February 17, 2017

Book shares couple’s story of courage, faith through terminal illness

Beyond Words: Becky and Steve Schenck’s Inspiring Story of Faith, Hope and Love in the Face of Terminal Brain CancerBy Mike Krokos

There are love stories. Then there is the love story of Steve and Becky Schenck.

The couple met in 1969 in Evansville, Ind., quickly fell in love and married in early 1970.

Though they came from different faith traditions—Becky was Baptist, Steve was Catholic—the Schencks both believed in and loved God.

“They shared a common faith in God that transcended their Church affiliation, and a faith in each other and the relationship that God had given them,” we read in Beyond Words: Becky and Steve Schenck’s Inspiring Story of Faith, Hope and Love in the Face of Terminal Brain Cancer.

In the book, written by Lisa Abbott and Erin Sheers, we learn of the Schencks’ early life together where Steve’s career in banking would take them from Evansville to Lafayette then Indianapolis; about the birth of the couple’s children; their community involvement with several worthy causes in central Indiana; and how their faith would be tested as the couple learned of Becky’s glioblastoma multiforme diagnosis (stage-four, terminal brain cancer) in 2006.

Up until that time, Becky was a healthy, vibrant woman in her 50’s living life to the fullest as a wife, mother, grandmother and community volunteer, including at the Christamore House, a community center serving the residents of Haughville, a neighborhood on the near west side of Indianapolis.

“We knew God, and our relationship with Him was so important to us,” Steve says in the book after Becky’s diagnosis. “We knew that in that moment, we needed to turn our lives and this situation over to His care.”

Though given 12 to 15 months to live, Becky spent a good portion of the next 10 years continuing to live her life thanks to her and Steve’s unwavering faith, a “dream team” of doctors at the University of California San Francisco, IU Health and Community Health Network, multiple surgeries, a clinical trial drug manufactured by Eli Lilly and Company, radiation and chemotherapy.

Steve left his business executive role in 2007 to become Becky’s sole, full-time caregiver, and devoted his life to being with his wife. The next several years included many up and downs, but they were years the couple treasured during their time together, Steve said in a recent interview.

“There’s an assumption that caring for Becky full time is a burden. It’s not. It’s a gift, not an obligation. I take care of myself by taking care of her,” he says in the book. “I have learned to celebrate all of the moments with Becky, even when things are tough. This experience has deepened our love.”

Becky also made time to publicly share her life story in different arenas, including with fellow patients and staff at doctors’ offices, at a Community Health Network conference, and with the global research team at Lilly, where she discussed her experience with their clinical trial.

“She loved to share her message. She thought it was really special,” said Steve, a member of Holy Spirit at Geist Parish in Fishers, Ind., in the Diocese of Lafayette. “She inspired everybody. She gave people strength. The book is about the things we learned.”

One of the people inspired by the couple and their commitment to each other was Father Dan Gartland, pastor of Holy Spirit at Geist Parish, who ministered to the Schencks after Becky started attending liturgies with her husband.

“We just hit it off. We always had Jesus Christ in common,” Father Gartland said of his friendship with Becky. “She was easy to talk to, and Steve was, of course, very faithful in his practices of the faith. … It was really a matter of making the journey together.”

Though Becky and Steve came from different faith traditions, the Schencks offered “a good example of the fact that we have more in common than we have not in common,” Father Gartland said, “and they were willing to build on that which they had in common.”

In the end, as her health deteriorated and Becky lost her ability to talk, she and Steve were able to communicate “beyond words” because of their deep love for each other, Steve said.

Becky died in July 2016.

“We did not lose Becky to cancer,” reads a card the Schenck family distributes in memory of Becky. “She beat cancer by the way in which she lived, the inspiration and strength she gave to others, and her love of God.”

Steve hopes the book, which provides numerous practical resources and insights for caregivers, offers encouragement to anyone whose life has been affected by cancer. He also hopes it helps people not only battling brain cancer, “but it would really [help people and their families] facing [other] terminal illnesses.”

Steve also encouraged families to keep faith at the center of their lives as they face these challenges.

“We decided [as soon as we got Becky’s initial diagnosis] that God would drive everything that we were going to do from that moment on,” he said. “I think it’s sad that this happened, but I think it helped [our] kids get more focused on faith.”

(To purchase Beyond Words: Becky and Steve Schenck’s Inspiring Story of Faith, Hope and Love in the Face of Terminal Brain Cancer, go to Amazon.com. For more information about the book or to learn about the Schencks’ experience with glioblastoma multiforme, visit www.beyondwordsbook.com. Proceeds from the book will benefit the Community Health Network Foundation, and the Christamore House Becky Schenck Early Childhood Education Center.)

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