Lately, my cousin, James Jay Spencer has been on my mind quite a bit. He passed away seven years ago today. Jim was a happy, smiley little boy, whose life ended far too soon, after he was diagnosed with Mesothelioma. It had been some time since we had seen Jim, and I really do regret that, because my cousin, Jim was a great guy, and I loved him very much.
During the time of Jim’s illness, Uncle Bill naturally focused on the time he had left with Jim. They spent as much time together as they could. In the last few years of his life, Jim went to see his dad every day, something that pleased Uncle Bill very much. They would do lots of things together…or nothing but sit and talk. It didn’t really matter. They shared a number of interests, making them very good friends. Losing a child, no matter how old, is a devastating event in a parent’s life, and one that they never really get past. It is always there, just under the surface…a bittersweet memory that can be hard to talk about, and easy to cry over.
As a little boy, Jimmy loved to play in the vacant lot across the street from their house. The neighborhood kids played there in the summer, but in the winter, it became an ice skating rink. The kids who had skates skated, and the ones who didn’t like my cousin Jim, just took a running slide on the ice. Jim quickly grew to love the ice. One day when he was about 4 years old, he came running into the house, and when his dad asked if he had been skating, he said “No, I’ve been swiding on my boots!” Soon, his love of the ice turned into a love of hockey. At first, his team couldn’t seem to win a game, but Jim always said the same thing, “We’re gonna win this one, Dad.” As time went on, the team did win and Jim got to be a great hockey player, in spite of the fact that he wasn’t real tall. Then, he passed that love of hockey onto his son, Cody who was a great player too.
Uncle Bill and Jim shared more than a love of sports. They understood each other. Jim’s loss was devastating to Uncle Bill. His mind was already slipping, and the memories of the past were quickly becoming all he had left…his children and his family history. And now, his youngest child was gone. He wrote the things he remembered of Jim’s life…the precious memories…the thoughts and feelings…all the accomplishments…all the things they had done. He set Jim’s place in the family history, and at the end of it all, he finished with the words that were the sweetest to his tired memory, “I called him Jimbo. He called me Daddio.”
Turning 21 is a big day in the life of a kid. I use the word kid lightly, because they really haven’t been kids for quite some time. Nevertheless, to me they are still kids, except that they can now legally drink, and their parents truly hope that they will be careful and have a designated driver or take a cab home. Well, today is that special day for my cousin, Cody, but that isn’t what Cody is really all about.
I first met Cody when his Uncle Bill and Aunt Maureen brought him along on their family vacation in 2007 to visit our family, and leave my Uncle Bill, Cody’s grandpa with us for a week while they went to Yellowstone National Park to show their daughter Kristin and Cody all the sights there. Cody was a bit shy at first, but that really isn’t his true nature, and by the end of our time with them, we were enjoying good conversations with him. Since that time, I have watched Cody grow up on Facebook, and I’m very proud of the wonderful young man he has become.
It’s not easy for a young man to grow up without his dad, and since my cousin Jimmy died of Mesothelioma on February 1, 2006, that is what Cody has had to do. His mom, Tami has been a wonderful influence on him and did an amazing job of raising him, but a boy still misses his dad, when he doesn’t have him in his life…and Cody and his dad were very close.
Since finishing school, Cody has embarked on a new career with the developmentally disabled. It takes a very special person to work with the developmentally disabled, but the rewards are so amazingly great that every moment is priceless. I know this because of my own developmentally disabled sister-in-law, Marlyce, who passed away far too soon in 1989. The developmentally disabled, love those people who love them, and they love them dearly. Nevertheless, they do have special needs and need special handling, and being the sister-in-law to Marlyce, was very different that working in a group home with a group of developmentally disabled people. That is a big job and one that makes me very proud of Cody for his undertaking of it. More importantly Cody, I know that your dad would be very proud of the man you have become. Today is Cody’s 21st birthday. Happy birthday Cody!! Have a wonderful day!! We love you!!
A few days ago, I received an email from a man named Cameron Von St James. He had read my blog, and knew from many of my stories that I have spent much of the last 7 1/2 years being a caregiver. It doesn’t matter what the illness is, when the need is serious, caregivers step up to provide much of the day to day care for those they love. It is a sacrifice that goes above and beyond what many people are able to grasp, and one that is rewarding beyond what most people will ever know. Cameron knew that story as well as I did, and he asked if I might share his wife’s story of survival with my readers.
Cameron’s wife, Heather was exposed to asbestos when her dad worked in construction. At the age of 36, just 3 months after giving birth to their beautiful daughter, Lily, they would receive the terrifying diagnosis of…Mesothelioma. No one knew what the dangers were back then. Sadly, that is the case with so many dangerous substances. By the time we know the dangers, so many people are already affected, but with new research, staying hopeful and positive and with much prayer, more people are beating cancer. It is my belief that our faith in God and His mercy and love for us is vital. I am so pleased that Heather has been blessed with a great victory over a type of cancer that almost always carries with it a death sentence.
Heather’s fight began at almost the same time as my mother’s brain tumor, and my cousin, Jim’s fight with Mesothelioma. My mother’s story had a happy ending in that her cancer was confined to her brain only, and had not started somewhere else in her body, which would have been much harder to cure. It is rare for a tumor to be found only in the brain. Her doctor, an amazing faith filled man named Dr Mills, told us that we were blessed in that hers was “just a Lymphoma” and it should be an easy fix. While hers could not be removed by surgery, it was a very slow growing cancer that was gone after 3 treatments, and after 6 more for good measure, she was done. She has been cancer free since January, 2007, and we give God all the glory.
Like Heather, my cousin Jim, was diagnosed with Mesothelioma. His story would not have the happy ending that Heather was so blessed to have. Jim passed away in February 1, 2006…he was 42 years old, and he never knew how he was exposed to asbestos. He left a son, Cody, who misses him terribly, as do we all. While Heather’s story will not be able to help Jim, it is my sincere hope that it will help others like Heather and Jim, who have been affected by this terrible disease. Please watch Heather’s story and read Cameron’s Blog for Caregivers, and be sure to pass them on to your friends. It is the hope of the Von St James family that it “might raise awareness and support for people fighting illness, and the caregivers who fight alongside them.”
As I have looked through some old pictures over the past few months, I came across a picture of my cousin Jimmy as a young boy, with his parents, my Aunt Doris and Uncle Bill. I have been thinking about Jimmy quite a bit lately. He was such a funny guy, making all of us laugh at his antics as a child. Sadly, Jimmy’s life was cut short by Mesothelioma on February 1, 2006.
Jimmy was a boy who was full of life, and his life brought laughter to those around him. When my sister’s and I were young, and visiting my Uncle Bills family in Superior, Wisconsin, Jimmy kept things lively with his jokes and his great smile. If there was going to be trouble…and I mean mischief…you can bet Jimmy and his big brother Billy were going to be at the heart of it, with Jimmy usually leading the way.
My Uncle’s family lived just down the street from the funeral home in Superior, and of course, that meant that the Ghost Stories were sure to be a part of our visits. The boys were always trying to scare us girls with their suggestions that the dead might still walk the street, and maybe we should go check it out…right, like I’m going to go down there and have a look at the dead people who might be walking around just looking for some dumb little girl to grab, who was just stupid enough to decide to go into the funeral home…I mean, isn’t that like saying “Hey, ghost…here I am!! Come and get me!!” Yep, that sounds like a great plan to me, right…NOT!!
I remember one other time when my Uncle Bill, Jimmy’s dad had taken us to get ice cream, and apparently there had been spill problems in the past, because Uncle Bill told us kids that if we spilled in his bus/camper, he was going to make us lick it up. It took all of about 2 seconds for Jimmy to manage to spill his ice cream on the floor. He looked up at his dad, very wide eyed, and I’m sure a little queasy in the stomach, probably hoping for mercy or that maybe…just maybe, his dad had bee kidding. Well, no such luck. His dad…towering over little Jimmy, said, “Ok, lick it up.” So, Jimmy got off of his chair and started to get down on his knees, gulping, I’m quite sure, and got ready to lick it up, when my Uncle Bill boomed out, “Don’t lick it up…I was just kidding!!” Well, I don’t have to tell you how relieved Jimmy was, and before you knew it, that winning little smile was back on his face.
While I had not seen Jimmy for a number of years, I will never forget his great smile and funny ways. He was a wonderful person, and I will always remember the great times we all had as kids. When I look back into my memory files, I can still see his face, just as he was the last time he was here, and That is the way I choose to remember my cousin. Love you Jimmy!!