A love story: Menendez’s fight to save his wife

“And journey's longer than I thought, my love…”

Dateline:  In Shock

This,

is not a story about cancer.

Not about,

disease.

Not about,

treatment.

This,

is a flat out,

Love Story.

It’s about love.

It’s about the human spirit, that in the face of almost insurmountable odds, still gets up, even though, it can’t.

It’s about love.

If you look for miracles, no need to try and walk on water, if you want to believe in miracles,

love someone.

Love someone more than you love yourself, and if in fact you can do that, know that is a miracle, and is the “Kind” found in “Man.”

Believe, if you believe.

Wonder, if you wonder.

But have faith,

your own special faith,

whatever that may be,

because it is faith,

and only faith,

that stands between us and the,

unfathomable.

“db, it’s not fair man, just not fair, no way in the world is it fair.  I hope God really has a huge plan for my angel…db…”

And then Elite angler Mark Menendez, my good friend, and one of the strongest, smartest people I know, breaks down sobbing,

and we talk, we talk off the record, two husbands in love with angels, that conversation will stay between us,

and finally I just can’t take it anymore, so we say goodnight, and I just fold the laptop closed, and go to bed,

and say a prayer, maybe actually more just a plea to a higher source, to please save, Mark’s angel…his wife…Donna…also a good friend...

…and who is dying from Stage 4, Pancreatic Cancer that has metastasized into other organs in her body,

Here’s the complete text of my prayer/plea, “Please, help Donna, please don’t take her from Mark and her two young children,”

and then, as I know Mark is doing at the same time,

cry myself to sleep.

“…there's lots of things get in the way…”

Max and Caroline MenendezWhen I talked to Mark the other day on the phone, he was very technical in his discussion with me about “Donna’s terminal cancer,” told me about how he has read “some 30 published medical studies” about it, how he searches for answers on the internet late into the night, “no stone left unturned.”

As he is talking, the note I write down is exactly this, “Dr. Mac=His Mom.”

When my friend Dr. Mac’s mother died recently, I went to the wake, as a good buddy would, and Mac was very clinical in what happened to his mother, I knew from knowing Mac as well as I do, the clinical, scientific approach, kept the emotions in check.

“Mark, how you doing man, tell me, friend to friend, how are you doing?”

Mark Menendez took a medical leave last year from the Elite series to take care of Donna, and when the cancer came back, he applied for and got a medical leave to take the 2014 season off, as well, since he is the primary caregiver for his wife.

Mark pauses in explaining the clinical trials they may go through beginning next week at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore…there is a tiny opening in the scientific safety fence.

“Dude…Mark…it’s db man…how are YOU doing?”

I hear a double clutch in his voice, in his breathing and then, the gate opens, “db, I don’t get it, she’s had hell on earth this lady, she was an orphan, all she ever wanted in life was a loving family, and now that she has it…it’s being taken away.”

I heard personal tales of “soul mates.”

Heard how they first laid eyes on each in THE SECOND GRADE.

Tales of their 10-year marriage.

Soft, loving, fun tales of their two children, 10-year-old Caroline and 9-year-old Max.

All talk comes to a halt when Mark mentions the children.

Last Friday night, we told the children, we went into our bedroom, both kids crawled up on our big bed and…

“I told Caroline that mommy’s cancer has come back…”

I only listen I couldn’t talk if I wanted to.

“And you know what that 10-year-old girl says to me?” and there is a long pause on both ends of the phone, “she says, she says, db she says, that’s okay daddy, mommy beat it once, she will beat it again.”

And then both kids crawled up into Mark and Donna’s laps,

and fell asleep.

“…but every time I think of you…”

This is how I last saw Donna, back in July at iCast in Las Vegas. She looked great and I remember thinking, if anyone could beat Pancreatic Cancer, Donna could...“db, no matter how strong you think you are, how strong I thought I was, you don’t have the strength, the shoulders to bear all of this on your own.”

While Mark has health insurance, the family is still facing mounting medical bills, travel for treatment bills, and just recently, while away on a short vacation to take the children to the beach, the pipes in their Kentucky home FROZE and burst, pretty much flooded the whole house, so on top of everything else, Mark is trying to rebuild the home they live in.

“We have seen firsthand the love of people, they bring us food, help us with getting the children back and forth to school and activities; we have witnessed how sweet, and how kind people really can be.”

Then he says, “When Donna got sick last year, we were facing a 100% loss of income…I couldn’t fish, couldn’t compete, but you know what, every one of my sponsors came through…every sponsor I had came through last year and paid me even though I couldn’t take to the water.”

And they are doing it once again in 2014.  Think this is a cold hearted business, maybe it is, but not at times like these, “Mark you know, I hope you know and if you don’t I’m going to tell you, I’ve had several, dozens of calls about you from Elite anglers, and every one of them basically said the same thing, ‘You tell Mark to never forget that he has 100 brothers out here who will come help him in a minute’s notice.”

And to all of Mark’s sponsors:  Skeeter, Yamaha, Lew's, Strike King, Tackle Warehouse, Seaguar, Lowrance, Linerite, North Star Batteries, Stay N Charge, Outdoor Friends Forever- OFF. Power-Pole…all I can say is this, nice job, class act, and I thank you.

“…you just steal my heart away…”

Comes the Love Story.

“Donna’s legacy will be her children; they are sweet, kind, caring, polite children. She will have raised some great children who will make this world a better place.”

“Donna, my angel, could go fast…”

I know what’s coming, I don’t have to write it down, through the phone I can feel the tears run down Mark’s face.

“…if we do nothing, maybe 8, maybe 12 months.”

I would rather be dead myself than to have to say that sentence about the woman I love, my wife Barb.

If I had to say that sentence, I would, inside, already be gone.

“I have become Donna’s advocate, it is the only thing that helps me keep going, it energizes me that possibly with all my research, all my searching that I turn up one small piece of information that could help.”

And then, “I cannot go through life knowing that I didn’t do everything humanly possible, everything I could do, to help my wife live.”

“I’m so stressed out db, I’ve done everything, but, but…”

And the phone went silent, but for the sobs.

“…just like the sunshine after rain…”

Happier days, I took this shot moments after Mark won the Elite Series event on Lake Dardanelle in Russellville, Ark., in 2009.I told Mark, I was there for him…as are the 100 Elites.

I wanted to tell him more, tell him a secret I believe, but I too was all cried out, but Mark my friend, here’s what I can only write, could never say it face-to-face without a complete breakdown,

take comfort in this,

it is what I told my wife Barb before they wheeled me away for my brain tumor surgery last year,

Docs told me there was a better than even chance I would come out of the surgery blind, 20% not myself, a small percentage even worse.

So this is what I told Barb, whisper words of wisdom.

I told her, “Don’t worry babe, there will always be, 401.”

True love, like you have for Donna, like I have for Barb, is made in heaven, and I told her I believe we have been married 400 times before, and that if anything happens to me, I will come back for 401,

that please don’t be sad during the time you may have with us apart, that when it is your time, 401 will come our way,

because on our 401stfirst date, I will rub your tired feet,

and you will know that it’s me.

I will whisper the lyrics of our song in your ear on our 401stfirst dance.

I will hold just your thumb on our 401stfirst walk through the park.

Mark, you and Donna have been together forever as well, I can see it when you are together, when you talk and tell stories of each other,

love, my friend, is forever,

and someday, a long time from now, I know this to be true,

you will look into a young girl’s eyes,

and they will be Donna’s eyes,

for the 401st,

first time.

Take comfort in that, my friend.

Take comfort, that love guides, that love nurtures,

that love lasts forever,

and that love,

true love,

waits.

“…I'll come to be with you.”

“Steal My Heart Away”

Van Morrison

Believe if you believe, wonder if you wonder, but please say a prayer for Donna, Mark, Caroline and Max Menendez.

db