On May 15, 2016 my step dad Carl Holmgren took his last breath. With my mother, Beth Holmgren by his side, his soul left his ailing body and it rejoined God in heaven. He fought cancer with everything he had. The procedures he endured were debilitating and the medications he took stripped his body to its core. He was strong through his fight and never batted an eye when the doctor’s warned him that his side effects could be painful or uncomfortable. For over a year he fought tirelessly and for over a year Mom fought by his side.
No one fights cancer alone. The amazing love, support and effort to help shown by so many in our family and community will forever leave us grateful. There is no way Carl and my mother could have endured as long as they did without Mark and Karen Holmgren, Carl’s brother and sister-in-law. They opened their home, their lives, they spent their time, money and energy to help Carl and Mom throughout the past year. There will never be a way to repay someone for sacrificing so much of their own life for another. On behalf of Mom and our family we’d also like to thank Dr. Joseph Drabick, Nurse Coordinator Carol Mallon and Nurse Practitioner Jaenell Ditsious along with his entire office staff and the many nurses at Penn State Hershey Medical Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania. The care and medical opinions they provided along with the patience and sincere concern they showed daily is greatly appreciated. Additionally, Will Jaco and Scott Actkinson, Partners at Statesman Business Advisors where mom has worked for almost 30 years were tremendously supportive even offering to fund a chartered jet to get Carl back to Houston from Pennsylvania when he was too ill to move. Dr. Stephen Wexler who I met in law school and quite frankly is probably the most brilliant person I know didn’t hesitate to provide us with his medical opinions when I phoned him out of nowhere and asked if he knew anything about Melanoma. Also, I am so thankful to our family. Everyone was there when the need arose and took care of Carl as a collective effort. I can only pray when the time comes to be so loved and have so many there for me. Mom and Carl’s children and their spouses, Mom and Carl’s brothers and sisters and parents were all available and willing to do whatever was asked.
Most importantly though, I know Carl is in heaven and he is thanking God for Mom. Her soul has been battered, her will pushed, her breaking point teetered upon, but through it all she was there. She never left his side. She made every decision even when she didn’t want to. When it would have been easier to defer to someone else, when she had no clue what the “right” answer was….she exemplified grace under fire. She persevered through some of the most difficult and ugliest times she will likely face throughout her whole life. If you have ever watched someone suffer and die from cancer you know it changes the way you see the world. It alters everything. I know the struggle for mom is only partly over but she has a great support system and she will be ok.
There is a famous poem “Footprints in the Sand” that tells the story of a man walking on the beach with the Lord looking back over the footsteps of his life. During hard times he noticed there was only one set of footprints and during the greatest moments of his life he saw two. Bewildered and angry he asks God why he would abandon him during his darkest days and God replies “The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child, is when I carried you.” Though it does not seem like it now I think Mom will look back and see God has been carrying her and will continue to carry her through this.
God sent Mark and Karen to help carry her. He placed Mom and Carl in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Hershey is a small town thousands of miles from Houston where Mark happened to live. Mark just so happened to be retiring. God cleared that path for them. He gave Mark the free time Carl’s illness would require and he gave Carl time with his brother that he never would have had. The drive to and from Hershey is 22 hours each way. The quality time Mom and Carl spent together on those car rides is now invaluable. They had no one else in the world distracting them. I don’t believe in coincidence. I believe God was giving Carl time with his family. The average lifespan for someone diagnosed with Melanoma that metastasizes to the brain is 3 to 6 months. Carl lived 14 months. So though the outcome was not what we all prayed for, I cannot help but see God in this journey. HE was there carrying everyone the whole way.
Something to note... Carl did not lose to cancer…he lived everyday. This journey taught us all so much about family, about the disease, about how hard fighting cancer is and also about treating people with kindness. You never know what someone has going on in their life.
Carl is survived by his wife Beth Holmgren, his son Shawn Holmgren, his step children Daniell Davis, Wes Nottebart and Sam Nottebart, four grandchildren, his parents Sam and Melba Holmgren, his brother Mark Holmgren, his sister Dee Holmgren and a host of aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews.