Ken was diagnosed with a brain tumor in late 2004, and had surgery at Cleveland Clinic that December. This was a very slow-growing, low-grade tumor on the left side of his brain, and it might have been growing for years. He was discharged in a few days and was soon back in the office on a limited bases – and then full time.
Ken was told there would probably be a recurrence in 3-5 years. Five years later he knew that something was wrong and an MRI confirmed it. This was not as much of a mass, as a thin tumor growing across his brain, thus it could not be removed as the previous one was.
He tried an alternative medicine approach in another state but wasn’t satisfied with the results. He was considering his next option when he learned of a vaccine treatment that was being developed to treat cancerous tumors. The approach is to use a patient’s tumor tissue, and their white blood cells, to create a vaccine to fight the specific cancer.
In July 2010 he and Sheila, and many of his and Sheila’s families, traveled to Honduras. A U.S. medical team including a surgeon and several others, was able to collect enough tumor material to develop the vaccine.
Ken was discharged from the hospital and was home in just over a week. He took longer to recover this time, and then started coming into the office mid-morning and leaving late afternoon. He continued to lead the business and to serve in his church. The vaccine worked, and over the next year that tumor was essentially eliminated.
However, a much faster growing tumor showed up this spring. This one was two golf-ball sized growths, one on the left side and another in the front/center, and connected to each other. They did surgery in Atlanta on April 8 and removed much of the mass on the left side but didn’t touch the one in the center because of risk. It would be treated with the vaccine.
Ken, his dad, and Colby attended a May 15-17 auction in MN, and he did well. More recently it was obvious to all that Ken’s memory, thought processes and speech were being impacted by the tumor. He was very aware of that and valiantly attempted to deal with it.
On Thursday, June 30, he and Sheila headed to Colorado in his parent’s motor home. Colby, Austin, Danae, and Austin’s friend Kristi joined them, and they spent nearly a week together before going to a July 8-10 Stoltzfus family reunion at Divide, CO. He was now finding it hard to pull thoughts and words together, but did well in a card game.
On Monday the 11th he, Sheila, Colby, and Ken and Elaine spent a day with a business contact, but Ken had little interest in what was happening.
He had an MRI in Ohio on Tuesday July 12, and the results were alarming. There was now a baseball-sized tumor on the left side, and it was of the worst type. On Wednesday, surgery was scheduled for Friday in Birmingham, AL, and Ken and Elaine headed there in the motor home. On Thursday Mark flew Ken, Sheila and their family to Birmingham.
After surgery on Friday, and again on Saturday morning, Ken opened his eyes and responded to us, including occasional smiles. He sipped some water but had no movement on his right side, and he could not talk.
We were told that brain swelling would be at its worst 48-72 hours after surgery, so Monday would be his worst day. By Saturday evening however, he was in a deep sleep which he never came out of. They did several CAT scans, and everyone tried to remain optimistic that things would get better by Tuesday, as originally predicted.
Tuesday morning around 2:30 Sheila got a call from the surgeon, saying that Ken was in a coma and they needed to put him on a respirator. Mark was planning to fly some friends and family down that morning, but changed his passenger list to include Colby, Austin and Danae.
We went in to see Ken, and the doctor told us of the severe brain damage that had occurred because of the swelling. They had hoped that the swelling would push toward the cavity they had created on the left side, but instead it shifted toward the center. His condition was irreversible, and Sheila felt compelled to honor his clear instructions that he not be on a respirator.
God had assembled a wonderful team in Birmingham, including Ken’s brother Mark; Ken and Sheila’s pastor, Jeremy Miller; Sheila’s brother Galen and sister Fonda; and friends Dwane and Karen Schlabach.
Each of us had a private time with Ken, to talk to him; express our love to him; and thank him for his godly life. Then Sheila, Colby, Austin, Danae, Mark, Ken and Elaine gathered around him. Each spoke to him again; each prayed; and together we released him into God’s presence. The respirator was removed and within 15-20 minutes he slipped peacefully into God’s presence.
Brian and Sandi were in Kenya, Africa, and couldn’t get home until Wednesday. Sheila’s parents were in Washington and couldn’t make it to Birmingham before Ken’s passing, so they came directly to Ohio.
A few months ago Ken went to a local Amish friend and told him what kind of casket to make for him. It was a very inexpensive but attractive wood casket that symbolized his focus in life; i.e. that he would live simply and use the resources God had entrusted to him, to make His love known to the ends of the earth. It was his final declaration about what is important in life. It is true that:
Precious in the sight of the LORD
is the death of his faithful servants. (Psa. 116:15 niv)