invite some friends over. Text an old buddy and insult his golf swing. Laugh. Do what makes you happy. Remember, you fight death with life.”