Monday, February 19, 2018
We had a difficult goodbye this week. On Saturday the 17th of February, funeral services were held for our son, Philip Byron Carnahan, 35. Philip had an 8-month battle with colon/liver cancer, and he fought and endured valiantly to the end.
Starting in November 2012, Philip lived and worked in Portland, Oregon. When he returned to Indiana in late May 2017 to go on his annual trek to the Indianapolis 500 with his brothers, we knew that something wasn’t right. He was so thin and weak, even if he smiled right through it. Our terrific local doctor, Tom Thompson, recommended that Pat return to Portland with Philip—something she did without reservation. Upon Philip’s return to Oregon, he was examined by courteous professionals at his health care provider, the Kaiser Permanente system. He learned on June 5 that his cancer was at Stage 4 in his colon and liver. It was quite a surprise to discover such an advanced diagnosis, when he only began to feel some difficulties in mid-May. I flew to Portland to stay with them and try to figure out what to do. We made arrangements to move him back home to Indiana as quick as possible. A dozen or more of his friends came to take care of the packing of his things, and the loading of the same into a U-Haul truck. Pat and Philip flew home on June 25. His Uncle John Hobson and I drove the U-Haul on the 4-day excursion across America to bring him his stuff.
He met with the local oncologist, Dr. Mark Stutz, whom we believe God placed in our path. Although some wondered if Philip could receive what he needed here in rural SW Indiana, we can say without a doubt that his care was second to none. Philip received his first chemotherapy on July 3, which continued every other Monday. He was making progress, with improvement in the size of the tumors and the blood-test indicator numbers. He was strong enough to attend (with his brother Ben and his mom Pat) a Portland Trail Blazer at Indiana Pacer game in October. On the day before his 35th birthday, he went with Will Thompson to see his Hoosiers play at Assembly Hall in Bloomington. During this time of seeming progress, the colon tumor was giving him difficulty with his bowel. On November 25, it became necessary for him to receive a colostomy, which took place at the IU-Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. Eleven days later, he returned home, with a large accompanying wound, but the colostomy was manageable. On December 11, he had a fall, and we took him again to Good Samaritan Hospital in Vincennes. Over the next 56 days, our emotions rose and fell with each new success and difficulty. He had many days in GSH’s ICU, then a regular room, then Rehab, then back to ICU. He made friends of the staff in each place. He was making reasonable progress in rehab, when another infection reared its ugly head. He was moved back to ICU to fight that infection. It proved to be just one thing too many, and Philip breathed his last on the early morning of February 4, 2018. Those 8 months passed quickly by. Precious time.
The care Philip (and us, by extension) received here at our local hospital was superb. People who cared for him in the infusion center, in ICU, and in the Rehab Unit would check in on him regularly…some even coming on their days off just to show love and encouragement for him, and many would pray for him and his mom and me. Those wonderful people not only cared for Philip, but they demonstrated they cared about him. What a blessing they were to Philip and to us as a family.
Philip was a private man, and he did not want any information about his cancer posted to social media. He wanted to face this in his own private way, with his mom and me to assist. He took every setback with bravery, and with rarely an angry moment. To his caregivers that often had to perform a new ‘stick’ or ‘poke’ into his body, he responded with kindness and typically a ‘thank you’. He gave a good example of the golden rule—treating others they way you would like them to do for you.
Philip was proud of his rural Indiana heritage, and he spoke up to defend his farm upbringing when he felt someone was not giving it the respect he knew it deserved. He understood the value and meaning of work; something that he learned was important in his family’s legacy. He was true to that legacy, and demonstrated it for every employer he had, going the ‘extra-mile’ was his norm.
Three important things were reinforced in my mind during this 8-month journey with Philip. I won’t say I they were new revelations, but these things that I already knew were drilled home, beyond any doubt.
- Philip was courageous and kind. He took the news of his diagnosis without a tear, but with determination to fight against cancer. Over the months, we saw him take ‘hits’—when he needed a colostomy, when he had to have a feeding tube put into his stomach, when they placed a wound vacuum on the place where there was a large infection, when he had to enter the Rehab Unit to gain strength to walk again, when they had to ‘poke’ into him to install an infection drain (2x). Each of these setbacks he met with no complaints, just a resolve to work at whatever it took to make progress. This is like the courage that took him to grad school at the University of Oregon in September of 2009, and then back to Portland in November of 2012, to find his career. He was no ‘whiner’, but steadfastly stuck to his own course, and he was making it work. He was on the threshold of some professional success, and you could see the satisfaction he gained from that.
- His mom is remarkable. In each day and night since June 4, Pat remained at Philip’s side. She slept on the floor, on an air mattress, sometimes on a rollaway bed, sometimes on a couch that was ‘way too short. In her devotion to Philip and the amazing strength granted to her by her Maker, she kept her promise to stand by her son every day. The last hospital stay was 56 days, and she stayed each night in his room and met his needs, as only she could. Her nights were often interrupted with Philip’s needs of the moment. If you have Pat Carnahan on your team, you know that the phrase, “whatever it takes” is just what she does.
- God is good. In countless ways, God showed us that He cares, not only for Philip, but his family too. In our month in Portland, He sent people (we called them His angels) to provide for our every need. That doctor appointment is an hour away on the other side of town? No problem. Here is an angel to drive us, wait with us, and bring us back. Need transportation? No problem. Here’s my car; you can have it for a week—I’ll ride my bike. Getting too hot in the apartment? Here’s my room air conditioner, I’ll just use these fans I have. Your TV quit working? No problem. Here’s my TV, I don’t use it much anyway. When we returned to SWIN, He didn’t stop caring for us. Need an emergency colostomy on a Saturday night? No problem. The specific surgeon we would have chosen just happened to be the one on call. Feeling a bit blue today? No problem. That friend from church just happened to call or to come visit at just the right moment. Grown weary of sandwiches or grabbing a bite out? No problem. Here’s a fresh and hot, home-cooked meal. God promises that He will never forsake us, and we have learned again that His promises are true. Deuteronomy 31:8. Awesome.
So, I may be in a little trouble with Philip for writing about this today and posting it here, but it helps me to share this information. Perhaps it explains why my blog posts about the farm were getting a little sparse and far-between. I think we are going to get out those old VHS home movies and take some trips down memory lane over the next several days/months. When I was taking those movies and pictures, asking the boys to “wave to the camera” or to stand in a certain arrangement for the picture, I remember often getting the ‘eye-rolls’. But now, I’m so happy to have captured those moments on our family trips, at birthdays, and on workdays on the farm. And Philip’s brothers, John and Ben, enjoy reliving those moments, too.
We think back on our 35 years with Philip and we are grateful. Our last trip to visit him in Portland, back in March 2017, gave us no hint that anything was going wrong. We had the best time together, as we celebrated how he was getting established at the Pacific Northwest College of Art. We spent some time on the Oregon coast, and laughed at many stories. And, of course, I have pictures/video from those times, too! He was smart, funny, courageous, kind, and he lived with integrity. Thank you, God, for allowing us to have Philip in our family.
I want to express our appreciation for our families, our church family, and for the loving kindness of neighbors and friends. The medical professionals that touched our lives in Portland, Indianapolis, and here in Vincennes have been a great blessing to us. We may never be able to return the kindness shown to us, and we may fail in showing proper thanks for what each person means to us. But we will attempt to do so, and ask for your grace when we fall short. May the Lord bless you all.
Grace and Peace,
Dennis and Pat Carnahan