Jerry Davich: Husband to dying wife: ‘You need to find peace’
Jerry Davich email@example.com May 19, 2012 8:26PM
Bob Wapinski is photographed at his Lake Dalecarlia, Ind. home Thursday May 17, 2012. Bob and his wife Marcia travelled to Texas for treatments as she fought ovarian cancer. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 29, 2012 8:44AM
How far would you go if a loved one had terminal cancer? Would you try experimental drugs from a controversial doctor? Would you drive to Texas twice a month for questionable treatment? Would you drain more than $200,000 from your retirement savings? Would you help her swallow 42 pills a day and then sift through the vomit afterward to make sure they’re not in it? Would you hold your loved one’s hand at the very end and say, “You need to find peace”? Well ...
Bob Wapinski smiled nearly every time he mentioned his wife’s name, Marcia.
“Her name had the pretty spelling, M-A-R-C-I-A,” Wapinski told me with a smile, pulling out a photo of his late wife.
Marcia was a caring and nurturing stay-at-home wife, mother of five and grandmother of seven. Marcia enjoyed singing the “Wake Up Song” to her young children to start off the day. Marcia was quite simply a joy to share life with for 33 years.
But his smiles turned to frowns nearly every time he talked about her three-year battle with cancer. Marcia first noticed something was wrong with her bulging stomach in 2008. Marcia was later diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Marcia eventually withered away to a 90-pound shadow of her former self.
She died on Sept. 7, 2011, on her birthday, at age 53.
“My wife went through so much pain, but she never complained, not once,” said Wapinski, 62, of Lake Dalecarlia near Lowell, before asking for a coffee refill at the restaurant we met for lunch. “She was the toughest person I ever knew.”
The couple’s grand plan was to live out their golden years together, not apart.
“But when you take those wedding vows, man, you take those vows for good,” Wapinski told me squarely.
A cancerous tumor the size of a grapefruit interrupted their plan.
Marcia’s battle with cancer is a complex tale, including a questionable initial diagnosis, and an even more questionable “non-toxic” treatment from a high-profile, nationally known Texas-based doctor.
His name is Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski, who’s been treating terminal cancer patients from around the world for more than a quarter century, often amid contentious methods and unproven techniques. Burzynski and his gene-targeted treatments have been the target of probes and investigations, routinely finding no proof for his medicinal claims.
But don’t tell that to Wapinski, who to this day believes the doctor was the only physician who helped — and temporarily “cured” — his dying wife. Wapinski didn’t hesitate to make the round-trip 2,200-mile trek every two weeks for nine months to the doctor’s clinic. Or to spend more than $200,000 for the doctor’s unorthodox treatment regimen.
“I don’t care what anybody else says about him. He kept her alive,” Wapinski said with direct eye-to-eye contact.
Two deep breaths and ...
Wapinski is still angry at conventional cancer treatments, the doctors behind the process and the insurance companies who refuse to cover other treatments. He also blames the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for not approving experimental “but possibly life saving” cancer treatments.
“As my wife called it, the normal way of the FDA,” he said with a shrug. “Chemotherapy makes patients look like the walking dead, and it did the same with my wife. Cancer doctors are only out for one thing, the almighty buck.”
Like I said, Wapinski is angry, at the FDA, at the government and at the surgeon who later told him he didn’t disclose Marcia’s full-blown ovarian cancer. The surgeon confided to Wapinski, months after Marcia’s death, that he didn’t want to “kill her hopes,” Wapinski said.
Wapinski considered filing a medical malpractice lawsuit against the surgeon, but the statute of limitations ran out. Plus, his family told him just to let it go.
Like most cancer patients and their families, Wapinski has done his homework. In hindsight, he’s convinced that “modern medicine” didn’t help his wife. Instead, it hurt her, maybe even killed her. I’ll let you decide, depending on your personal experiences.
Interestingly yet sadly, Wapinski has a hint of blame for his wife, for not listening to her body before the cancer invaded it in full force. She was always reluctant to see a doctor, and her hesitance to do so may have cost Marcia her life.
“She had a couple of health problems up to a year before her bulging stomach and cancer diagnosis,” Wapinski said. “I know it sounds odd, but I kind of blame her for ignoring them.”
Looking back more fondly, his biggest regret was not taking Marcia to Hawaii, a place she once visited and had always wanted to return.
“It still sticks with me,” he said quietly.
During the last week of Marcia’s life, she wanted to come home to die. No hospital. No hospice. No hope, really.
She could no longer use her legs, and she could not do much of anything else for herself. A bleeding ulcer tormented her, too.
“My wife vomited every day for the last several weeks of her life,” Wapinski said. “She looked like somebody from a World War II concentration camp.”
Wapinski encouraged her to keep fighting. But he realized she was only fighting to stay alive for him, not for her.
On the last day of Marcia’s life, he sat next to her and held her hand.
“You’ve been an inspiration to all of us, but you need to find peace,” he told her. “I’ll be OK. The kids will be OK. The grandkids will be OK.”
Marcia turned her head. Took two deep breaths. And died a couple seconds later.
“I knew she was better off,” Wapinski recalled. “I couldn’t even cry for her.”
Afterward, he wondered to himself, “Who am I to tell someone they can die?”
I told him, Marcia wasn’t just some person in his life. She was the love of his life. He nodded and, once again, he smiled when saying her name.
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