My Dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer (adinocarcinoma) on June 29, 2006 after an endoscopy. A whipple procedure was done 3 weeks later but the tumor was found to be inoperable because of arterial involvement and metastases to the liver. Dad was started in an experimental protocol of gemcitabine and imexon that was successful until December of 2006. When the cancer began to grow and spread, we sought treatment with Dr. Bruckner in NY. Dr. Bruckner was extremely optimistic, starting Dad on a GFLOX regimen. Dad underwent 1 infusion in January of 2007 and returned to Texas only to be plagued by digested issues that resulted in the surgical placement of a G-tube and J-tube. A surgical complication from the J-tube caused my Dad to refuse additional treatment. He passed away on February 21st from infection, starvation, and dehydration.
If we had it to do over again, I would have gone to Dr. Bruckner, or another equally agressive oncologist from the beginning. I would have surrounded him with doctors that were optimistic instead of constantly reminding him that doing nothing was an option. As it was, we did what we did, and Dad made the decision that he did, and we can only give thanks that he suffers no more.
Below is the eulogy that I wrote for my Dad's funeral. It is a small glimpse into the great man that the world lost last week:
“Don’t speed through Rogers.“ It was an admonition we heard often, and only one of the many sage words of advice Dad gave us over the years. Our Dad was smart that way . . . He always knew what the “right” thing was to do, no matter what the situation. And what made him even smarter was . . . He always knew when to let us know that he had all the answers, and when to let us find out for ourselves. Our Dad was the perfect example of “The older we got, the smarter he got.”
As children, we wondered what it must feel like to be other kids and know that you’re Dad wasn’t quite as great as ours. Dad had a white convertible with a red leather interior. In retrospect, it was probably vinyl, but it seemed like leather to us. Our Dad could sing -- and sing well. Dad flew helicopters which would forever trump any lame attempt at asserting the existence of a cooler Dad elsewhere. Dad painted pictures, built model airplanes, made stained glass windows, planted gardens, carved Santa Clauses, wrote books, and fixed cars. His hands were matched in talent only by the quiet, compassionate spirit of his heart.
Dad was a soft-spoken man -- it was impossible not to be touched by his gentleness no matter how brief your exchange. Just ask his favorite waitresses at the IHOP, his girlfriends at the hair salon, or the nurses who lovingly cared for him during his illness. “Who’s your father?” they’d say. “Bobby Cryer” we’d say, and then the inevitable smile would appear. If a quizzical look appeared on any faces, someone would gently respond “The nice man with the beautiful silver pony tail”. That’s all it took to get a concurring nod. And about that pony tail . . . those who didn’t know Dad well might have guessed a middle-age crisis. But in reality, it was just an effort to embrace his Texas roots.
You see, Dad didn’t just live in Texas, he was a Texan. He came by it at birth, being born right here in the River Bottom of Milam County. But it was also a love for his heritage that made him a member of the Sons of the Republic of Texas. A descendant of the Parker and Reeves families, Dad could regale you with stories of our ancestors: the infamous kidnapping of Cynthia Parker which eventually produced the great Comanchee Indian Chief Quanah Parker; being in the same bloodline as one of the first Ranging Texians, now known as the Texas Rangers; the role our families played in the Restoration Movement and the Anabaptists denomination, most commonly recognized today as the churches of Christ; and the most fun-fact he loved to share, being a part of the “Four Cryer Brothers That Married the Four Reeves Sisters” clan. Strange as it sounds, his backdrop for stories was usually the Friendship Cemetery where each weather-scarred headstone told a story. We’d heard them a hundred times, but every visit to the cemetery would always end the same: “What happened to this boy, Daddy?” “Who were these people?” “Daddy, were we kin to this family over here?” And the anecdotes would pour out like a River Bottom creek during a late-April storm.
Raised in Houston, Dad still managed to spend a good part of his growing-up years in Buckholts. It is where he would learn to fish, hunt, and swim (and nearly drown, after Daddo threw him in the Little River and said “Swim, Boy!”). Dad attended Sam Houston High School in Houston, and went on to graduate from The University of Texas in 1964 with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree. After a brief stint at Allstate Insurance Company, Dad began his career at Bell Helicopter. To us, it was just another source of material for the great experiences Dad would weave into stories for us: Rock Hudson’s police record, selling a helicopter to Donny Osmond and John Wayne, landing helicopters on the side of the interstate so he could eat at the Stuckey’s. He was our hero.
Dad retired in 1998, and moved back to Milam County to start a new chapter in his life with his best friend and wife of 31 years, Mary. He was to the River Bottom what Scarlett O’Hara was to Tara. It was land, it was dirt, and it was his. He dreamed of one day re-planting on his land every tree that had been indigenous to the area in the 1800’s. So many of those trees had long since died out, and it truly seemed to bother him. He so wanted to return to the simpleness and beauty of the life he’d heard and read about his entire life.
Unfortunately, those dreams began to crumble with the continued degeneration of his back. The pain that he endured resulted in years of pain killers and ineffective treatments. In June of 2006, as if our Dad had not suffered enough, he was hit with the ultimate blow: a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. It was inoperable and had metastasized . . . The doctors delivered the news with their heads down-turned, sadly shaking back and forth, as they sympathetically held Mary’s hand and said the only words they could -- “I’m so sorry.” But Dad was willing to fight, and so were we. Maybe it was unfair of us to ask Dad to prolong the suffering -- the pain and nausea he had to bear was so difficult to watch . . . We couldn’t even begin to imagine experiencing it from his side. It was probably why, when the day came, February 8th, that Dad stoically said to the doctors, “I’ve had enough”, none of us had the heart to talk him out of it. We selfishly wanted our Dad to stay on this earth, but we knew deep down that it was the right decision for him.
The next two weeks have been so bittersweet. Dad had the privilege of saying goodbye to many of you. He had the class to ask to see his doctors so that he could tell each of them goodbye. He gave words of advice to his grandchildren, and desperately wanted me and my brother to know how much he loved us. Most of all he wanted to make sure that Mary would be OK, and that we all knew that he wasn’t scared -- he knew Jesus was waiting for him.
During one of Dad’s last days when his soul seemed to contemplate whether to go or to stay, my Dad took my hand and began to press his fingertips into mine. Slowly, up and down my fingers he would go, gently pressing, then kneading my hand with his fist. “Daddy, what are you doing?” I asked. Without stopping, and while continuing to stare at whatever world he could see that remained secret from the rest of us, he gently said, “I’m giving you the answers. You’ll need them, so I’m giving them to you.”
Dad’s gone, but his “answers” remain, not from that last poignant moment, but from a life of being kind to everyone, trying so hard to be a good influence on his grandchildren, loving his precious Mary unconditionally, and knowing without a doubt that Jesus was our Savior. Thank you, Daddy, for that legacy and may you finally find rest from your weary journey.
GOD BLESS YOU ALL IN YOUR OWN JOURNEYS . . .