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Adrienne Wilk is a volunteer advocate for the National Brain Tumor Society. She serves as the State Lead Advocate for Tennessee, and also takes part in a number of fundraising activities for the National Brain Tumor Society.
One can browse the local section of a newspaper on any given day and see numerous obituaries written using the phrase, “they lost their battle with cancer.” But this is a misrepresentation of everyone who has ever fought cancer. So many, including my father, Bob Bard, won their battle with cancer in spite of their passing. It’s how you live – and not how you die – that makes the victory.
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On January 19, 2010, Dad was diagnosed with brain cancer. Healthy all of his life, this diagnosis came as a shock. The first three weeks were filled with waiting, uncertainty, brain surgery, and then the crushing pain when the diagnosis was confirmed. Dad had cancer. Not only did he have cancer, but a grade IV glioblastoma multiforme, the most aggressive form of brain cancer. At the age of 48, this was simply incomprehensible. Yet, throughout his hospitalization, Dad was overwhelmed by the generosity of our family and friends. Every day people would flock to his room with food, cards, flowers, DVD’s, and most importantly, love and laughter to share. You would have never guessed that the hospital room was filled with family and friends that were just given news of a cancer diagnosis. Cancer did not win.
Dad was released from the hospital and before we knew it was back to work functioning at the highest level he possibly could. Dad’s deficits were in mathematics, telling time, and speech. This was especially hard because Dad worked with numbers in his profession as an Analyst for the Farm Service Agency (FSA). In less than two months after major brain surgery, Dad was able to resume work and continue serving the population that he loved – hard-working farmers. Dad wasn’t able to drive after the diagnosis, but that didn’t stop him from working. Friends and family would routinely volunteer to transport Dad wherever he needed to go to see his clients. This included strenuous days of travel, sometimes over 8 hours a day in the car. In December, a month before Dad passed away, FSA awarded him with a certificate of achievement and a letter written by the State Executive Director commending him on his performance, work ethic, and rapport with clients over the years, and most importantly the last year. This was one of Dad’s proudest accomplishments. Cancer did not win.
Throughout the year of his illness, never once did Dad complain. He took great pride in his excellent weekly blood work, positive doctor’s appointments, his ability to continue to provide for his wife and family by working, and the fact that he believed he could feel good simply as a result of mind over matter. His infectious laugh and spirit was something that he was known for. He was one of those people that never felt sorry for himself or asked, “why me?” Dad was very blessed to have the support of so many around him at all times. The person who was easily his biggest cheerleader was Mom; their love never ceased to amaze anyone who witnessed its power. While major illness can sometimes separate a couple due to stress, financial difficulty, and emotional strain, Dad’s cancer did the exact opposite. As a strong and united front, Mom and Dad waged the battle together, never faltering. Cancer did not win.
On December 19, 2010, Dad’s journey began to come to an end. Mom was awakened in the middle of the night by their dog Meatball, who was typically more interested in finding a good spot on the sofa than chasing or playing fetch. But on this particular night, Meatball woke up Mom by barking in her ear. Mom got out of bed knowing that something must be wrong for him to behave that way. Dad started having a Grand Mal seizure soon after. This was the first seizure Dad had experienced in the 11 months of his illness. While the seizure required Dad to go to the hospital immediately, we feel very blessed that Dad was able to get incredibly fast care by emergency personnel and hospital staff. Cancer did not win.
Once Dad was back in the hospital, the scans were showing a progression of the old tumor and a few new growths. We knew it would not be long and wanted to make sure that we took care of him the best way we knew how. It was our mission to be as strong as Dad and carry on with our persevering attitude, even at times when we felt more defeated than ever. This particular hospitalization was tough because we were in the hospital with him over Christmas. To our surprise, the holiday did not prevent visitors from flooding his room once again. We had an amazing Christmas day and were able to find so many things to be thankful for in the midst of what could have been seen as a tragedy. Cancer did not win.
On January 15, 2011, Dad passed away at the Hospice Center in Lancaster, PA, surrounded by the entire family. We were very thankful that throughout his illness the cancer only disrupted his life in minor ways. To others this may not have been the case, but for Dad, he was going to push on no matter what. But the last month of Dad’s life was a tough one. Persistent seizures made life very difficult. As a family member, and especially as a nurse, it is very hard to watch your father deal with an illness and not be able to do anything about it. I prayed for him to be well, we all did. While everyone else was questioning why this was happening, that it was not fair, not once did Dad ask those questions. From start to finish Dad was a class act, exemplifying what it meant to be strong. I found it strange that we often leaned on Dad to provide comfort to us, when it really should have been the other way around. That is who he was, and who we will always remember him to be. Cancer did not win.
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When my dad was diagnosed in January 2010 my sister and I began looking for a 5K race that we would participate in by running. We both hate running and are horrible at it, but thought that would be a good way to show our support to Dad. It would have also given him a big laugh to see us running! That 5K was the Race for Hope – DC. Dad didn’t live to see us run that race, but he was heavy on our hearts as we completed all 5 kilometers without stopping to walk. Cancer will not win.
After that day, I was hooked. I began volunteering as a public policy Advocate and have gone to Head to the Hill with the National Brain Tumor Society three times, as well as represented the National Brain Tumor Society at the One Voice Against Cancer Action Day on Capitol Hill. Advocating for the National Brain Tumor Society is an amazing experience and opportunity. While navigating through my grief from the loss of my father I found that advocacy was one way that I could fight back. I wasn’t rich and couldn’t fund a research study. I wasn’t a trained medical doctor and couldn’t treat brain tumor patients, but I was armed with knowledge of my personal story, and had the support of NBTS to educate my legislators. I will forever be thankful to the Organization for helping me to grieve by equipping me to fight and providing me with the means to do so. Cancer will not win.
Additionally, I also organize my own fundraiser, the Bob Bard 5K, in honor of my father where 100% of all registration fees go to the National Brain Tumor Society, which is held every June in Pennsylvania. Finally, I am now the Chairperson of the first annual Nashville Brain Tumor Race. I love each facet of my volunteerism with NBTS. Cancer will not win.