Marking the milestones
Friday marks a special day for David and Becky Kepler – it’s their 44th wedding anniversary. But they don’t plan on giving each other any gifts or cards.
“We’re each other’s anniversary card,” said Becky Kepler, smiling at her husband.
This anniversary is especially precious to the couple. They weren’t sure they would be able to celebrate this particular milestone as David Kepler is battling stage 4 inoperable lung cancer and brain tumors.
David Kepler will soon mark another anniversary – March 19, 2012, two years since he received his cancer diagnosis.
During a routine doctor’s appointment, Becky urged David to tell the physician about an odd lump on his neck.
The physician sent the Keplers to Ames for further tests. The lump proved to be a malignant lymph node. Other tests found that the primary source of the cancer was in upper right quadrant of his lung. The cancer had metastasized – spread – through the lymph nodes in the neck and around the esophagus and windpipe. It was determined to be inoperable.
“That was one word we didn’t expect to hear,” said Becky. “It was 2012. They can do wonderful things. I wanted them to just operate and take it out.”
The cancer was classified as stage 4 and David Kepler was told he had 12 to 18 months to live.
“But we’ve beaten the odds, we’re almost at 24 months,” Becky said.
Even though surgery was out of the question, David started chemotherapy right away. He’s has had a treatment every three weeks since his diagnosis.
Along the way, he’s experienced problems with eating, so for a time, a feeding tube was in place. He also has a port through which he receives the chemo treatments.
He has received thirty-three radiation treatments for the cancer in his chest. He also had a one-time treatment for two brain tumors behind his left ear. The treatments helped to reduce the tumor size, according to Becky, but had other side effects.
“But the treatment is pretty harsh,” she said, explaining that the radiation affected his skin, causing it to slough off. “It was just like an alligator’s skin.”
He’s also been given a three-drug cocktail to battle the cancer, but now, in his weakened condition, that is being discontinued.
“I can’t recover in time to take the next dose,” he said. Blood and platelet transfusions have been administered to help build up his strength after the drug treatments.
“The new drug cocktail has some side effects that don’t sound very pleasant, but we’ll see how it works. And if that doesn’t work, we’ll move on to plan C,” she said.
“It is what it is,” said Dave.
Becky said they’re both aware that David won’t be getting better and the doctors have told them his quality of life will diminish.
“Right now, he stays in his recliner,” she said. An oxygen line is his constant companion.
David has been confined to his home since before Thanksgiving, according to Becky, only leaving the house for treatments or doctor appointments.
“These four walls can get a little close when you’re stuck here,” she said.
David said he’s missed attending the twice-monthly board of supervisors meetings.
“I used to really enjoy going out to the courthouse for those,” he said. “All three of those guys are great supervisors. They work so well together.”
Becky said she feels blessed to have had the past two years with her husband.
“We’ve spent lots of time crying, laughing, talking, remembering, sharing memories,” she said. “Some people have a sudden loss like an accident and they don’t have time with their loved ones. We’re lucky that way.”
The Keplers grew up in and around Webster City and for a while both worked at the Daily Freeman-Journal. David was a pressman for almost 20 years, starting when he was 16-years-old and still in high school. Becky Kepler worked as a corresponding editor, editing the news submitted from all of the stringers in surrounding communities. She later moved on to work on the dark room.
The couple have two children, Jen and David Wilson of Ankeny, and Scott and Misty Kepler of Webster City, and four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Their children have been there, helping as they could to make life a little easier for their parents – bringing in meals, helping with chores and lawn care, and just spending time with mom and dad.
Social media has proven to be a great outlet for the Keplers to keep friends and family updated on David’s condition. Becky regularly sends out messages, sharing the small victories and even the set backs. There’s a dedicated group of people from all over the United States – some of whom the Keplers have never met – who follow the Facebook posts. She calls the followers Kepler’s Krusaders. Becky reads all of the well-wishes and prayers sent by those followers to her husband.
“It’s very therapeutic for him and me, too,” she said. “It makes us cry, but we love them all.”
David has high praise for the care his wife has given him.
“It’s great. I don’t know how she does it,” he said. “Sometimes I feel like I’m stealing from her.”
“It’s called ‘in sickness or in health,'” she said.
“…til death do us part,” David said, finishing the vow.
The most recent prognosis says he has months rather than years left. But the couple is leaving all of that in God’s hands, Becky said.
“We don’t know if it’s many months or a short number of months. Only God knows,” she said.
“And that’s OK,” said David. “I really don’t want to know.”