|In the inspirational poem “Footprints,” one man’s life journey is depicted as footprints in sand. The nameless man looks back on his life and notices that in times of trouble and sorrow, only one set of footprints was visible. The man thought the single set of footprints meant he went through hard times alone, and asks God why he was alone in times of trouble. God replied that in the darkest hours of the man’s life, that was when He was carrying the man through those times.
Tommy Blake, a Texarkana father of two, member of First Baptist Church, and a business owner, knows all too well that feeling expressed by the unknown man in “Footprints.” His wife, Becky, was diagnosed with breast cancer in January, 1987. The diagnosis hit him like a ton of bricks.
“I felt exactly like that, I did,” said Tommy, relating to the anonymous man’s feelings of abandonment. “No one we knew had been through any type of situation like that, and I really felt alone, but not for long.”
Fourteen years later, Tommy still gets choked up telling the tale of the Blake family’s long and winding road of cancer. Becky Blake went to her family doctor 14 years ago to treat a typical wintertime cold, and figured while she was there, she would have him check out a small lump she had noticed in her breast. She had undergone a mammogram two months prior to the doctor visit, and no spots or lumps were found, so she wanted to have it checked just to be on the safe side. Her physician, Dr. Pat Webber, did indeed find a lump in her breast and performed another X-ray. When he saw the X-ray, he advised the Blake’s to see Dr. Mike Hillis, a surgeon.
“We were optimistic and upbeat, and we still didn’t think it was serious then,” said Tommy. “He met with us, and explained to us that it could be benign or cancerous. He sent Becky to Wadley Regional Medical Center for day surgery to have a biopsy. She was still in the recovery room when he came in and told us that it was cancer, a malignant tumor.”
As he tended to his recovering wife, Becky and Tommy had to absorb the reality of the phrase that no one ever wants to be told: “You have cancer.” “I was absolutely devastated and completely distraught,” said Tommy. “I was instantly humbled by the whole ordeal. All I knew to do was call the strongest person I knew.” The strongest person he knew was his mother-in-law, Dorothy Land of Tyler, Texas. Distraught and in tears, he reached out to Dorothy, and she said she’d be by their sides in three hours.
“She got here, and she was a rock for us, she was so strong and supportive,” said Tommy. “She’s such a good, Christian woman, and was a God-send for us.”
Under the veneer of trying to remain positive and hopeful, Tommy’s mind forced upon him thoughts that still make him shudder over a decade later.
“Deep down inside, I was starting to prepare to raise my two children alone, but I was still trying so hard to be upbeat and optimistic for Becky. Those negative thoughts didn’t last very long, because I looked at how young she was, and how young our son and daughter were then, and I decided to look forward and plan the rest of our lives, like we had been doing before.”
After recovering from her biopsy surgery, Becky’s doctor discussed treatment options, and, as Tommy says, they “went to seven different doctors, and got seven different treatment plans.” Becky ended up seeing a doctor in Dallas that recommended a mastectomy, followed – thankfully - by no chemotherapy and no radiation, but a second mastectomy was planned for a year later as a preventative measure. Since her second mastectomy in December of 1987, Becky Blake has been cancer free and receives annual check ups.
“I realized I had to step up and handle this. As her husband, I had to be strong.” – John Couch
Unlike the Blake’s, John and Kathi Couch, also of Texarkana, did know someone who had gone through breast cancer when Kathi found out she had the disease. John and Kathi have been good friends with Tommy and Becky Blake for several years. Five years ago this coming New Year’s Eve, Kathi had a medical check-up. Her physician noticed a troubling sign that could indicate a possible tumor in Kathi’s breast, so he scheduled a mammogram for her later that day. A few days later, Kathi’s doctor called to express his concerns that “something didn’t look right,” and stated that he would like to investigate further.
Kathi’s breast biopsy was performed at Wadley Regional Medical Center. Around the fifth of January, Randy Schmidt, a physician and friend of the Couch family, called to let them know that it didn’t look good, and that Kathi needed surgery right away.
“We were in a whirlwind, dealing with that news on top of explaining it to our girls,” said John. “I have always been such a positive person and like to always think things are going to work out. But the mammogram and biopsy results definitely surprised me. And it was a piercing blow, like a shot, to all of us, but to see Kathi’s reaction was even scarier.”
Dr. Schmidt counseled Kathi and John, explaining the medical options and answering their questions. The next morning after beginning the surgery on Kathi, Dr. Schmidt came out and told John and the gathered friends and family that the cancer was more pervasive than they had suspected.
It was terrible news he delivered that morning: Kathi would need a mastectomy, and the surgeons would also need to remove a certain number of lymph nodes. John relates that it was a very emotional moment for all present when they were told Kathi would have to go through chemotherapy.
“It all just ate me up so much,” said John, reflecting on that life-changing morning at St. Michael’s Hospital. “That was such a horrible feeling.”
For John, the only exposure he had in life to cancer treatment was when he was only 15 years old. Just before entering manhood, John lost his mother to liver cancer. In his mind, John recalled the horrendous radiation treatments his mother endured, and that terrified him. In the midst of all the bad news, they were fortunate to receive a bit of promising news. Kathi’s lymph nodes came back cancer-free, meaning the cancer had not spread and the doctors had caught it in AN early stage. Then on the heels of that glimmer of good news, Kathi began her round of four chemotherapy treatments. John recalls that his wife was “devastated” by the first two treatments, but the last two went smoother for her despite the onset of side effects of the chemotherapy. Kathi managed to find the inner strength during her chemotherapy to play an active “motherly” role in her daughter’s prom night and graduation festivities.
During her cancer treatments, John clung tightly to a simple phrase he kept going over in his mind and in his heart. He would say to Kathi, and to himself, that they could get through it, the treatments were going to work, and their lives would return to normal someday very soon. At the time she was diagnosed, John and Kathi had been married 19 years, and, according to John, they had weathered trying times and tribulations like every married couple goes through.
“We were close before that, but we did bond a whole lot more and pulled together like we had never done before,” said John. In time, John says, breast cancer kind of became “like any other very intimate thing happening to you that you both share. We both dealt with it, and we got through it together.”
Like his friend Tommy Blake, John found strength in his faith. As a lifelong member of First United Methodist Church, he had a spiritual connection to anchor himself in.
“Faith and prayer played a 100 percent role in getting Kathi and all of us through that ordeal,” said John. “I don’t know how people can get through things like that – I can’t even imagine how they can do it – without that foundation of faith and prayer in their life. I couldn’t have done it otherwise.”
But unlike his friend Tommy, John never once for even a split second felt alone or abandoned like that anonymous man in “Footprints.”
“I never did feel alone, not at all,” John remembers. “Kathi was such an incredible trooper, and she wasn’t going to let it get her down. After all, we were a couple going through this.”
Tommy admits that prior to their ordeal, he didn’t have a strong background rooted in faith or attending church. But when breast cancer rudely interrupted their lives, Tommy says his wife’s strength coupled with his mother-in-law’s strength “amazed and shocked” him. “It was like I absorbed it, and it made what faith in God I did have that much stronger,” Tommy said.
During the middle of Becky’s cancer treatment, Tommy and Becky joined hands in their church one Sunday, walked up the aisle and kneeled together at the altar.
“We kneeled together, and we prayed, and our prayers were answered.”
After going through the trauma and tribulations of breast cancer with his wife Becky, Tommy Blake is steadfast in his belief that he will never again - not even for a moment - feel alone or abandoned again like he was that day he found out his wife had cancer. He says he and his family owe their good fortune and good health to three things: “Faith, friends and family – that is really all there is,” said Tommy. “Our family and friends amazed us with their support and love. And with God’s help, Becky and I were together for every step and took care of each other. Before breast cancer, she was the love of my life, and she still is to this day. Before breast cancer, she was my best friend, and she is still my best friend. With faith, friends and family, we made it through it together, and we can do anything together now because we’re a stronger couple.”
|"Faith, Friends and Family"
|Kathi and John Couch are pictured on the left.
A photo of Tommy and Becky Blake will be posted soon.