For most of 2015, I don’t remember posting much, or writing much in my blog. I don’t even really remember thinking much about doing it. I Just didn’t have the energy for that.
We did a full-on fight against Colon Cancer, after it was discovered as the reason for my wife’s cough that wouldn’t go away. This was quite a shock for both of us, and the adjustment took some time, and was exhausting. Shelli had a bad cough that started about Thanksgiving in 2014, and kept us both awake every night since that time.
After a couple rounds of antibiotics thinking it was Bronchitis, further testing revealed that she had stage four colon cancer. The coughing was due to the cancer in her lungs. At the time of discovery, the cancer was in her liver, lungs, colon, lymph nodes, and at least a couple of places in her bones. The bone spots proved to be the most painful and irritating to her, although all of it was very difficult.
She was given 6 months to live at that first meeting in late-April, “IF” she didn’t try chemo. We were told that “IF” it works, she could get more time, but it would be terminal, and at most she could expect 4-5 years.
Two big “IF’s” all of us facing cancer struggle with.
I can not imagine a harder day.
I’m sure there are harder days, and there may be more in our lives, but it’s hard to imagine it.
We decided then that she should shift the focus to primarily her health and home-schooling to spend as much time as she had left with the kids, and I tried to cover the rest. I also can’t imagine anyone else having more courage to face what she faced, and still smile.
As we were driving away from that first Oncologist appointment, it was pretty quiet in the car. She asked me about 10 miles south of Salina, “Well, what are you thinking?”
I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t think, I could hardly drive, I could hardly even breathe, my throat was so tight I couldn’t hardly speak, and I really couldn’t even remember where I was driving.
I remember that all I wanted to to do was to curl up and cry somewhere, while I was trying to tell myself that it was all just a dream. I even thought about buying another Harley and taking off, I sometimes miss my old Harley-riding days. But how could I think of running out now? I was even ashamed of thinking it.
My head was swirling with so much stuff that I couldn’t even make sense of it. Then, like a breath of fresh wind, I realized that I had to “Man Up” and be what the family needed me to be. “Stand up and have courage.” Although I had no idea how to do it.
I was devastated completely, but I didn’t want her to know it, so I asked for her to give me a few minutes to compose my thoughts before answering her question.
What I told her is that I thought it was important that we accept whatever God’s Will was for us, to pray for a miracle constantly, and to try and live out our Faith in Jesus Christ in front of our kids so that they would not be left with anger or frustration towards our God.
She agreed, and we held hands and drove in silence for another 40 minutes or so.
As we neared my parent’s house where the kids were staying, she wanted to know what to tell the kids?
I couldn’t come up with a scenario or words either. She decided that in that first talk with them, that we didn’t want to cry, nor look defeated, nor look like we lacked faith in God, and we weren’t to use the words ”death” or ”cancer.” She looked over at me on the verge of crying again, and she said, “Looks like I’ll do the talking.” I nodded.
She felt that we’d ease into those dreaded words over a few days, to give the kids time to process each step.
What a hard day that was, and what a strong woman I saw sit beside me, and what a great God we have come to know as we begged for miracles.
As time passed, and her days seemed to be closing, we turned our focus to what Shelli felt was the top priority….love, settling matters, and preparing for eternity with God.
We still continued to pray for a miracle daily, but we started to see that the miracles may not be the healing, but might be something more important to God.
I can’t tell at this time what the “point” is for all of this in our lives, and specifically for Shelli.
Our Scriptures tell us that God is at work blessing us, even when it doesn’t appear so at the moment. So, Shelli and I felt assured that it would be a blessing somehow, to someone. She said that she was willing to walk this path to help God achieve whatever goals He had for her.
I wish I could say that I had similar courage, but I didn’t, and I still don’t, but I’ve had to come to terms with God’s Will for us. I’ve wrestled with Him in the past about several things, and I always lose in the end.
Shelli didn’t want to do Chemo, but she wanted to live long enough to raise the kids, meaning she needed another 4-5 years.
So, she decided to try the chemo to see if would slow the tumors and give her more time. For about three months, it seemed to be working, and she was able to go for short walks again, the coughing eased, she could again enjoy cooking and making bread, she could enjoy the kids, and just be as close to normal as she could be with the chemo side effects.
Then, in August, the BRAF mutating cancer was back growing and was even more aggressive.
She tried another type of chemo which was just brutal on her. Then in October, we learned that the new chemo was not doing anything to slow the cancer, and so it was stopped.
We looked into some experimental trials at MDA in Houston, but ultimately she just wasn’t strong enough to endure anymore, and those trials weren’t doing much for BRAF mutations anyway. At best, they were finding about a two month extended life expectancy for 5% of the trial patients.
So, we came to the conclusion along with our Oncologist, that there was nothing more to try from a medical standpoint.
We then turned our focus to enjoying as much quality family time as we could. We home-school and I work at home, so we were able to spend as much time together as a family probably can these days.
Her lifespan goals were shortened to make it until Thanksgiving, then the two kid’s birthdays, Christmas, and my birthday. She faded very quickly after my birthday on New Years Day.
She endured a hard day of shopping in a wheelchair and a Walmart electric cart to get things for our daughter’s Hope Chest the Tuesday before Christmas. Shelli decided that since she wasn’t going to live long enough to give our daughter the hope chest when she moves out some day, that she wanted to at least pick out the things for her.
It was a great day shopping together. We laughed and cried, ran into old friends, and picked out the items for the chest. And, just like Shelli, it took three furniture stores for her to find the best deal on the hope chest. She had wanted me to build one, and I may still do that, but I couldn’t do it before Christmas this year with all of the other things I had to take care of.
I was so scared of how sad Christmas this year would be, that I couldn’t even decorate, we didn’t even talk about it. I had friends offer to help us, to do it for us, I was just too tired to even think about it. Exhaustion and sadness are a hard foe.
Christmas-Eve evening my daughter woke me up during a nap on the couch and begged me to put up the tree. Looking into her eyes, I found some energy, and I got up and got the tree and decorations out of the storage shed, and the kids put it up. Shelli was able to come out on the couch, and I enjoyed watching her direct the lights and ornament placements just like in year’s past. It was a great Christmas together.
She couldn’t make the special cake she always made for my birthday, so she organized a family party and asked her Sister Julie to make the special cake for me. Funny how such a thing as a cake can mean so much love.
She lived just about nine months from that first meeting with the Oncologist. She died on January 10, 2015 peacefully at home with us.
A close friend/nurse from church named Mary, my Mother, and I held her hands and talked to her and prayed for her, and tried to comfort her until her last breath.
At the moment of death, her face just relaxed, her skin started to change, all of the chemo red pits, the wrinkles, the stress lines, old pimple and chickenpox scars, sun and age spots, all just vanished. I just sat there looking at her face, and it was just beautiful, like it was covered with baby’s skin, not a blemish anywhere. It was so incredible to watch, that it is hard to explain how it all happened while I watched.
The day after the diagnosis, I started two lists in my Journal, the first being, “Things I Know About God”, and the second being, “Things I’m Thankful for.”
Then, I asked our Pastor to keep an eye on me and make sure I didn’t turn all this into anger. So far, I’ve avoided the Anger, and I’m still working on these lists, and I’ve found a bunch of things I’m thankful for.
Sure, I’d trade them all in, and could put up a big Angry-fit if it would work, for the miracle-Healing we wanted, but I’m still thankful for what we’ve been given.
I built her casket, per her request, and my family helped get it all complete that last week. In early December, Shelli wrote her Obituary, planned her funeral service, and left me a list of things she hoped for me and the kids in the future.
In the end, she decided that God’s Will was best for her, and she just started praying daily for the energy to stand up and endure His will, and she gave her life that God might use it for whatever purpose He had for it.
She finished strong, endured to the end, kept the faith, and enjoyed all of the Believer’s Promises not long after midnight on the 10th of January.
I have some photos of the casket, and if I get the energy, I’ll post photos. She helped me with a casket for a customer back about 10 years ago, and after spending an intense week working on it to get it ready for the funeral, we laid down exhausted in bed about 3:00am and she held my hand and said, “I want to be buried in one of your boxes.”
At the time, I couldn’t even imagine that I would live long enough to see her funeral. She was always beautiful, healthy, thin and in-shape, liked to eat right, exercised regularly, and had a family history of long lives. But, I made that promise to her that night.
I started that casket a few years later and used it for the model for the book I wrote on casket making, and for the teaching of a class on casket making I taught that year at the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina.
When we signed up for Hospice, I was shocked to hear that they would only come a couple of times a week to check on her. For some reason, I expected that they’d be there all the time.
After that first meeting with hospice, I just closed up my woodshop and became the full time caretaker for her, and I don’t regret that.
I have many regrets for things in the past where I put my work in front of higher priorities, but I’m glad that I don’t regret focusing 100% on her the last 4 weeks, and most of my focus for the four weeks before that.
The kids and I are starting to pick up the pieces, and we are understanding that it will be a challenge, but one she would insist upon. One of our family sayings is, “never give up, never give in”. And, we are now all trying to live that out without her.
I opened up the woodshop again this week to get a grip on the task of catching up with the orders. I had a record year for sales, going clear back to 1997 when I started this shin-dig of a home-based business.
I remember back in those care-free and naive days, we never thought about death, or funerals, or caskets. It was just my wife and I sharing life, living our new faith out, and enjoying the moment.
In those days, she was living out her dream of being a full time homemaker, and I was living out my dream of creating crafts at home. Naively we started that journey together, which often later turned to arguing about the wisdom of continuing on each year. Somehow, through God’s grace, the business is still going after all these years.
I know we learned a lot about each other working at home together for so many years, parenting together, fighting and struggling to pay bills, and all of the things that life can bring. We will miss her, and I will also miss her practical-surety in decision making.
A Memorial Account has been set up for “The Children of Shelli DeCou’s Education Fund”, at the Brown-Bennett-Alexander Funeral Home in Cottonwood Falls, Kansas
Thanks for letting me pour out my heart here,
Here is the link to the Sermon Presentation from her Funeral by our Pastor Brandon Clubb
Here is the Eulogy I wrote for her Funeral.
Shelli Ann (Thompson) DeCou
Eulogy for the Celebration of Life Service
January 13, 2016
Written by her husband Mark A. DeCou
As we gather this afternoon to remember the life of Shelli Ann (Thompson) DeCou, we must be reminded that she would rather we celebrate her life, than mourn her death. This Eulogy is designed for us to think through and appreciate all of who Shelli was, what she accomplished in her 53 years, and how she would like for you to remember her.
Over the past few months, she often concerned herself with the impact that she would leave on this world, and in the end, she was able to submit to God’s Will for her, with the belief that God would use her pain for His good in some way. She remained a faithful follower of Christ all the way through this struggle against cancer.
Shelli Ann Thompson died January 10, 2016 after a courageous nine month battle with colon cancer.
Through Shelli’s life and activities, God gave us many ways to relate to her, a couple as a Daughter, a couple as a daughter-in-law, a Sister to three, a Sister-in-law, a Wife to one, a Mother for two, an Aunt, a fellow Believer in Jesus Christ, a friend, a co-worker, a neighbor, and other ways. In all of these relationships, she related to each of us in different ways, and we all have our own stories. Her family and children would enjoy hearing from you about things you remember about her if you would take the time.
Shelli was born on February 7, 1962 in Topeka, KS as the youngest of four children born of the marriage of Clarence Thompson to Phyllis Lindon, both surviving. She is also survived by her brother Kim Thompson, and sisters Cindy Kelly and Julie Wilson.
Shelli graduated from Abilene High School in 1980, and then from Kansas State University in December of 1984 with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management. While at KSU, she played Saxophone in the KSU Marching Band, and even played for KSU’s first football bowl game, the 1982 Independence Bowl in Shreveport, LA. Shelli had a high IQ, and could quickly interpret data, make decisions, read and analyze facts, and had strong memory for everything, especially numbers, music, schedule details, and anything that Mark did wrong – a long list (meant to be funny).
Shelli met Mark Alan DeCou while both worked for Koch Industries in Wichita, Kansas. They married June 4, 1992 at the First United Methodist Church in Wichita. Mark and Shelli tried to start a family, but found conception to be impossible, and after six years of agonizing over it, they turned the matter over to God, and accepted His Will for them. Within a matter of weeks from that decision, Mark and Shelli adopted newborn daughter Rachel Elizabeth, born 12-5-2000. A year later they adopted Rachel’s full biological newborn brother Riley Austin, born 11-27-2001. God granted Shelli the blessing of helping with both births in Wichita, while Mark opted to support things from the hallway, like a security detail (meant to be funny).
Shelli was a lady of many talents, which included her Knowledge of Scripture acquired by countless hours of study; she was a talented Cook, and a passionate KSU Sports Fan. Ultimately, her greatest joys in life involved becoming a mother of Rachel and Riley.
Her greatest sadness involved not being around to see them grow up, marry, have families, and grow older with her husband. Despite her sadness, she didn’t complain about her cancer, but merely asked God to use it for His glory.
As a child and youth, she enjoyed typical small town Kansas activities like bike riding, walking to the city swimming pool, sports, dolls, swings, eating mulberries from the trees along the sidewalk, playing with her close friend Jill, camping trips, fishing with her Dad, singing and playing the piano at the local church. Visiting with her Grandma King was highlighted by watching The Lawrence Welk Show with her.
She was a talented roller skater, and could easily spin and skate backwards faster than most could skate forward. She was naturally coordinated, and could out do Mark at about anything they tried to do together, except for Tennis and Golf. She could have beaten him at those sports also had she stuck with it and practiced.
She enjoyed singing, teaching herself to play multiple instruments, playing softball, volleyball, a Drum Major for the marching band, and a cheerleader for the Wrestling team. She enjoyed riding a motorcycle for a few years, getting her own bike after Mark wrecked his bike one time with Shelli riding on the seat behind him. She survived the wreck with just a small bruise to her shin, but she never wanted to ride again without being in control of the handlebars. She sold her motorcycle when Rachel was born, and focused solely on being a mother, claiming that motorcycles were too dangerous for a new mom.
Shelli was a life- long movie buff, her favorites included “Steel Magnolias”, “Gone with the Wind”, “When Harry Met Sally”, “You’ve Got Mail”, “The Sound of Music”, “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”, “Mary Poppins”, “The Music Man”, “Pride & Prejudice”, and “Dances with Wolves”, and just about anything that Kevin Costner was in, except that one where he played a serial killer, she didn’t like that one much. She would watch her favorite movies over and over.
Her favorite drink was Dr. Pepper once in awhile. Her favorite candy was a Baby Ruth on special occasions. Her favorite junk food was Lays Potato Chips with a sandwich.
Her favorite color was purple, any shade of purple. She preferred flat shoes to high heels, comfortable clothes to stuffy ones, and she never wore anything that would cause her to stand out in a crowd. She was very practical in everything she did, wore, or tried to do.
Shelli was a music buff, having the God given talent to remember most of the song lyrics from any song she listened to, whether they were Girl Scout songs, hymns, show tunes, or contemporary music. She would often launch into a song if any event or statement reminded her of a lyric or song.
Shelli as a Friend to others was always trustworthy, a person you could count on to watch your back, never gossiped about you, and who would tell you the truth even if it was painful. She could be counted on to do anything she could to help you in a time of need. She prayed with tears often for friends who were in trouble, or sick, or were headed the wrong direction. She often wrote cards, letters, and emails to friends who were suffering through hard times, and if need be, would exhort them from God’s Word, even if the answer wasn’t what they wanted to hear. Her friends always knew where Shelli stood on an issue, and she could be counted on to tell the truth even when it was painful.
As a Sister, she deeply loved her siblings, and always enjoyed every opportunity to visit with them. She said many times over the past months that one of her greatest disappointments with how her life turned out, was that she didn’t live closer to her siblings, which would have allowed her to be more personally involved in their lives, and vice versa.
As an Aunt, she could be counted on to pray in tears for hours during the tough times that her nieces and nephews might be going through at a particular time. Equally, she prayed with joy when things went well in their successes.
As a Mother, she could be counted on for tireless dedication, prayer, total devotion, laughs, tears, songs, gifts, little notes and cards. Shelli embraced motherhood to Rachel and Riley with more dedication than anything else she tried in life. If we could point to one event in her life as her greatest joy, it would have to be the opportunity to end her childless years with the adoption of Rachel first, and then Riley a year later. When God picked Shelli for the job of an adopted mother for Rachel and Riley, He knew that they would be doted on, fiercely protected, prayed for, exhorted, encouraged, and most of all deeply loved. The safety, education, and teaching them of God’s Word were her top priorities for the kids. Everything else came after those priorities.
As a wife, she had some early struggles, resulting in two short marriages before marrying Mark DeCou. Early in her marriage to Mark, they both committed themselves fully to Jesus Christ, which transformed both of their lives completely. Afterwards they dedicated themselves to staying married no matter what. Although the internal shame of the two divorces was never far from her mind.
Instead of focusing on her failures, she used the failures of her own life to be the motivation to encourage others to live Godly lives, make the right decision, do the right thing, smile while suffering, and to seek God for forgiveness of their sins. She worked hard to be a good wife, soul mate, and dedicated partner to Mark.
As a wife, she could be counted on to put her full effort into any important endeavor. She could be depended on to spend money wisely, and would rarely buy herself anything. When looking through her possessions, most of what she owned and cherished were items that were given to her, few are things she purchased, and if she did purchase it she always picked sale items and spent conservatively.
She was not pretentious towards others. She could be counted on to work hard if extra income seemed necessary, but her chosen priority was to be a House Wife, and Mother, dedicated to managing the household, studying scripture, and keeping house.
She stood against the cultural belief that accomplishing things, making money, and owning possession gave her importance. Instead she focused on her faith, faithful living, and enjoying the simple things in life. She loved living in Chase County, and never wanted to be in a town or city again after moving to the country.
As an employee or co-worker, she could be counted on to always do the right thing, work hard, and put her best effort to everything she did. She was not an office gossip, and she would shut it down if she encountered it. She was completely trustworthy with all responsibilities, finances, and any duties that were assigned to her. If you were her employer, and she discovered anything under-handed in your dealings, you could expect for her to confront and expose what she knew.
As a follower and disciple of Christ, she could be counted on to be a faithful student of Scripture, obedient in her lifestyle, a faithful servant to her church and church members, and one person you sure wanted to invite to a Potluck. She felt total forgiveness through Christ for her transgressions, was Assured of her salvation, and the promises that are associated with such a relationship.
During the battle with cancer, she rarely complained or questioned God. Her objections were centered on begging for understanding, and her desire to submit to God’s Will. She was diligent about her morning devotions, prayer time, confession, praise time, and begging for a miracle.
During her final weeks, her complete focus turned to loving those closest to her, making final preparations for her funeral, and submitting to God’s will for her life. She was in terrible pain during the past 5-6 weeks, and she would need to pray before standing up, sitting down, or moving around. She would quietly pray from memory Psalm 23 and then say, “God please help me stand up.” She had several daily devotion books, one of which was book marked with her birthday February 7th.
That day’s devotion that she had book-marked the devotion said:
Come to Me for Rest and refreshment. The journey has been too much for you, and you are bone-weary. Do not be ashamed by your exhaustion. Instead, see it as an opportunity for Me to take charge of your life.
Remember that I can fit Everything into a pattern for good, including the things you wish were different. Start with where you are at this point in time and space, accepting that this is where I intend for you to be. You will get through today one step, one moment at a time. Your main responsibility is to remain attentive to Me, letting Me guide you through the many choices along your pathway.
This sounds like an easy assignment, but it is not. Your desire to live in My Presence goes against the grain of this world, the flesh, and the devil. Much of your weariness results from your constant battle against these opponents. However, you are on the path of My choosing, so do not give up! Hope in Me for you will again praise Me for the help of My Presence.
These Scripture verses were provided that day as the daily readings:
Romans 8:28: And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
Psalms 42:11: Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God.
-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan - www.decoustudio.com